Braised Lamb Neck Provençal

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First of all, let’s give credit where credit is due: look at the “c” I put in the word “Provencal” in this post’s title. That “c” has the appropriate squiggle in it; I copied it from the Wikipedia page for Provencal. What does that squiggle denote? I have no idea, but the squiggle is there and who do you have to thank? Me, that’s who.

Second of all: lamb’s neck. Are you grossed out? You really shouldn’t be. I first ate lamb’s neck at the offal dinner Chris Cosentino cooked at the Astor Center last year (watch video here). Unlike the raw venison liver I consumed, or, for that matter, beef heart tartare, the lamb’s neck was the least forbidding of the dishes served; on the plate, it looks no different from a braised lamb shank (except for the shape) and it tastes twice as good. Why? It’s a fattier cut of meat.

I hadn’t planned to cook lamb’s neck for Mark and Diana’s engagement dinner, but I stumbled upon a meat man at the Sunday Park Slope farmer’s market on 5th Ave. and 3rd street and asked him which meat he had on hand that’s good to braise. “We have lamb’s neck,” he said. “It makes an excellent braise.”

“Hmmmm,” I said, scratching my head. “How many do I need to buy to serve 4 people?”

“I would buy 6,” he suggested and so I bought six.

The next day, in communicating with Diana, I let her know there’d be lamb’s neck for dinner. You might’ve expected her to say: “Eww!” or “Umm, we actually have other plans” but you’ll never guess what she did say.

She said: “Oh great–Mark and I had lamb’s neck last night too.”

That’s right: Mark and Diana had purchased lamb’s neck from THEIR farmer’s market the night before, along with some pork, and they’d made a ragu. Who knew lamb’s neck was so popular with the kids these days?

Here’s what the lamb’s neck looked like out of the package:

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When I asked the meat man how to cook it, he said: “Cook it like you would a lamb shank; any recipe for lamb shank will do.”

Naturally, then, I turned to the greatest braising book of all time: Molly Stevens’s “All About Braising.” I’ve written about Molly’s book SO much on here that I can’t, in good conscience, share another recipe. You’ll simply have to buy it and look up the recipe for “Lamb Shanks Provençal” (she has the “c” squiggle too) and see for yourselves what a good recipe it is.

I can, however, give you a vague idea of what you do. In this case, you season the lamb necks with lots of salt and pepper and coat them in a mixture of flour and paprika:

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As always with braising, you want to brown your meat really well. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and brown your lamb’s necks, three at a time, until a deep golden brown on all sides:

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Then you add your aromatics: in this case–onions, tomatoes, and garlic.

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You also add white wine (I used Vermouth), chicken stock, the zest of one lemon and a bay leaf:

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Then you put all the lamb necks in the pot (it doesn’t matter if they’re all submerged):

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Cover with parchment paper, then the lid, and place in a 325 oven for 2 1/2 hours; flipping the necks over every 35 to 45 minutes.

When they come out of the oven, your apartment will smell like a very lamby version of heaven. Here’s the best part: you remove the lamb necks from the pot and then you stir in lemon segments from two lemons, olives and parsley. Those flavors hit the dish out of the park; you’ll never want to make lamb any other way again.

Serve on a big mound of polenta (I used instant, this time) and your engaged friends will love you forever:

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The next time you’re at the farmer’s market shopping for lamb, ask for neck. It’s cheap and more flavorful than a shank. And if you make six you might have leftovers which you can use the next day in a pasta. I simply shredded the leftovers into a pan, added a little water, covered, put on a low heat, and tossed with just-cooked fettuccine (though pappardelle would’ve been better):

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Two meals for the price of one? That’s one powerful neck.

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