Lamb neck doesn’t exactly sound tasty. It’s that terminal ‘k’ sound, I think. It’s hard to sustain an appetite in the face of a harsh wet plosive. Indeed, lamb neck isn’t something I started cooking with until quite recently, having written it off as a slow-cooking cut less interesting than shank or shoulder.
A mistake, but an understandable one.
On the bone, lamb neck slow cooks nicely – there’s plenty of fat and flavour. But the filleted neck behaves a bit differently. Raw, it looks like a well-larded pork tenderloin, and you can almost treat it in the same way. It’ll flash fry, barbecue, or grill. It loves a bit of char, and a deep marinade to carry some flavour through that harsh cooking.
This one’s pretty simple, and the marinade is inspired by Rick Bayless’ adobo in Authentic Mexican*, which is my go-to for good times with chillies.
- Lamb neck fillets, 2 large ones – about 600g
- Garlic, 1 bulb (not a typo)
- Ancho chiles (dried), 3 large ones – about 50g
- Chipotle chili (dried), 1 decent sized one
- Tomato purée, 1tbsp
- Oregano, 1tsp
- Black peppercorns, 1/2tsp
- Allspice, 1/2tsp
- Cinnamon, 1/2tsp
- Cloves, 2
- Cider vinegar, 50ml
- Salt, 1/2 tsp
Serves 4, marinades overnight.
You could probably save yourself a lot of hassle by making up a dry rub from some similar ground spices, but where’s the fun in that? No, we’re going to toast a bunch of stuff, soak a bunch of stuff, and beat the shit out of it all with a blender. Let’s get started.
Tear the chiles into bits, and get rid of any seeds and stem. Get a heavy frying pan up to a medium heat, and quickly sear the chili pieces. Press them onto the pan a bit until they singe and smoke just slightly. Do this carefully and with an extractor fan running – you have just made a passable impersonation of pepper spray.
Remove the chili and put it in some boiling water to soak and rehydrate for at least half an hour. Use as little water as you can to just cover the chiles. It soaks up a lot of flavour and we’ll want to keep it without making the marinade too soupy.
We also toast the garlic. Break the bulb into cloves, leave the skin on, and toast them in the same pan as the chiles, also at a medium heat for around fifteen minutes. Turn them periodically so that the outsides darken a bit. We want the garlic toasty and gooey soft.
Grind up the pepper. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel it. By now the chiles ought to be soft. Drain them, reserving the liquid. Blitz everything (except the lamb) together in a blender to get a nice smooth paste. Add some of the chili liquid. I try to use it all if I can without the mixture being too runny, but you should do this to taste – it ups the heat a bit.
We now have a simple adobo marinade.
Preparing the lamb is up to you. If you want to barbecue or griddle it, leave the fillets whole, maybe scoring into the crosswise, so the marinade penetrates. If you’re going to fry them, or quickly sear in a skillet and don’t mind a bit of fuss, cut the fillets into medallions, a couple of centimetres thick. The more exposed surface area, the more tasty marinade gets absorbed.
Anyway, do your thing, and rub the lamb thoroughly with the marinade, then cover it or put it in a bag or something. Put it in the fridge overnight, or for as long as your sense of food hygiene will let you. 2 days works nicely.
Before you cook the lamb, let it come up to room temperature, and shake or scrape off the excess marinade. You can use it to make a sauce if you fancy by just heating it up with some stock, and simmering to reduce.
To cook the whole fillets, point heat at them for 3-4 minutes on each side.
If you’ve sliced medallions, fry or sear them quickly for a minute or two on each side.
I like to use a heavy skillet: get it really hot and sear the whole fillets for a minute on one side, turn and repeat twice, then finish in the oven for a couple of minutes. Each side then gets those criss cross char marks that were so fashionable in the nineties when everyone in the UK discovered heavy cookware.
On the barbecue, treat it similarly. About two minutes to a side, twice for each side, over a not-too-fierce heat.
You can just do it in a hot oven if you like, too. I’d say around 200c for something like 8 minutes. Maybe less.
This is nifty as a pita filling, or with a load of couscous. Despite the feisty ingredients, the marinade doesn’t dominate, and it’s the lamb that leads.
*I can’t stress enough that you want the 1987 edition. The 20th anniversary re-issue is fine but pulls its punches on all the fun indulgence and animal fat.