Saturday, March 7, 2009

Red lentil and tomato soup with lamb

So, after my last post, where I purposely went as vegetarian/vegan as possible, this recipe poses somewhat of a quandary. Its a great recipe, the result is flavorful, and its nearly dead simple. But it uses meat. And not just any meat, lamb, those cute and fluffy creatures you see in almost every petting zoo on earth (side note, lamb are definitely NOT cute and cuddly, they're annoying and difficult). To make matters worse, the "cut" of lamb I'm proposing you use isn't your standard loin chop, or even a boneless leg or shoulder (which while making great roasts, are the generally preferred lamb stew meat). No, I'm proposing you use the neck.

Yup... the neck. Its really not as crazy as it sounds. Firstly, the NYT did an article (read it here) about the use of "unconventional cuts" of meat to add the rich flavor usually obtained only from stock. Second, despite the premium that usually applies to cuts of lamb, the neck is literally thrown away by most butchers, so its about the cheapest thing you can find, although finding it can be a bit of a problem. Many local supermarkets no longer employ an on site butcher and instead receive their meat pre-cut from a central distributor. Independent and higher end butchers at places like Whole Foods should be able to help you out, but you'll probably have to pay more. It seems odd, but Sam's club and Costco might work as well since they process some carcasses on site. So just what should you be expecting? See below.

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That is a freshly cut lamb neck. The "head end" is on top where you see the darker areas (yes, its coagulated blood, one of the very few times you'll actually see blood on your meat). The base of the neck, where it connects to the body, is at the bottom. It looks like a rather substantial piece, and it indeed does weigh about 2 lbs., but you only end up with about 1/4-1/2 lb of useable meat in the end. But the meat isn't the goal, its the flavor that it provides. And the flavor is rich. Its not quick though. From beginning to end is a good 2 hours, but its so worth it. And if the thought of asking for a lamb neck makes you queasy, then substitute some bone on loin chops, although you've drastically raised the price.

Red lentil and tomato soup with lamb:
1 meaty lamb neck
3 cups red lentils
1/2 onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped into bite size pieces
2 28oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. oilve oil
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp ground coriander
10 cups water

  1. Place your soup pot over medium high heat, add the oil, onion, carrots, and garlic and saute till the onion is translucent. Depending on how much trimming your butcher did, you may need to remove the back fat and some other large chunks while the vegetables are sauteing. Add the neck (or other meat) and brown on all sides for ~5 minutes.
  2. Roughly quarter the tomatoes, and add them and all the liquid to your pot. Pour in enough water to cover the neck, which was about 10 cups for me, and add the bay leaves and coriander.
  3. Bring the soup to a boil and hold for 5 minutes (this step is important flavor and food safety wise. After the five, drop the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1.5 hours, giving things a stir every once and a while. Add the lentils for the final 30 minutes.
  4. After the 1.5 hours shut off the hear, remove the neck from the pot and remove as much of the meat from the bones as possible. It won't be easy, there will be a lot of connective tissues to trim out, but your fingers and a sharp boning knife work well here. Once you've removed all the gristle, add the meat back to the pot, stir, then dish out to bowls.

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The meat I was able to get off the neck.

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I added a handful of stale bread cubes just before serving.

So, its a little creepy, but I'm a new fan of the lamb neck for soup flavoring. The price is pretty much unbeatable, ranging from free to at most $5, and the flavor is better than stock. There's also a bit of eco-cache as you're using more of the carcass and thus contributing to less waste. And if the neck really is just too creepy for you, then you can easily substitute some other bone in meat, or even replace the water with stock and go meatless (the lentils actually provide more protein in this dish than the lamb). But I do highly recommend that you take this as an opportunity to expand your horizons to the non-traditional cuts of meat that your grandparents probably enjoyed.

1 comment:

Darius T. Williams said...

So, who can say no to this? This looks amazing!