If money was tight at the time of writing, the only belts loosened by the festive blow-out will be those around our waists. Time, then, for a lean feast and an inexpensive bottle.
Affordable wine is never out of fashion, but cheap cuts of meat have never been trendier. Lamb shanks and belly of pork are already gastropub darlings, less so breast of mutton, an unprepossessing sheet of gristle which two or three hours of effortless cooking turns into an unctuous treat for four for not much more than a fiver.
Try this smart stay-at-home supper with a Cape or other brisk, new-world shiraz with the mutton, and a piquant sauvignon with the mackerel pâté.
SMOKED MACKEREL AND HORSERADISH PATE
Flake a pair of large smoked mackerel fillets into a bowl, removing any stray bones.
Add a 200ml tub of low fat crème fraîche a heaped teaspoon of creamed horseradish, and lemon juice and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.
Mix thoroughly with a fork and chill for a few hours. Serve with brown toast and a few capers or cornichons.
SOUKH-STUFFED BREAST OF MUTTON
Preheat the oven to 150ºC/Gas 2.
Unroll a boned breast of mutton or lamb and spread it out, skin side down. In a small, non-stick pan, toast a teaspoon each of coriander seeds and cumin seeds with a whole star anise. When these sizzle and pop, grind them to a fine powder in a mortar or spice grinder.
Stir in a generous pinch each of cinnamon, and ras-al-hanout and a smaller one of smoked hot paprika, or chilli powder. Rub the mixture into the meat and season well with salt and pepper. Re-roll the breast and tie at regular intervals with string.
Heat a splash of oil in a heavy cast-iron casserole with a lid, and when sizzling lower in the mutton and brown all over. Remove to a plate lined with kitchen paper.
Now throw in any combination of quartered onions, fennel bulbs and thickly sliced leeks along with a couple of torn bay leaves and half a dozen unpeeled garlic cloves and turn them around in the fat to brown nicely. Place the mutton on the vegetables and add 125ml wine (any colour).
Let it bubble and evaporate somewhat, then the same quantity of boiling water or stock. Bring back to the boil, cover and braise in the oven for about two and a half hours or until tender.
Next, drain two cans of cooked flageolet beans and add to the casserole. Return to the oven for a final half-hour. Take out the lamb and rest a warm place. Taste the cooking juices, boil down a little if necessary and adjust the seasoning.
Remove the string from the lamb and cut into 4 neat slices. Serve in wide bowls, with the pan juices, vegetables, and beans. Sleep tight on a full stomach and a packet well saved.
Janet Wynne Evans