Lamb necks? Really? Well, yes, but for those of you who are grossed out concerned, you can simply substitute lamb shanks in this recipe. So why lamb neck? I admit that I am not sure how we got here. Maybe I am just following the Muse of “cool” food. Maybe I am being practical, as lamb necks can be larger and fattier (this is good) than shanks, and no more expensive. But, in the end, I think they just kept popping up somehow. A cookbook here, a TV show there and suddenly I am ordering lamb necks from our butcher (who was very cool about it, it just took a few days). And since we are getting towards spring, it seemed to me we should have a good lamb dish at the ready.
And using neck instead of shank? Well, neck is considered a “variety” meat or offal by many (technically, this is not true, but the proximity to the spine seems to get neck placed in the “offal” category). And since we seem to be all about “gateway foods” here at Putney Farm (see our Jasmine cocktail / Campari article), the lamb neck may be a good intro to more, shall we say, “adventuresome” meats.
As for finding a recipe, the research was pretty easy, simply because there is not much lamb neck material to work with. A number of years ago Amateur Gourmet had a write-up on the recipe we are adapting below, and then the author, Molly Stevens, posted the full recipe herself. Saveur also had a lamb’s neck recipe (but it had green beans, ugh), so we used it mostly as a sanity check for this recipe.
And this is a solid recipe, a very hearty braise but with a clear balance of flavors, sometimes a difficult task with this type of dish. The recipe balances the richness and fattiness of the lamb with sour, acid and bitter notes from lemon and olives. Trust me, this is a good thing and this is still a very rich, “lamby” dish.
As we noted earlier, the recipe is our adaptation from a Molly Stevens’ recipe. She is a well-known cookbook author who specializes in braises and roasts, so we just knew this would be good. Her cookbooks and blog are worth a look. Her version of the recipe uses shanks and has some fine details we remove for the sake of time and simplicity. But if you have the time and focus, try her version.
As for the process, it is a simple braise. Braising is a combination cooking method of dry and moist heat. Usually the combination of browning meat and then cooking low and slow with a broth and/or veggies.
Lamb Neck Provencal
Notes Before You Start:
- As noted earlier, you can substitute lamb shanks for necks. Frankly, if you didn’t tell anyone, most wouldn’t notice the difference.
- If using necks, have your butcher cut them into 1.5 – 2 inch thick disks.
What You Get: A rich lamb braise with a balance of flavors. An adventuresome dish (sort of).
What You Need: No special equipment required. But a cast-iron Dutch oven will be helpful for this and many other braises. (Yes, I know we use Dutch ovens a lot. They work. Maybe you should get one.)
How Long? This one takes awhile. Expect 3.5 – 4 hours of total time. Active time of 30-45 minutes. You will also need to stick around to flip the necks during the braise. This is a weekend dish best cooked while enjoying a glass of red wine or cocktail. Take your time, have some friends over. The house will smell great.
- 6 pounds lamb necks, cut into 1.5-2 inch disks
- All-purpose flour for dredging (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon smoked or hungarian paprika
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions (about 1 pound total), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes
- 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
- 1 cup chicken stock, homemade or store-bought
- 2 lemons
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup pitted and coarsely chopped oil-cured black olives
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Pour the flour into a shallow dish and stir in the paprika. Season the necks with salt and pepper. Dredge the necks in the flour and set them aside on a large plate.
3. Place a large heavy-based braising pot or Dutch oven (6- to 7- quart) over medium heat until hot. Add the olive oil. Add the flour-dredged necks (sear in batches so as not to crowd the pot- you want the necks to brown, not stew). Cook, turning the necks until they are browned on all sides, about 5- 10 minutes. Transfer the necks to a plate or tray, without stacking or crowding. Repeat with the remaining necks. Reserve necks while you prepare the aromatics.
4. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot and return the pot to the heat. Add the onions, tomatoes with their juice, and the garlic. Season to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onions are mostly soft. Pour in the wine and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to free any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Simmer for 3 minutes. Pour in the stock, stir and scrape the bottom again, and simmer for another 3 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, zest one of the lemons with a zester, knife or microplane grater. Avoid as much white pith as possible. Add the zest to the pot, along with the bay leaves. Reserve the lemon.
7. Place the browned lamb necks on top of the vegetables, arrange them to be evenly spaced (you can stack them if needed). Cover the pot with parchment paper, pressing down so it is close to the lamb. Trim the edges of the paper to extend about an inch over the side of the pot. Set the lid snugly on the pot, place the pot into the lower part of the oven, and braise for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Turn and/or rotate the necks every 35 to 45 minutes. Make sure there is still plenty of braising liquid. If the liquid seems to be simmering too much at any point, lower the oven heat by 10 to 15 degrees. If the liquid is drying out out, add 1/3 cup water or stock. The necks are done when the meat is entirely tender and the meat falls off the bone with minimal pressure.
9. To finish the dish, transfer the necks to a deep dish or tray to catch any juices, and cover with foil to keep warm. Remove any excess fat from the braising liquid. Stir in the olives and parsley and then add the juice of one lemon. Taste and season with salt and pepper, add more lemon juice as needed. Place the necks back the braising liquid to reheat for a few minutes. Serve lamb necks over polenta (or other starch), ladle the sauce generously over the lamb neck. Garnish with parsley, if you like.