November 28, 2017
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Adventures With Lamb Necks
LAMBS-NECK-2945

Lamb neck is an underrated and inexpensive cut of meat that can shine when braised in red wine and served with preserved lemons and fresh herbs.

Several years ago, an acquaintance asked if I could re-create lamb neck stracotto, a fragrant pot roast with a Moroccan spin that she had enjoyed at chi SPACCA in Los Angeles. I had never been to the restaurant, nor to L.A. for that matter, and had never had lamb’s neck. I was flattered that she thought I was up to the task, but wasn’t entirely sure where to begin.

After a bit of online research, I learned that stracotto is an Italian term for a slow-cooked “sublime” stew. The lamb neck at chi SPACCA is braised for four hours and served with olives and preserved lemons—for a briny freshness that contrasts with the rich and gamey meat.

The first question was where to find lamb neck. As luck would have it, I came across some slices at a local farmers’ market a week or two later. Lamb neck is considered a scrap cut of meat by most. In fact, the woman in line in front of me was buying some to cook for her dog (a lucky dog, to say the least). As with any meat that you cook on the bone (e.g., oxtail, short rib), it’s extremely flavorful, not to mention much less expensive than other, more sought-after cuts of meat.

Since I wasn’t able to taste the source material, I went with what I would do for any long braise—sear the meat; add some aromatics, red wine, and stock; and let it simmer slowly until extremely tender. The combination of low temperature, moist heat, and time (in this case two hours) turns otherwise chewy, unpalatable meat into a plate of buttery lamb.

Braising the lamb neck also created a great pan sauce, which I reduced and drizzled over the meat.  I served the lamb neck over fregola sarda, a Sardinian toasted pasta with a nice nuttiness that acts like a sponge in soaking up all those good flavors.

Taking a tip from chi SPACCA, I added thinly sliced preserved lemons and olives, which lend a really nice brightness and pickle to the dish. You can buy preserved lemons at some grocery stores, but you can also make them yourself; all you need are a bunch of lemons, coarse sea salt, a sterile jar, and about three to four weeks to allow chemistry to do its thing.

Braised Lamb Neck

Braised Lamb Neck

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds lamb neck (4-6 slices)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup carrot, medium dice
  • ½ cup celery, medium dice
  • ½ cup white onion, medium dice
  • 5 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 8 ounces canned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup cooked Israeli couscous or fregola sarda
  • Preserved lemon peel, thinly sliced, for garnish
  • ¼ cup chopped green olives
  • ½ cup chopped mint or parsley for garnish

Inexpensive cuts of meat, like lamb’s neck, are best when braised low and slow. With a little love and coaxing, you can transform it into the most flavorful, buttery, and fork-tender piece of meat.

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a deep, heavy-based Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Add the lamb neck in a single layer and sear on both sides until well browned.
  2. Remove the lamb neck, wipe the pan, and add more oil to coat. Add the carrot, celery, onion, and garlic, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
  3. Add the red wine and vinegar and cook, stirring and scraping any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, thyme, and rosemary. Return the lamb neck to the pot, bring the liquid to a boil, cover, and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the lamb once, until fall-off-the-bone fork-tender, about 2 hours.
  4. Serve over Israeli couscous or fregola sarda. Garnish with preserved lemon and fresh parsley.
  5. Remove the lamb from the cooking liquid. Strain the liquid and add to a pot. Skim off any fat (my lamb neck had very little fat). Cook over medium-high heat until somewhat reduced and becoming thicker and more flavorful.
  6. Serve the lamb (2 slices per plate) over fregola sarda. Drizzle with the reduced sauce. Garnish with preserved lemon and olives. Sprinkle with fresh mint or parsley.

Linda Schneider

Linda Schneider is a home cook who is obsessed with good food and all things local. Follow her adventures at Wild Greens and Sardines.

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