In my novel, Bread and Butter, Harry’s much-discussed lamb’s neck dish cycles through about a dozen versions in the course of the novel, as it goes from the dish that makes his name to the nemesis he obsesses over perfecting. My own encounter with the fabled lamb’s neck was at Chris Cosentino’s nose-to-tail restaurant Incanto, in San Francisco. I’d landed there by happy accident, having read a recommendation for it among the hundreds of others I’d been sifting through, but one look at the menu convinced me and my husband to cab it out to Noe Valley for pasta with cured tuna heart, raw egg, and parsley, followed by a dish of braised lamb’s neck that my husband and I passed back and forth–rather adversarially, if we’re being honest–down to its last shred of succulent meat. I have yet to source my own lamb’s neck here in Wisconsin, so I’m saving this New York Times recipe for a winter day.
I find it heartening that a little research into “braised lamb’s neck recipe” turns up quite a few hits. Among the handiest and simplest is at Adam Roberts’ blog, The Amateur Gourmet. He credits Molly Stevens’ much-praised cookbook, All About Braising, for this recipe, and Stevens quite conveniently shares the recipe on her site.
Intrepid readers or readers with great butchers should swap shanks for necks for this recipe, but those who prefer something a little less, shall we say, graphic, should stick with shanks.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Yield: 6 servings
A recipe for braised lamb shanks in a lemony Provençal sauce paired with Michelle Wildgen’s BREAD AND BUTTER from ALL ABOUT BRAISING by Molly Stevens, (Knopf, 2004) and on www.mollystevenscooks.com
6 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
All-purpose flour for dredging (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions (about 1 pound total), chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 pound plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped (or one 14½-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped, juice reserved)
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1 cup chicken stock, homemade or store-bought
3 small or 2 large bay leaves
½ cup pitted and coarsely chopped oil-cured black olives, such as Nyons or Moroccan
¼ cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Heat the oven to 325°F.
- Trim the lamb shanks: If the shanks are covered in a tough parchment-like outer layer (called the fell), trim this away by inserting a thin knife under it to loosen and peeling back this layer. Remove any excess fat as well, but don’t fuss with trying to peel off any of the thin membrane—this holds the shank together and will melt down during braising.
- Dredge the lamb shanks: Pour the flour into a shallow dish and stir in 1 tablespoon of the paprika. Season the shanks all over with salt and pepper. Roll half the shanks in the flour, lifting them out one by one and patting to remove any excess, and set them on a large plate or tray, without touching.
- Brown the lamb shanks: Heat the oil in a large heavy-based braising pot (6- to 7- quart) over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the 3 flour-dredged shanks (you’re searing in two batches so as not to crowd the pot). Cook, turning the shanks with tongs, until they are gently browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the shanks to a plate or tray, without stacking or crowding. Dredge the remaining shanks in flour, patting to remove any excess, and brown them. Set beside the already browned shanks, and discard the remaining flour.
- Make the aromatics and braising liquid: Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot and return the pot to the heat. If the bottom of the pot is at all blackened, wipe it out with a damp paper towel, being careful to leave behind any tasty caramelized drippings. Add the onions, tomatoes with their juice, and the garlic and season with the remaining ½ teaspoon paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onions are mostly tender. Pour in the wine and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits on the bottom of the pot that will contribute flavor to the liquid. Simmer for 3 minutes. Pour in the stock, stir and scrape the bottom again, and simmer for another 3 minutes.
- Meanwhile, zest the lemon: Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from half of 1 lemon, being careful to remove only the outermost yellow zest, not the bitter-tasting white pith; reserve the lemon. Add the zest to the pot, along with the bay leaves.
- Make the braise: Arrange the lamb shanks on top of the vegetables. The shanks should fit fairly snugly in the pot, but you may need to arrange them “head-to-toe” so they fit more evenly. Don’t worry if they are stacked in two layers. Cover the pot with parchment paper, pressing down so that it nearly touches the lamb and the edges of the paper extend about an inch over the side of the pot. Set the lid in place, slide the pot into the lower part of the oven, and braise for about 2½ hours. Check the shanks every 35 to 45 minutes, turning them with tongs and moving those on top to the bottom and vice versa, and making sure that there is still plenty of braising liquid. If the liquid seems to be simmering too aggressively at any point, lower the oven heat by 10 to 15 degrees. If the liquid threatens to dry out, add ⅓ cup water. The shanks are done when the meat is entirely tender and they slide off a meat fork when you try to spear them.
- Segment the lemon: While the shanks braise, use a thin-bladed knife (a boning knife works well) to carve the entire peel from the 2 lemons. The easiest way to do this is to first cut off the stem and blossom end of each one so the lemon is flat on the top and bottom. Then stand the lemon up and carve off the peel and white pith beneath it with arcing slices to expose the fruit. Trim away any bits of pith or membrane that you’ve left behind, until you have a whole naked lemon. Now, working over a small bowl to collect the juices, hold a lemon in one hand and cut out the individual segments, leaving as much of the membrane behind as you can. Drop the segments into the bowl, and pick out the seeds as you go. When you finish, you should be holding a random star-shaped membrane with very little fruit pulp attached. Give this a squeeze into the bowl and discard. Repeat with the second lemon.
- Transfer the shanks to a tray to catch any juices, and cover with foil to keep warm. Using a wide spoon, skim as much surface fat from the cooking liquid as possible. Lamb shanks tend to throw off quite a bit of fat: continue skimming (tilting the pot to gather all the liquid in one corner makes it easier) until you are satisfied. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in the lemon segments, olives, and parsley. Taste for salt and pepper. Return the shanks to the braising liquid to reheat for a minute or two. Serve with plenty of sauce.
Lou Wai Lou uses minced smoked ham in the stuffing, and Alex Ong sometimes adds smoked pork belly — both delightful options.