Lamb necks, spiced and cooked slowly is one of my favourite dishes and is traditionally what is eaten during Eid after Ramadan with the family.
When my dad used to go to the butchers they would give him the necks for free. Despite their wonderful slow cooker properties, they were considered beneath scrag. Of late lamb necks have re popularised, which unfortunately means that freebies are a thing of the past. However they are still a very reasonable cut to purchase and the meat after several hours of cooking is flavourful and tender.
Asfur is a very important ingredient for marinating the lamb necks. It comes from the orange red flowers of the safflower and is a cheap alternative lets say to saffron, the worlds most expensive spice. You can find asfur in Turkish shops / markets.
Serves 4 / 5 people.
Lamb necks 1 kilo – 1.5 kilo bone in
Ideally buy them in your local butchers; the supermarket variety tend to be over priced and cut into smaller pieces. Ideally you want the whole neck, uncut.
Cardamom pods – 6 gently crushed with a pestle and mortar to release the flavour
All Spice berries ground – 1 tsp
Cinnamon 1 tsp
Asfur ground – 4 heaped tsp
Black pepper ground – 1 tsp
salt – 2 tsp
Combine all the above spices and then rub on the meat. Leave for 24 hours so that the meat has time to absorb the spices.
To cook the lamb
3 whole carrots
1 clove whole garlic
2 white onions cut into rough large chunks
Once the lamb necks have had time to marinate heat two tablespoons of oil in a large casserole pot (with a lid) over a high heat. Brown the meat. You will need to turn it and make sure they are all sitting flat in the pot. If your pot is not big enough do them a few at a time.
Remove them from the pot and to the bottom add the onion, carrot and garlic. Arrange the lamb necks on top
Pour cold water carefully in to the pot, until it comes to half way up the meat. This when I did it was approximately 300 ml but it depends on the size / depth of your pot. Don’t drown the meat by covering it with water. Add two teaspoons of salt to the pot and one teaspoon of pepper.
Once the water bubbles turn it down to a very gentle heat, put the lid on the pot and let the meat cook slowly for three to four hours. Check it every hour or so to make sure there is still liquid in the pan (keep it to halfway up the meat). By this point they should be beautifully tender but still attached to the bones with some lovely meat juices in the bottom of the pan.
These can easily be made ahead and then stored in the fridge to be reheated.
One clove of crushed garlic
Handful of finely chopped mint
Half a cucumber peeled & chopped
Put the yoghurt in to a bowl and stir in one teaspoon of salt, the crushed garlic clove, the mint and cucumber. Drizzle with olive oil at the end.
Toasted pine nuts
Serve your lamb necks with rice, some scattered toasted pine nuts, a yoghurt salad and some of the cooking juices from the bottom of the pot (you can reduce to a nice sticky lamb gravy by increasing the heat under the pan and stirring rapidly. If you are thinking about another salad to pair it with, a fresh tabbouleh works very well.