Cooking Corner – Winter Solstice Festival
Mutton! Mutton! Mutton!
The Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere is the shortest day of the year with the fewest hours of sunlight and marks the first official day of winter. During the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) the Winter Solstice became a festival. The wealthier people held beautiful ceremonies and people exchanged gifts. Emperors worshiped their ancestors and prayed for a bountiful spring harvest.
Traditions and Customs
Traditions and customs vary among the different areas of China. Dumplings are the most popular food item for the festival, especially in the northern part of China. Dumplings are a symbol of comfort and warmth and were used to ward of illness. The offering of Nine-Layer cake to ancestors and eating red-bean and glutinous rice is meant to drive off ghosts and other evils that lurk during winter. Throughout China, braised mutton (lamb) is a common meal during the winter that is meant to give energy to the people and keep them warm during the dark and cold month.
What is Braised Mutton
Braised Mutton is lamb meat seared in butter or oil and then cooked in a liquid such as chicken broth with the addition of spices and vegetables. People use the mutton in ragus, served with flageolet beans, served as a lamb chop, roast, stew, and even as a burger. Traditionally in China, the mutton is served with noodles or rice. In some areas, pancakes are served right along with the meal.
Chinese Mutton Dishes
- Xi’an Lamb Kebab
- California Asparagus and Lamb Stir-Fry
- Hunan Lamb
- Mongolian Hot Pot with Lamb
- Mongolian Lamb with Spring Onions
- Mongolian Lamb
- Roasted Whole Lamb, Ningxia Style
- Braised Lamb in Brown Sauce, Shanghai Style
- Mutton Cake with Coconut Water, Hainan Style
- Rice Noodles with Mutton
Calling all Daring Chefs: Recipe for Braised Mutton
Recipe – Chinese Braised Lamb
Level of Difficulty – Easy
Total Time Prep – 30 minutes prep time with 2 hours and 30 minutes cooking time
Serving Size/Amount – Serves 6
- 3 lbs Mutton
- ½ c Soy Sauce
- 2 tbsp Five Spice Powder (found in most grocery stores)
- 1 ¼ c dry sherry
- 2 tbsp Star Anise
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 3 tbsp dark Muscovado sugar (a partially refined sugar with a strong molasses content and flavor)
- 2 tbsp Caster Sugar (dissolves quicker than regular sugar)
- 2 tbsp fresh, finely chopped ginger
- In an ovenproof dish, combine all ingredients and add mutton.
- Bring to a simmer and place in oven at 180 degrees for 1 ½ – 2 hours.
- Take out meat, cover with foil and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Remove bone from lamb and serve with pancakes and cucumber, noodles or rice.
Where to Purchase Mutton
If you’re daring enough to try creating one of the above recipes, you will find that mutton isn’t easy to locate at your local grocery store. In most cases, you’ll need to contact your local butcher or go online.
Don’t forget to ask your host student for ideas. Their participation in the meal will make them feel at home and may even lessen some of the homesick feelings they may be having during the holidays.
- Travel China Guide: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/winter-solstice.htm
- CITS: http://www.cits.net/china-travel-guide/features-and-traditions-about-winter-solstice.html
- Wai Yee Hong: https://www.waiyeehong.com/recipe-chinese-braised-lamb
- thespruce.com: https://www.thespruce.com/chinese-lamb-recipes-4114732
- Chinesetimeschool: chinesetimeschool.com/mutton
- Waiyeehong.com: https://www.waiyeehong.com/recipe-chinese-braised-lamb