Welcome to my latest meat-venture! Right now you are probably thinking what is so adventurous about lamb ragu served with some pappardelle pasta? Well I should probably clarify that it is a ragu made with lamb neck. Just stay with me a moment, I will explain this gorgeous looking meal and the decision to use the neck of the lamb…

Last week was meat-free week in the UK and Australia, thanks to the celebrity endorsement of Jamie Oliver and other chefs social media was bursting with meat free recipes and posts. Some insightful, others not so much, but it did make me think about my own relationship with meat. Am I a responsible meat eater? Could I eat meat free all the time? Let’s start with the second question – yes I could, but no I do not want to. I do try to eat meat free at least two days a week. Some weeks it is more, others less. But in general  meat is a part of my diet that I’m not willing to give up. Nor would the husband care to eat meat free all the time. So if I’m not willing to eat meat free, that leads me to question one – am I a responsible meat eater?

‘Responsible meat eater’ what does that even mean?? I think it all depends on your own values. Some may say there is no such thing as a responsible meat eater. For me, I believe that there is and it comes with being aware of the production and consumption of meat.  Trying to understanding the impact the consumption of meat has on your own health, the environment and the animals is a minefield of mixed messages and half truths. Pardon the pun, but I’m not going to jump down that rabbit hole with you today, simple I’m just going to share my belief. The best way for me to summarize my belief would be to say that for me being a responsible meat eater is about respect, respecting the environment, respecting the animals as living beings, and respecting the farmers who have raised the animals.

Since moving to Alberta my relationship with meat has changed drastically. You see lovely husband is from a rural area and he wasn’t a fan of the meat I had been buying at the local supermarket. So like any good rural boy he threatened to buy a cow, or maybe half a cow, but regardless a whole animal. I had two options, figure out how to store half an animal in my fridge freezer or find a butcher with good meat. Picked option two and I haven’t looked back! I personally choose to only buy meat from a butcher shop – well just one butcher, because I’m a loyal sort, who does not like change. Over the past few years I’ve established a relationship, no a friendship with my butcher Corey and his lovely staff at Acme Meats. I trust them to provide me with locally raised, high quality meat products. I trust that the meat I purchase from him has been ethically raised and killed. More so I appreciate the knowledge that they have shared with me and for constantly kicking me out of my meat comfort zone. Their passion for what they do and the community they serve is infectious, I am undoubtedly a better home cook thanks to them.

It’s easy to always look for the choice cuts of meat, the chicken breast, the ribeye steak, the smoked bacon, but what about the other parts of the animal? The unloved bits. Allowing or contributing to waste of an animal is not respectful of the animal or the farmers, it is not being a responsible meat eater. The first time I cooked pork cheeks it was met with skepticism, now it is one of our favorite meals. When I first started planning this ragu I was going to make it with shanks, it was my butcher’s wife who steered me in the direction of using the neck. And I’m not going to lie I was a little unsure and uneasy about cooking with the neck of an animal. Why did I feel this way? It gave me a moment of pause. If I am going to be a responsible meat eater, I shouldn’t feel uneasy. But like the shocked faces of my friends, and the hot dog joke my brother made, I was also subscribing to the seemingly rigid assumptions we have in our society about what parts of the animal are okay to eat and what are not. The concept of nose to tail eating is rarely implemented. And when it is, it is hailed as innovative, when it is actually more traditional. Do I implement nose to tail eating in my cooking? No, not fully, I have some no-go areas, like tongue and feet. And as I unwrapped the brown butcher paper and came face to face with the neck for the first time, the doubt once again crept in.

Thankfully I was able to quickly move past my feelings of uneasiness, to cook one of the tastiest ragu I’ve ever had. This post played out in my head while the meat was braising for 8 hours. By hour 4 when I could really start to smell the amazing aromas coming from the oven, my confidence had rebounded. Plating it up I realized that if had I let my fear and assumptions hold me back, I would have been missing out on this amazing meal! Sure the shanks would have been good, but it would not be this experience.

This meat-venture was successful, are all? No probably not, that why it’s an adventure. This won’t be the last time my meat boundaries will be pushed or my beliefs challenged. It won’t be the last time I’m uncomfortable, and that’s okay. It is what you do with those feelings that counts.

Lamb Ragu

  • 2 lamb necks
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced<br /><br />
  • 2 celery stalks, diced<br /><br />
  • 1 small onion, diced<br /><br />
  • 3 garlic cloves<br /><br />
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning<br /><br />
  • 2 tbsp tomato taste<br /><br />
  • ½ cup red wine<br /><br />
  • 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes<br /><br />
  • 480 ml chicken stock<br /><br />
  • 1 fresh rosemary stalk<br /><br />
  • 1 bay leaf<br /><br />
  • salt and pepper<br /><br />
  • olive oil<br /><br />
  1. Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Preheat oven to 275F.

  2. Season lamb necks with salt and pepper. Sear on all sides, then set aside. Reduce heat.

  3. Add vegetables and smashed whole cloves of garlic, and Italian seasoning. Stir frequently over low-medium heat until soft about 20 minutes.

  4. Stir in tomato paste, then increase to medium heat.

  5. Add in wine and allow to reduce, before adding in crushed tomatoes and chicken stock.

  6. Return the necks to the pot, add in the rosemary and bay leaf.

  7. Cover top with parchment paper and lid, place in oven.

  8. After 2 hours, turn necks, and continue to braise for another 3 hours. Turn off oven and allow to rest in oven for 3 hours.

  9. Skim fat any fat that has risen to the top before removing necks from braising liquid. Then shred the meat from neck and set aside. Remove the bay lead and rosemary stalk, and discard.

  10. Using a hand blender, blend the braising liquid to puree. Return the meat and stir.

  11. Toss meat with pasta or serve oven polenta.