Here’s another classic to add to the collection. It seems pretty appropriate that shepherd’s pie was a staple dish for us, at home on a sheep farm in rural Northumberland. I think this dish was traditionally made with left over meat from a roast dinner, but my Mum usually made it with our own lamb or mutton mince, which was a bit fattier than shop-bought mince and stronger in flavour; it was always really rich and filling. I’ve adapted the recipe here; instead of mince I’m using neck and slowly braising it on the bone. The neck is a pretty tough cut of meat so it needs cooking for a long time. It’s more flavoursome than the prime cuts, however, and absolutely worth the wait. Lamb neck is probably the tastiest part of the animal in my view, and very underrated. In the kitchen at work, we use veal stock as a base for most of our sauces; for something like this shepherd’s pie for example, we would make a rich jus from reduced veal stock to mix with the filling instead of gravy. The veal bones are slowly simmered in water for 2-3 days in order to extract maximum flavour and body from them. The gelatine extracted from the bones thickens the stock when it is reduced, so you get a naturally thick, rich jus without using flour. This is impractical to do at home, but you can get some way towards a proper jus when making a dish like this by cooking the meat on the bone, or adding extra bones to the braising liquid even. After reducing, the resulting sauce will be richer and have much more body to it.
- 3 lamb necks, cut in two
- 5 carrots
- 2 sticks of celery
- 1/2 bulb of garlic
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bottle of red wine
- 2kg of King Edward potatoes
- 50ml of whole milk
- 150g of unsalted butter, cut into small dice
- 1 leek
- Wocester sauce
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- vegetable oil, for frying
- olive oil
Heat the oven to 160C. In a large deep roasting tray, lightly brown 2 of the carrots, the celery, garlic and onion all roughly chopped, in olive oil. Add the thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. Add a whole bottle of red wine and boil for 3 minutes to remove the alcohol.
Place a large, heavy based pan on a high flame and add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. When nice and hot, take the lamb necks and season all over with salt and pepper. Place the necks in the pan and fry until dark and caramelised all over. Now place the necks in the roasting tray with the wine and vegetables. Top up with water until all of the meat is just covered, bring to the boil, and wrap tightly with two layers of tin foil. Place in the oven for about 5 hours or until the meat is extremely tender and falling apart.
While the meat is cooking, make the mashed potato for the topping; this can be done in advance, even days before if necessary. Take the potatoes, prick each one several times with a knife and place in the oven with the lamb for 3 hours; the potatoes should be thoroughly cooked through. Remove from oven, cut in half and press the potato through a sieve into a wide-based saucepan. Now gradually add the butter whilst beating over a medium heat. The butter will emulsify into the dry, floury potato and give a luxurious silky texture. Add a splash of milk and mix thoroughly. Season generously with sea salt. Transfer into a container and set aside for later.
Remove the lamb necks and strain the braising liquid through a fine sieve into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and reduce until you have about 300ml of rich dark jus. Thicken with a little beurre manié until you have the consistency of a thin gravy. While the sauce is reducing, peel and cut the rest of the carrots into 5mm cubes, and pick the meat from the necks into rustic chunks. Fry the carrots in olive oil over a medium flame until lightly coloured. Cut the leek into 1cm squares and add to the pan. When the leeks are half-cooked, add the lamb and the sauce and gently fold, being careful not to break up the meat too much. Add a splash of Worcester sauce and season to taste with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Pour the mixture into a baking dish and top with a thickness of about 1 inch of mashed potato. Place in the oven at 200C for about 20 minutes until golden on top