So, with an open mind and no idea which cut to use, I went to my favourite butchery. To my surprise the first cut my butcher suggested was a whole sheep’s neck. He believes that if you want red wine, you drink it out of a glass and if you want to cook tomatoes, you put it in soup, and I tend to agree with him. He describes neck as a “self-saucing pudding” which only needs a little of the correct liquids to ensure you have a tender and succulent piece of meat after a few hours. I decided to use my favourite staple ingredients in my first attempt to cook the perfect lamb’s neck (well, I had three…), these ingredients are fresh lemon juice, some white wine, a cup of strong brewed Rooibos tea, and spice mix of cinnamon, aniseed, ginger and cumin. Exactly like most recipes suggest, I closed the casserole and went on with the day as the meat simmered in the liquid and spices mix. I will be honest, after about three hours, I started to get a bit worried about this stiff-necked situation (I really need to invest in a proper pressure cooker for my kitchen). After the fourth hour, all my concerns melted away as the tender meat literally fell off the bone, ready for tasting!
It was love at first bite. The taste is almost difficult to describe. While the leg of lamb had a subtle elegant taste, and the shoulder was a bit sweeter, the neck has the very satisfying taste described as umami. Umami is the savoury taste sensation you experience from eating brown onion soup or Marmite, the only difference here is that the neck produced this flavour without the addition of any artificial flavour agents.
The average weight of a sheep’s neck (from a C2 lamb) was 792g, and reduced to a cooked weight of about 360g. The meat easily came away from the bone giving you the perfect pulled lamb for any tasty dish. I decided to use the pulled lamb in a bowl dish, served with winter vegetables (sweet potato, butternut, carrots, and onions). This pulled lamb will also work very well with any pie, pasta, pita or sandwich recipe!
The other cut suggested by the butcher, is the trusted winter favourite lamb shank, cut into smaller pieces. His first recipe suggestion to use this with, was a good old potjie. The trick and secret to a successful potjie is to leave it alone! This will give the fresh vegetables and herbs a fair chance to marry with the flavours of the shank. I had a different idea, and decided to try something a bit more exotic but still true to the flavours South Africans love. This idea however required a stop at a different store - a local Indian spice shop, where an elderly lady combines a mix of secret herbs and spices called “Garam Masala”. Within this mixture you can find coriander, cumin, mustard and cardamom seeds, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, chillies and cloves.