This is the last in our series of 'Ultimate Comfort Foods' for the blog. Well, for the time being anyway. Now that we are speeding towards spring, we've got all sorts of ideas in the pipeline. With nods towards the quicker, more vibrant style of cooking that you associate with longer days and the arrival of blossom and greenery. So more cooking outdoors then - as well as cooking indoors. Along with providing inspiration for using the best of the new season's ingredients, in combination with our range of meat. And not forgetting zesty and zippy suggestions for Mother's Day and Easter. That sort of thing.
This is highly dependent on the weather actually shifting though. And at present, there is the distinct possibility that we will have to continue with the cosy theme and roll out some more winter-warmers. All whilst eating our collective hats.
So far we have run the gamut of slow cooked beef and pork cuts, along with hearty sausages for the series. But we have criminally left out lamb. Which is a crying shame because, perhaps, lamb suits braising and stewing best. Shoulder, shanks and belly are all very much geared towards this method. The leisurely release of fat and collagen, which is plentiful in lamb, all amounts to extra flavour. Especially when combined with vegetables, herbs and spices and when you think about all those classic British dishes that we have at our disposal, the proof is out there. A Lancashire Hotpot using any other type of meat would be a travesty. Shepherd's pie will always nudge over the winning line, way ahead of it's beefy cousin. And how could we forget kleftiko!? OK, that one is Greek in origin but you couldn't really imagine replicating that with anything other than lamb, could you?
Having mentioned all the usual suspects, there is the one cut though that is the absolute Prima donna and that is neck of lamb, or 'scrag', as it is known in the trade. It is an unfortunate name and sometimes, the appearance of this cut doesn't do it any favours either. But for home cooks and professional chefs alike, it can certainly be described as 'a true secret weapon' and should be key feature in your culinary armoury.
Scrag has always been an economical cut because you do get a lot more bone in ratio to actual meat. However, it is the bone that provides an extra degree of richness and when you think about time spent making stock, this does make sense. Not many cuts 'self-stock' as well as scrag does. Yes, when it comes to 'gravy-ifying' - scrag is definitely hard to beat.
We're making up words and terminology now, but you get the point.
The are a couple of hoops to leap through, to get towards the end of this recipe. Yet we hope that the final, resulting dish will delight and surprise in equal amounts. On serving, fellow diners or guests may suspect that you've rustled up a faggot of some description and in a way, they'd be right. Except that these meaty bundles are far from offal. You see, one neat trick with lamb is that you can cook, shred, shape and chill it, and it will hold together rather well after a blast in the pan or oven. Again, this is all down to that glorious fat. So the process does involve a bit little of faff but when you reveal that the lamb you are eating comes from scrag, you should definitely get a raised eyebrow or two. And a happy one at that.
Also, by way of a footnote, the yeasted cauliflower that goes with this dish is a big winner, as it delivers a great savoury hit that goes brilliantly with the neck. Actually, should you wish to try this recipe, make double the amount of the cauliflower, as it is really good as a spread for rarebit; all washed down with a malty, dark beer.
See, we haven't quite given up on this comfort eating business yet, have we? There is still time yet.
- First, the day before serving, place a large saucepan or stock pot on the hob and add the lamb scrag, onion, celery, carrot and bouquet garni and cover with 3 litres of cold water and bring to the boil, before reducing to a simmer.
- Gently poach the meat, bones and the vegetables for 3 hours, making sure to skim any scum that comes to the surface. The meat should be begin to fall off the bone towards the end and the resulting stock should had reduced by half.
- Leave to cool and then strain the meat and vegetables through a fine sieve, pouring the stock into a bowl.
- Cover the stock bowl with cling film and place into the fridge to chill overnight, so that the excess fat comes to the surface. (Once cooled down, the fat can easily be spooned off the top).
- Next, carefully pick and shred the remaining meat, removing bones and gristle with your fingers, over another bowl and mix together and season to taste.
- Take three equal lengths of cling film (approx 40cms) and lay them on top of each other and then evenly spoon the shredded meat at one edge of the cling film.
- Carefully roll the cling up, to form a sausage and then twist each end, making sure that any air can escape.
- Leave the sausage roll in the fridge overnight.
- On the day of serving, take the lamb out and heat your oven to 180°C.
- Prepare the yeasted cauliflower by melting the butter in a saucepan over a medium to high heat and add the cauliflower florets, yeast and salt. Stir consistently, so that everything mixes in and until the cauliflower begins to soften and breakdown. This will take about 20 minutes. When everything is soft, slowly add the milk and blitz with a hand held blender or pour everything into a regular blender. You want a smooth consistency, like a pomme puree. Put to one side and keep warm.
- To make your caramelised shallots, place a frying pan on the hob, over a medium heat and add a splash of oil, followed by the shallots. Briskly fry all over until they turn golden brown and then remove the excess oil. Place the shallots back on the heat and add the red wine vinegar and reduce. And then add 500mls of the leftover lamb stock, bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking the shallots for 20 minutes, until they become soft and sticky and the gravy has thickened. Check for seasoning and finish by stirring through the red currant jelly.
- Whilst the shallots are cooking, slice the lamb into four even pieces and peel away the cling film. Place a frying pan on the hob over a high heat, add a splash of oil and sear the pieces all over. You will need to work quickly though.
- Place the pan into the oven or transfer to a roasting tray and cook the lamb through for 10 minutes.
- To plate, add a generous spoonful of the yeasted cauliflower in the centre and place the lamb just to the side. Add the shallots on top of the cauliflower (along with something green - like tenderstem broccoli).
- Finally, spoon over a generous amount of the rich, sweet gravy and serve.