Eating a mess of meat off the bone is a primal, delightful experience, especially if that meat is brushed with some sort of sticky, slightly sweet sauce. A lamb’s neck can provide this visceral dining experience, but its truly impressive amount of bone and connective tissue means you have to apply the lowest amount of heat for the slowest amount of time. Obviously — I think you know where I’m going — this makes this cut a brilliant candidate for sous-vide cooking.
The first time I had a lamb’s neck, I was thrilled by both the presentation and flavour. Instead of being filleted, the thing was served whole, making it impossible to avoid the fact that I was eating a neck, which is something I enjoy, for some reason. In terms of flavour, it was a like a feral pot roast, tender, meaty, and wilder tasting than its beefy relative.
It was also $40, which is crazy when you consider I found a whole freezer full of necks at my local (fairly overpriced) grocery store for about five bucks a pop. If your grocery store does not have a freezer of various obscure animal parts, ask your friendly butcher about acquiring some necks. I’m sure they will be delighted and impressed by your excellent, discerning palate.
Once you have your necks, you’ll need an precision cooker (duh), some salt, a sprig of rosemary and some grapes. Grapes, in my opinion, are often overlooked as an ingredient that should be cooked in savoury recipes. Yes, they make for superb snacking, but they also provide just the right amount of tangy, jammy, sweetness to hearty meats, and a cup is more than enough to make an excellent sauce for your succulent lamb neck.
Everything gets tossed in a bag, sealed and cooked in a water bath for 24 hours. You could sear before or after if you are so inclined, but lamb has plenty of meaty flavour without that step. For a steakier neck, use a temp of 65 degrees Celsius, and increase the cook time to 36 hours.
For meat that can be startled off the bone with an aggressive look, try 80 degrees for 24 hours. My personal favourite is 70 degrees for 24 hours, which produces tender meat that can be pulled from the bone easily, but still has a bit of steaky chew.
Lamb’s Neck with Tangy Grape Gravy
1 lamb’s neck
1 cup of red or black grapes (you can halve them if you want)
A large sprig of rosemary
A couple sprigs of thyme (if you have it)
Salt the lamb’s neck aggressively on all sides. Add it to a vacuum bag, along with the grapes and herbs. Seal the bag, then cook the neck for 24 hours in a 70 degree Celsius water bath (or another temp and time, as described above).
Once the cooking time has elapsed, strain the liquid from the bag into a sauce pan through a sieve, add the grapes to the liquid, and bring the liquid to a boil. Cook until the juice starts to thicken and the grapes start to break down.
For a smooth, glaze-like sauce, blend the liquid with the busted grapes, then strain through a sieve once more. Reduce again if needed for a thick, sweet and salty sauce. It should taste slightly aggressive on its own, but will be a perfect partner for your succulent, primal piece of meat.