Slow-cooked lamb necks, barley and vegetables
Winter seems reluctant to turn to spring. One day the kitchen doors are open onto my courtyard and the next they are firmly shut against the elements, allowing for some of my favourite cooking moments: the condensation running down the windows as something slowly simmers on the stove; the satisfaction of knowing something good is about to come out of my oven; the quiet contemplation that slow-cooking allows. There is still time left to indulge in such cooking, to make the most of recipes that use cheap ingredients. Lamb neck fillets are a bit of a find, but neck chops will suffice in this warming stew. It's the sort of late-winter-afternoon cooking that leaves you free to do whatever you choose while it gently bubbles away.
This very basic dish takes care of itself. At this time of the year, serve with steamed asparagus or sprouting broccoli.
- Put the barley into a small pot, cover with cold water and simmer for 25 minutes. Drain and set to one side. Heat the oven to 160C.
- Peel the onions and slice into thin wedges, from top to bottom. Cut the celery and leek into thick chunks and rinse well under cold water.
- Peel the carrots and potatoes and cut them into 2cm pieces. Put the vegetables into a deep roasting dish, place the lamb necks on top and tuck in the thyme and bay leaves.
- Season with salt and pepper. Add the barley and the chicken stock. Add water if the stock doesn't cover the meat and vegetables.
- Bring to the boil on top of the stove over a medium heat and skim and froth off the surface. Cover with a piece of greaseproof paper then with either a lid or a large piece of tin foil.
- Transfer to the oven and cook for 2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and skim any fat from the top. Check the seasoning then serve immediately.