I winced as the butcher tossed me a frozen package and said, “Lamb’s neck. See what you can do with that.” “Sure!” I said in reply, with no idea, whatsoever, of what I would do with this meat. However, always one for a challenge, I was certain something would come to me sooner or later.
As technology rushes forward with 3D television and hand held computers, we are left amazed by the potential of the future. Televisions are getting huge, while computers are getting smaller and more powerful. The current economic situation and political wrangling are the worst we’ve seen in many decades. Unemployment is a very real issue and budgets are tightening. Jamie Oliver is leading a Food Revolution that’s taking us away from convenience and fast food. This movement puts the emphasis back on home cooking, high quality ingredients grown locally, and nutrition. Obesity is the word on everyone’s lips. It has everything to do with health and very little to do with vanity. People are genuinely concerned about heart disease, stroke, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Gradually, we’re learning the connections between the old saying, “You are what you eat” and the current state of our health.
In the midst of all this change, I find myself drifting back to a simpler time. Our family summer, filled with illness and surgeries, has really slowed our household down over the past four months. One quiet day, I remembered that the butcher had challenged me to do something with a cut of meat that no one wants: lamb’s neck. It made sense to me to take this time to create something that would not only taste great, but use parts of the animal that might otherwise go to waste. After literally months of lamb’s neck drifting in and out of my thoughts, especially on those long nights in the hospital when I couldn’t sleep, I finally decided procrastination was getting me nowhere. It was time to make something from lamb’s neck.
I had no idea how delicious and meaty lamb’s neck is! It was a two day process, but one I will gladly do again because the results were so successful. I started by having my husband throw the lamb necks on the BBQ while he was grilling other meats. When the meat had a nice golden crust, I added it to a stock pot with sautéed onions, carrots, celery, fresh herbs from the garden such as rosemary, thyme and chives, and savoury items from the cupboard including a couple of gluten free beef bouillon cubes, bay leaves, sea salt, and fresh cracked mixed pepper corns. I covered the meat with water, and let it simmer for 3 hours with a lid on the pot. When the meat was tender, I turned the heat off and left it too cool, with the lid off. When it was cool, I removed the lamb necks and put them in the refrigerator overnight. I also put the stock, including the herbs and vegetables, in the refrigerator.
The next day, I removed the meat from the lamb’s necks and discarded the sinew, fat and bones. I set the meat aside to use in a variety of other dishes. I skimmed the fat off the stock and reserved it to use in making sauces and gravies. The stock had turned into a thick gelatine with lots of herbs and vegetables. I reserved this for soups, sauces and gravies. Nothing went to waste!
Later that night, I used the fat and stock to make a rich, thick gravy. I added more vegetables and the lamb meat. (It was local and organically raised.) I topped the dish with mashed potatoes, sprinkles with chives, and cooked them all in the oven. The result was a fabulous, very traditional, Shepherd’s Pie.
This was just one of many options I could have chosen. The pulled lamb’s meat could also be used to make hot sandwiches on a bun with or without gravy, ragout, stew, soups, stroganoff and fajitas to name but a few dishes. Now that I’ve tried lamb’s neck and veal cheeks, I’m searching for other interesting things like ox tails and tongue. These meats are lean, inexpensive and flavourful. (Sometimes, they’re even free!) They’re a great way to stretch the budget and add something new to the dinner table. I encourage you to ask your butcher for some of the lesser requested cuts of meat that are frequently considered “garbage”. Remember – waste not; want not!