They used to be called "butcher's cuts" or "butcher's favorites" because they were the unglamorous, but often very tasty, cuts of meat that wouldn't sell in the case and that the butcher would take home to feed his family. Steaks, chops and big roasts were the grill-friendly, oven roast-able and far prettier cuts. Stew meat, fatty beef chuck or pork shoulder roasts were considered the bottom of the barrel, needing long, slow braising and mostly used to make chili or stews of various kinds.
Searing the neck roast.
Back in the day you'd never see flank steak, hanger steak, bavette or skirt steak in the meat case at the supermarket. But if you did, they'd be dirt cheap…and I mean a couple of dollars a pound at most. Sometime in the late 90s the meat industry realized that these cuts might be worth some money and started marketing them to chefs. A case in point was the "Denver steak" that, instead of being ground into hamburger and sold for $2.99 a pound, could be cooked like a steak and served to a restaurant patron for many times more. (See "Slicing Meat So You Pay More.")
So it is with some hesitation that I share my latest find, lest it become the next victim of the Denver steak syndrome.
Ready to go in the oven.
Neck meat, whether from a pig, lamb or cow, could be called the latest butcher's cut to garner space on restaurant menus. Sometimes lumped in with offal or thrown out as scrap, this bony cut has plenty of meat on it and becomes shreddy and tender with long, slow cooking. I first saw it a couple of months ago in the meat case at Old Salt Marketplace, a beautifully aged piece of grass-fed beef from Hawley Ranch that was priced at—get this—five bucks a pound.
Yes, I gasped, too.
Five hours later, bones removed…perfect!
Recently I brought home a four-pound hunk of neck, put it in the oven with a simple braising sauce and pulled it out five hours later—it could have been pulled out at three, but I wanted it at that seriously falling-apart stage—and served it to some pretty impressed guests. And there was enough left over to mix in with some pasta later in the week.
But please, could you do me a favor and keep this one quiet?
Braised Beef Neck Roast
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
4 lbs. beef neck, bone in
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. pimenton dulce or piment d'Espelette
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 c. red wine
3 c. roasted or canned tomatoes
A dozen or so oil-cured olives
2 bay leaves
Preheat oven to 325°.
Generously salt and pepper roast on all sides. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add roast and sear well on all surfaces. Remove from pan.
Add onions and garlic to fat in pan and sauté over medium heat until translucent, scraping up any browned bits from meat. Add pimenton and dried spices and stir into onions, then stir in wine, tomatoes, olives and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and return the roast to the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover tightly and transfer to the oven. Roast for 3 to 5 hours, turning the roast every hour to make sure all sides are evenly cooked (if the roast is completely submerged in the braising liquid, don't worry about this step).
When the roast is done, you can skim off the fat floating on the surface with a spoon (optional). Tear off the meat remaining on the bone and remove the bones and the bay leaves from the liquid. Chop any large pieces of meat into smaller chunks and serve. Goes well with roasted root vegetables, sautéed greens and/or polenta. I also made a quick gremolata of the carrot greens processed with some garlic, lemon peel, salt and olive oil.