Melt-in-your-mouth Stew

DSCF8120I was going through the meat section of our grocery the other day when I spotted some lamb necks in the freezer section. Lamb necks! Let me tell you I am an absolute pushover for, let’s just call them, “non-prime” cuts of meat. Necks, shin, tails, ears, cheeks, bellies, kneecaps, trotters…you name it. Often cheap cuts that favor long, slow cooking which then renders the meat soft, unctuous, and utterly delicious…in my book at least.

I suppose it has to do with the fact that I also love that sort of cooking. You know, witch-over-a-black-cauldron type cooking, bubble-bubble-toil-and-trouble and all that. Italian grandmother type cooking. Little House on the Prairie type cooking. That hours-long, absent-minded tending to a softly gurgling pot…seemingly time consuming, but actually quite effortless, as the majority of the time is spent waiting (and subsequently doing things other than minding the pot).

Also, it must be said that I have always loved meat sections and butchery shops of any sort. And by always I mean since I was a child. I still distinctly remember going to the grocery with my mother, walking through the meat section and thinking that it smelled so compelling

Don’t be put off by what seems to be the long and involved process of stews and braises. They are usually the easiest things to make – just requiring you to chuck things into a pot and then letting time do the rest. They also have the added bonus of making you feel totally competent in the kitchen. And most times they can be made in advance (in fact, they often benefit from having time to “rest”), so perfect for a party. You can cook it a day or two ahead and have absolutely zero stress on the day of. Or, you can freeze portions of it for future meals for a hungry spouse and offspring.

Have I convinced you yet?

If I haven’t, then I hope this will…

Melt-in-your-mouth Stew
(adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Melt-in-your-mouth Shin Stew from Cook With Jamie)

  • 1.2 kilos lamb neck
  • 1-2 tablespoons of flour
  • Olive oil
  • 2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 sticks of celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • A small handful of dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 400-gram cans chopped tomatoes
  • 250 grams red wine
  • 250 grams water (to rinse out the empty tomato cans)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

– Heat a heavy-bottomed oven-proof saucepan or pot over medium high heat. When the pan is hot add a couple of generous glugs of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions just start to soften. Add the carrots and celery and toss to combine. Add the bouquet garni, dried porcini, and cinnamon stick and stir, cooking for about 5 minutes or so until the vegetables soften slightly.
– While your veg are cooking, toss the lamb neck in the flour and season with salt and pepper. Shake off the excess.
– Add the meat to the pan and stir together.
– Add the tomatoes and wine to the pan. Swirl out the empty tomato cans with the water and add to the pot as well. You want the liquid to almost-but-not-quite cover the meat.  Season with salt and pepper and stir.
– Gently bring to a boil. When the pot is boiling cover with a double-thickness of aluminium foil, and then with the lid (clamp it on tight!), and place this in a pre-heated 350F oven for around 2 hours.
– After 2 hours in the oven, remove the foil and lid, give it a stir, and return to the oven uncovered for another hour or until the meat is meltingly tender and can be easily removed from the bones.
– Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove the bouquet garni and the cinnamon stick and serve.

Jamie Oliver’s Cook With Jamie has a number of great stew/braise recipes, which is why I went straight to it when I scored the lamb necks. I made another lovely stew (oxtail!) from this cookbook that you can find here. He also has an incredible way with lamb shanks, which I tried here. As you can see, I love him and I love this cookbook.

DSCF8162Jamie’s original recipe uses beef shin but I thought it would work well with the lamb necks…and I was right! I think it’ll work with any sort of stewing cut of beef or lamb, so use your favorite or what is available to you. I’ve also tweaked the recipe somewhat to suit what I had on hand. The original uses 2/3 of a bottle of Chianti but the only Chianti I found was over P1,000 so I frugally opted to use some Merlot I had at home instead. I also used half the wine called for and made up the rest with water, because the kids were none too impressed with a very winey boeuf bourguignon I had made before. Sigh. Slowly but surely!

This also called for a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and 2 bay leaves, but since I didn’t have any fresh rosemary, and there was none to be found in my friendly neighborhood grocery (isn’t that always the case that the very herb you are looking for is the one not in stock???), I substituted both with a bouquet garni (because I just happen to have them around). Feel free to use whichever you prefer or have at the moment.

I served it here with sweet potato mash…although truth be told, my family prefers it with rice.  I like the mash though, so give it a chance if you are inclined.  I think this stew marries well with its soft sweetness.  Leftovers would also be great shredded and tossed through some pasta.  Also, if you can manage a gremolata do it!  It is the perfect final touch.

I cannot recommend cooking in the oven enough. It is so much easier than cooking on the hob…just pop in the oven and that’s that. Babysitting is down to a minimum, and you can get on with whatever it is you need to do while your meal blips away to its completion. It also cuts down on clean up (cleaning the stove top is one of my worst ever chores to do!). Also, beyond just the convenience of it, cooking in the oven provides a much gentler but all-over heat that I feel does magic to stews and braises. Dishes that I usually cook on the hob have turned out so much better in the oven – adobo, binagoongan baboy, and an Asian-style braised pork belly that I shared in my December column in Yummy magazine (where I also waxed lyrical about oven-cooking vs hob-cooking). Whichever way you look at it, it’s win-win…particularly if you are a busy parent!

So if you have a free day, fire up that oven and get cooking. Just imagine all the things you can get done while dinner cooks itself!

P.S. I am off to Barcelona on a work trip at the end of this week so I hope this stew tides you over until I get back!  You can also follow me on Instagram or on Twitter if you’d like to get a peek of what I’m doing (and eating!) while I’m there :)  See you in two weeks troops!!

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