Isn’t it funny how every holiday has somehow ended up with a trademark meat? These meats have turned into the culinary mascots of each respective holiday, stamping themselves onto your brain and your memory, and even making their way into the doodles that mark calendar each and every year. Think about it: Thanksgiving has obviously laid claim to turkey; St. Paddy’s day is the day of corned beef and bratwurst; Fourth of July is notorious for grilling hamburgers and hot dogs; Christmas has somehow turned into a catch-all for meats, welcoming the likes of hams, turkeys, and beef tenderloins among others; and Valentine’s day welcomes chocolate. Okay, so not a meat.
While there is a lot of overlap in the meat-allegiances that certain people pledge on each different holiday–some people do hot chicken on Fourth of July; a few odd birds eat ham on Thanksgiving; and of course there’s the sausage vs. bacon battle that every family faces on Christmas morning–by and large Easter Sunday is a holiday that is associated and celebrated with just one telltale meat: lamb.
Many home cooks may stick to more familiar cuts of the lamb, like the shank, the leg, the chops, a shoulder, or even a rack of ribs, while the lamb neck remains a generally unchartered territory—but it is one that’s well worth exploring: super tender and incredibly flavorful.
Although it may seem a little daunting, this recipe for braised lamb neck is actually very simple and easy to execute, but it ends up tasting like something super fancy-pants. With the absence of heavy cream or starchy potatoes and the addition of a handful of fresh herbs, the dish isn’t very heavy overall and is perfectly enjoyable in [what will hopefully become] warmer spring temperatures. The cheesy polenta provides a wonderful, fluffy bed with which to soak up any run-away juices, but serving it over pasta would be a nice option as well. It’s a lovely, festive, and delicious dish to serve your family for Easter supper. Plus, you’ve got that trademark meat to make the holiday complete.
Braised Lamb Neck Ragu
Active time: 45 minutes
Total time: 3 hours and 45 minutes
1 lamb neck from Porter Road Butcher
Salt & Pepper
Bacon fat or Grapeseed oil
1 onion, chopped medium
1 bulb fennel, chopped medium
5 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/2 cup red wine
2 14.5 oz cans organic roasted tomatoes
1 quart Porter Road Butcher stock (lamb, beef or chicken; not pork)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs: parsley, rosemary, or oregano
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Season lamb neck liberally with freshly ground salt and pepper on all sides, covering the entire neck. On the stovetop, heat a heavy-bottomed pot (like a Le Creuset) over medium heat.
- Add enough bacon grease or grapeseed oil to come to just 1/2 centimeter up the side of the heavy pot. Open windows and doors. Add lamb neck and sear heavily on all sides, about 10 minutes, getting a nice crust around the entire neck. It may get a little smokey–but that ain’t a ba-a-a-a-ad thing 😉 Remove neck and set aside.
- Add onion and fennel to the pot, tossing to coat in remaining oil and seasoning. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened. Add garlic and cook another minute, until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add red wine to deglaze the bottom of the pot, stirring with a wooden spoon.
- Add neck back to the pot along with both cans of roasted tomatoes and quart of PRB stock. There should be enough liquid to almost completely submerge the neck, but if some of it is still sticking out, that’s okay.
- Put a top on the pot and put it in the oven, on a middle rack, for 3 hours. Begin to enjoy the heavenly aromas. If part of the neck isn’t completely submerged, check it after 1.5 hours, turning the neck over so that it will cook evenly.
- After three hours, check the meat to see if it is fork tender. If it is not, return it to the oven for another 30 minutes. When tender, remove pot from the oven. With two forks, begin to pull the meat off the bones, shredding it apart. Note: this should be easy. If it isn’t, the meat is likely not done and needs another 30 minutes or so. Remove bone from pot and discard, or set aside and marvel at the neck vertebrae.
- With a wooden spoon, stir the ragu mixture, breaking up the larger pieces of meat into smaller ones, so it thickens into a meaty, tomatoey, stew-like consistency. If there is too much liquid, allow it to simmer over medium heat until some of the liquid cooks out.
- Just before serving, add fresh herbs and stir. Allow to simmer for five minutes.
- Serve over Padano Polenta and garnish with a sprinkle of fresh herbs.
Grana Padano Polenta
1/2 onion, small dice
2 tablespoon bacon grease or grapeseed oil
1 quart PRB pork stock
2 cup polenta or cornmeal
4-6 ounces Grana Padano cheese from The Bloomy Rind
- Heat a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add bacon grease and allow to melt.
- Add onion and sweat in bacon grease for 3-4 minutes, until softened.
- Add 1 quart pork stock and bring to a boil.
- Whisk in 2 cups polenta or cornmeal; stir well.
- Turn down the heat to a simmer and allow polenta to cook for another 20-25 minutes, until no liquid remains.
- Finish with finely shredded Grana Padano cheese; stir to combine.
Serve your Braised Lamb Neck Ragu and Grana Padano Polenta alongside your favorite green salad, or with a side of roasted vegetables. We roasted brussels sprouts, fennel, and onion under the broiler with just some grapeseed oil, salt and pepper – Yum!