I imagine I’ll end up saying this a few too many times, but: braise. There’s nothing, save a big pot of soup, that is more comforting to me in cold, wet weather than the aroma and depth of a long, slow braise on a pot simmering in the oven or sitting on the stove. We’re in the process of picking up a dutch oven on the cheap, but shipping issues will delay its BK debut for at least another week. However, our little saucepan has been working its ass off, turning out some excellent dishes.
After we conquered the pork braise, essentially a recipe I was familiar with, I wanted to do something I’d never done before. I was flipping through another great cookbook, really a farming/cooking book called The River Cottage Cookbook by a British chef named Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He has a recipe for Ivan’s Neck of Lamb that sounded like something both simple and delicious (and cheap) enough to try out. I changed it slightly, but it is a very basic recipe in any form…not so much a recipe as such, but a guideline for how to braise anything, particularly some neck o’ lamb. Pairing it with some hearty vegetables and creamed smashed potatoes gave us one seriously hearty meal.
2 lbs Neck of Lamb, cut into 1-inch thick (or so) rounds (have your butcher do this)
2 onions (or an equivalent amount/mix of shallots, leeks, and onions), diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 lemons, juice of
Few sprigs of thyme
Splash Red Wine
Water to cover
1/8 tsp. Fennel Seed (optional)
Season the lamb’s neck with salt and pepper and sear them in a hot pan (preferable your braise pot) until browned all over. Remove, add a little oil if necessary, and toss in your diced onion-family medley (I used 2 shallots, 2 small leeks, and an onion). Let those sweat for a couple minutes and add your garlic, diced. Cook for a couple minutes more, deglaze with the red wine, and add the lamb back to the pot. Add the thyme, fennel, lemon juice, bay leaf, and water or stock to cover (or nearly cover) the lamb, and season everything to just under taste (a little less salt than might be perfect). Bring the liquid to a boil, then turn down to barely a simmer. Let sit until lamb is very tender and nearly falling off the bone (depending on size of necks, anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours). If the liquid does not cover the lamb completely, I find it helps to turn the pieces over once, about halfway through the cooking time.
When the lamb is done, remove it from the pot. You can simmer the juices a bit more to reduce them, and add some seasoning if needed. Add a touch of salt and pepper to the lamb. Be sure to bring the braising liquid to the table…dipping good bread it in may be the best part of this dish.
For the potatoes, I simply boiled some small potatoes with garlic and rosemary until done (pierceable with fork or knife). I strained them and let them cool (I had the time, but you don’t have to. In a saute pan I cooked some diced leek and carrot until softened, then added the potatoes, some butter and cream, and let it all heat together, seasoning as needed with salt and plenty of black pepper. Seasoned with some salt and pepper, the leek’s flavor and the sweetness of the carrots were great inside the creamy, peppery potatoes.
A slight variation on this would include adding either some cumin or red pepper flakes, which would add great spice. I wanted to taste the neck simply, as it was my first time eating lamb’s neck, but I think I’d add some heat next time around.