I’ve had an on again off again relationship with my slow cooker. I purchased it at a small neighborhood hardware store in Pittsburgh, sometime during my senior year in college (when the dinosaurs walked the earth.) For years, it was my go to appliance, making soups and chilis while I toiled at an office.
When I started to work from home, I needed it less, and it was relegated to a dusty shelf in the basement, moving from one house to the next, mostly ignored. From time to time, for big parties, I would bring it out and make chili con queso, using a recipe I made up when it was the perfect food to watch the Steelers win Super Bowls. More recently, the crock pot was just the thing to warm apple cider, heady with mulling spices, at late fall and holiday get togethers. But still, I was not taking full advantage of this appliance.
And then, about 4 years ago, we did some renovating. We lost use of the kitchen for a few weeks and I cobbled together a kitchen in the living room. Microwave, toaster oven, electric frying pan, and the crock pot. I was amazed at the braises that emerged from the crock pot and after a few weeks and a few recipes, I became a true believer.
Eat well. Win prizes.
When Cara and Phoebe from Big Girls Small Kitchen partnered with my pal Kelsey (The Naptime Chef) for a week of Slow Cooker events, I couldn’t wait to join in. I love this event. There are so many bloggers involved – there are great looking recipes showing up all the time on Pinterest and check out the chances to win Delonghi and Breville slow cookers (the fancy ones) here and here.
And almost every day there are chances to win OXO kitchen goodies, there is a Twitter Chat today at noon (#slowcooker) and a Facebook cook along tomorrow on The Naptime Chef, Small Kitchen College or Big Girls, Small Kitchen facebook pages.
That’s right. Necks. Lamb Necks.
My good friend Bonnie brought me four lamb necks. What? Your friends don’t drop off animal parts and challenge you to cook them? It’s like Iron Chef over here.
I have a feeling she was cleaning her freezer, just as I’ve been trying to do, but that’s just fine with me. I love cooking with lamb neck. The meat is especially tender and flavorful. Like the cheeks (guanciale, right?) or the little dimples of deliciousness on either side of the chicken’s backbone, this meat is very rich. (It’s also cheap. Ask at your farmer’s market or Halal butchers.)
The neck requires long low cooking to tenderize, and there is no better tool than the slow cooker. Let your crock pot cook all day while you’re away. Come home to everything you need to make a perfect ramped up dinner sandwich in just a few quick minutes.
Flexible Meaty Goodness
When you live alone, or you’re the only carnivore in the house, long, slow braises often end with several pounds of meat. For me, it’s expensive, even with inexpensive cuts, because it is too much of one flavor. Unless I have a party, or I’m very diligent with freezing, and using, single portions, I get overwhelmed.
Charcutepalooza taught me so many things… like how to cook, and enjoy, lamb neck. It takes some patience and time to pluck out all the meat after the braising, but it’s so worth it. I like the tendon when it’s been long cooked. Just like the beef tendon on a good bowl of pho, it’s chewy and satisfying. If you don’t like it, don’t worry, just leave it behind. The meat will be shredded somewhat, but give it another chop so you have consistency in your sandwich filling.
Build your flavors
Get out a sauté pan. You want an Asian flavor? Add tamari and mirin and grated ginger, scallions and toasted sesame seed. In an Italian kind of mood? Chop up some onions, sun dried tomatoes and capers. Barbeque sauce? Bahn mi? Curry? Whatever direction suits your fancy, you’ll have a sandwich filling in about ten minutes.
All warmed through? Wrap it in a tortilla, naan, pita. Stuff the mixture into a chewy Italian roll or pile your barbeque lamb on soft potato rolls. Think about adding some sort of condiment or pickle.
Want more than a sandwich? Make a sauce with wine and a small can of tomatoes, add the shredded meat, and top polenta or noodles. Add carrots and peas, top with mashed potato and make a little shepard’s pie that will elicit soft moans and plates as clean as a whistle.
Lamb necks and the slow cooker. Probably hadn’t thought of that, right? I think you’ll thank me.
2 lamb necks
Plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 medium onions
2 carrots, diced 1 celery stalk, diced
1 c white or red wine (optional, but nice)
1 c water (up the water if you don’t add the wine)
Rub the lamb necks all over with liberal amounts of salt and black pepper.
Get a large saute pan very hot.
Add the lamb necks and brown quickly all over. If your slow cooker is more, ahem, modern than mine, you may be able to do this in the pot.
Layer in the bottom of your slow cooker the garlic, onions, carrots, celery, and herbs.
Place the lamb necks on top of the herbs and pour the wine and water over.
Start the slow cooker on high, until the liquids are boiling, then turn down to low and cook for four to six hours.
Remove the necks and when you can handle them, pluck the meat from the bones and cartiledge.
- 4 oz braised lamb neck
- 8 Ceragnola green olives, pitted and chopped
- ¼ c marcona almonds, chopped
- 1 T preserved lemon rind, minced
- 2-3 T pomegranate molasses
- Salt and Pepper
- Sauce 2 T each harissa and plain yogurt
- Warm the lamb in a saute pan.
- Stir in the olives, almonds and lemon
- Moisten with pomegranate molasses.
- Taste and correct for salt and pepper.
- Put the sauced meat in a warm pita and add a big dollop of sauce.