Thursday, November 11, 2010

Shepherd's Delight

Somewhere in the world, lamb neck is probably a prized cut of meat. That doesn't appear to be so for the part of the world I inhabit. You can find the occasional lamb neck recipe in a British or Canadian cookbook, more still for Persian or Middle Eastern cuisine, and probably a smattering throughout the Mediterranean regions. But there are no preparations listed in the Joy of Cooking or Bittman's How to Cook Everything, so when I set out to prepare my lamb neck, the last of 2009's lamb, I had to wing it. I went with the dish that always seems to taste best when prepared out of necessity: Shepherd's Pie.

The lamb neck recipes I did find call for it in slices. Not feeling curious or ambitious enough to hack away at this particular part of the anatomy, I decided to braise the neck the same way I do shanks: first browning in hot oil in a cast iron vessel, then cooking slowly in an oven with mirepoix, wine, stock and herbs.

My buddy David Neevel has been showering me with the best Chanterelles that Oregon has seen in years, and so I wanted them to be as much of a component of the dish as the lamb. So instead of a chicken or beef stock for the braise, I reconstituted some dried porcinis. The lamb braised for about 2 hours at 300, and then it was late so I turned it down to 200 and went to bed. Somewhere in the night I shut the oven off, and then after work the next day, I processed the cooking solids and liquid through a food mill and then set about reducing it by about half.
Meanwhile, I pulled the fat and gristle (and spine!) from the neck and chopped the meat into chunks. Then, I sauteed my chanterelles at a pretty high heat, added salt to seep out the liquid, then reconstituted the saute with lamb and white wine. At the last minute I decided to add some large chunks of carrots to give the dish a little sweetness and texture. When the cooking liquid, now gravy, had reduced, I lazily thickened it with a little cornstarch slurry (I'm not eating wheat right now! Fodder for another post!) and incorporated it into my mushrooms. Let this cook long enough to take the crunch out of the carrots, and poured it into the bottom of my casserole.
Meanwhile, I had boiled up a couple of russets along with a big, knobby parsnip. Passed this all through a ricer and incorporated an unhealthy amount of butter, and spread it over the top. She baked at 375 for about 30 minutes and came out better than I even imagined. I feel like lamb always has to get the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Proven├žal treatment, and it was nice to give it the Autumn in Oregon treatment, worthy of my friend David, the Fungi Shepherd (he got the leftovers at lunch today).