Note: Our intern Chichi Wang loves offal so much, she pitched us this series called The Nasty Bits, where she'll explore recipes involving animal innards on a regular basis. Her goal is to tempt Serious Eaters out of their safety zones and into the wonderful world of offal. Take it away, Chichi!
Throughout history, cuisines around the world have championed animals in all their glory, carefully treating the innards, feet, jowls, and tails of beasts and fowl alike. Consuming this organ meat, or offal, arose from economic necessity, yet long before the frontiers of molecular gastronomy were braved, eating offal was a natural way to introduce interesting flavors and textures into dishes.
At what point, then, did we forsake these old customs? When did we begin to prefer flesh to the exclusion of offal, condemning the latter to the realm of the nasty and unsavory? For decades, offal devotees have searched far and wide, in butcher shops and restaurants, for any glimmer of hope. In recent years, we have begun to see signs of recognition among our peers, yet more is needed.
Nasty Bits Lovers, Unite! To embrace offal is to honor all that is delicious. Why limit one's palate to foods that are deemed "safe," when there is more to be tasted? Cow's tongue, braised and served in salsa verde, is beefy, fatty, and tender. Pig ears, simmered and thinly sliced, is delightfully crunchy in oil and vinegar. And liver, perhaps the most maligned of innards, is a revelation when seared in bacon fat.
As a Nasty Bits lover, it took me some time to realize that not everyone grew up eating offal. My mother's kitchen was always filled with the aroma of tendon or gizzards braising in soy sauce and the sounds of chicken feet crackling in oil. When I was three, one of my favorite foods was her homemade chicken feet, which I would nibble with great gusto, taking particular satisfaction in spitting out the little segments of bone as I gnawed along.
In Shanghai, one of my favorite dishes is congealed chicken's blood made from a freshly slaughtered bird. In its congealed form, the blood takes on the consistency of the softest tofu, and it will most likely be cut up and served in chunks. Nestled in chicken broth and topped with green onions, the chicken's blood is so silken that it shimmies down the throat with barely a quiver.
But enough talk about blood. There will be plenty of time for that later. So as not to lose the faint-hearted in the first of a series, we begin with a fairly innocuous offering: lamb's neck simmered gently with lemon juice and thyme. While lamb's neck is neither an organ nor a strange appendage, it is certainly a lesser-known, underappreciated cut of the animal.
You'll find some of the most well-marbled meat anywhere on the animal, on its neck. Simmered, the meat is tender and just a little fatty.
This stew couldn't be easier to throw together --there's no sweating of onions involved, no carrots or celery to dice. Just simmer the meat in stock or even water. In an hour or more, you'll have fork-tender morsels of lamb with a concentrated and heady broth.
Lamb's Neck Stew
Adapted from The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
- 2 pounds lamb's neck
- 1/4 olive oil
- approximately 3 cups water, low sodium chicken broth, or dry white wine
- 7 to 8 sprigs of fresh thyme, or rosemary
- Juice from 1 1/2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Add olive oil to the pan and set over medium-high heat, heating oil until it is near smoking. Add the pieces of neck, in batches if necessary to avoid crowding. Once the lamb is browned, removed to plate.
When you have finished browning all the lamb, place the pieces in a pot and pour wine, stock or water to cover the meat three-quarters of the way. Add the lemon juice and thyme. Add salt.
Simmer for approximately one hour, until the lamb is tender. Removed herbs and discard. Serve lamb in soup bowls with the broth, accompanied by a good crusty loaf.