This week, I reached the end of my trove of Arizonan lamb necks, with the happy result being two more lamb neck dishes.
Number One: Hash of pulled lamb neck, caramelized onions, winter squash and curly kale, topped with poached farm eggs….unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this dish. It was so tasty that time was not made for photography.
Number Two: Lamb necks “en daube Toulousaine” served with boiled rice and a saute of winter squash, kale and button mushrooms (yes there is a lot of squash and kale in my winter cooking…good and good for you).
The daube is the classic southern French method of dealing with a tough old piece of beef, although it is also used for wild boar of even bull, depending on the region and availability. As with many of the classic dishes of the French countryside, there are as many recipes as there are grandmothers, but they all share a basic pattern. The meat is cut into hearty sized chunks and left to marinate overnight in tannic, young red wine with aromatics, bay leaves and herbs. The next day, the meat is drained, saving the wine and the aromatics. Then the meat is seared (or not, again, depending on the recipe), the vegetables from the marinade are sweated in the searing fat, the red wine from the marinade is used to deglaze the pot and the whole is simmered at barely a murmur until the meat is tender and delicious. Typically, the daube is served with fresh buttered noodles or boiled rice, noodles showing up more often in the east near Italy, and rice west of Marseille.
Of course the regional, and even individual, differences are many.
What piece of beef to use (I like shoulder, but shanks, neck or a mix of cuts are possible…choose a gelatinous cut with a good amount of fat)?
Marinate or not (it depends on how organized I am)?
Sear the meats or not (I say yes…brings out the sweetness in the meat and the wine)?
What vegetables to use the marinade/simmering (carrots, onions, garlic and celery are classic, although fennel often shows up in Provence)? Add alcohol in addition to the wine (I like to use Pastis or Cognac or Armagnac)? What spices, herbs and extras to add (cloves, thyme and bay are almost required…many cooks also add a couple anchovy filets and a bit of dried orange peel. In the southwest, often walnuts are added)?
Strain the sauce? Thicken with a bit of flour or reduce? Rice or noodles?
It is clear that, as long as the general outline is respected, almost any combination of choices can yield a satisfying dish. As a consequence, it hardly seems worth having a recipe. Meat, red wine, its a daube. Here are some photos of how I made mine.
I chose not to marinate the necks overnight…too big and and thought of it too late.
The lamb necks are seared off…I used some beef tallow for the fat. Yes I know that this pan is too big, but my other dutch over seemed too small.
After the necks are seared, the vegetables are softened in the same fat, then I added a bit of tomato paste and a spoon full of flour.
Now the necks go back into the pot with thyme, bay, cloves, anchovy filets and walnuts. If you are going to leave the veggies in the finished sauce, these things should be tied up in cheesecloth for easy removal. I am going to strain.
Next, I deglazed with Cognac, scraped up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot then added the wine. I am using a Cahors, which has the shoulders to stand up to long cooking with full flavored meats. The use of wine from the Southwest, Cognac and walnuts gives this daube its distinctive southwestern notes.
Now it is time for cooking. The meat is cooked covered in a very slow oven, say 250 degrees F. Obviously, to become tender, long cooking will be required. After about 5 hours, with regular basting every hour or so, the meat begins to get tender. However, the sauce is still too thick. The solution is to finish the cooking with the lid off, basting often, which allows the sauce to thicken and also give the meat a lovely glazed finish. This final step of glazing will take an hour or so, depending on temperature.
That is some beautiful, fatty lamb neck.