Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Norman Chronicles: Neck and Neck

They're unofficially called "butcher's cuts," those not-so-frequently-seen-in-meat-cases pieces of lamb, beef or pork. Because they aren't big, gorgeous hunks of flesh, they were harder to sell and ended up going home with the butchers to feed their families, knowing as they did that these "off cuts" were often more flavorful than their more well-known compadres. Flank steak and hanger steak used to belong to that category until the beef association started promoting them, and now they'll often cost as much as steaks.

A cut that hasn't yet been popularized and, with any luck, will remain in the cheap-but-delicious category is lamb neck. This two-or-so-pound piece of meat is perfect for braising low and slow until the flesh is melting off the bone, and has enough heft flavor-wise to stand up to the richly flavorful Provençal-style sauce below. You can get one by ordering it from your favorite butcher or market that carries lamb, though it might mean the butcher's family will have to figure out something else for dinner.

Braised Lamb Neck Provençal

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lamb neck, about 2 lbs.
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 c. roasted tomatoes, chopped
1 c. dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
Zest of 1 lemon
1/8 tsp. saffron
1 tsp. salt
2 bay leaves
1/2 c. pitted oil-cured black olives or green olives, sliced*
2 lemons, cut in wedges

Preheat oven to 325°.

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown neck on all sides. While lamb browns, put saffron and salt in mortar and pestle and grind until saffron is broken down. Remove browned neck to platter. Add onion and garlic to pan and sauté till translucent, scraping up browned bits of lamb. Add tomatoes, wine, lemon zest, saffron-salt mixture and bay leaves to pan and stir, then return lamb neck to pan. Cover pan with parchment paper and lid and braise in the oven for 2 1/2 hrs., turning the neck every 45 min. or so.

Add chopped olives and lemons to pan and continue cooking another 45 min. until meat is falling off the bone. Serve over polenta.

* I used Spanish anchovy-stuffed olives, which added that touch of umami from the anchovies. Yum!

Read the other posts in The Norman Chronicles: Getting to Shepherd's Pie, Braising Saddles and Shanks and Hearts.


Anonymous said...

Hi I'm from New Zealand and it is too late - lamb neck chops, once a favourite of mine are now $11.99 a kg. So your recipe sounds lovely but I will have to wait until I win lotto before I can make it!! Same thing happened with lamb shanks - they are gourmet now and gold plated!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Yikes, Loretta! Let's hope it's awhile before lamb neck gets to that level here. As in New Zealand, shanks are no longer the cheap-but-delicious choice they were several years ago.