Whenever I think of sheep neck it takes me back to our kitchen table when I was a kid. My dad used to slow roast them for us overnight at low temperature and the next day for lunch we’d sit around the kitchen table eating like kings, with fresh bread and preserved green figs. My dad is a salt & pepper kind of guy and does not often mess around with too many herbs and spices. He likes to keep things simple, and I must admit in this case I agree. I’ve adapted his recipe a little bit, but the essence is still the same.
The age of a sheep can roughly be determined by the amount of teeth they have. For example once a lamb reaches a certain age it would be classified as a “twee tand skaap” (meaning two teeth sheep). When making sheep necks I prefer using meat from older animals as the flavour is much more developed, so I’ve used necks from “vier tand” (4 teeth) sheep in this recipe. If you are struggling to get hold of sheep neck, you could certainly use lamb necks, but the flavour won’t be quite the same.
Lamb will generally be more tender than mutton, but when you employ a slow cooking process like this it hardly matters. You simply have to cook the sheep necks a while longer to get the desired result. Rich, flavourful meat so soft you could loosen it from the bone with a butter knife.
This is one of those recipes where a few simple ingredients treated with the necessary care and respect turns into something magical. Seriously, if you are a meat lover you owe it to yourself to give this a go, I promise you won’t regret it.
2 whole sheep necks, roughly 1kg each. (As mentioned you could use smaller lamb necks, you’d just need to reduce cooking time)
5 tablespoons sea salt
3 teaspoons crushed black pepper
3 teaspoons crushed dry coriander seeds (for bonus flavour points, dry roast the seeds in a pan before crushing)
2 medium onions
2 large carrots
2 sticks celery (optional)
1 fresh farm-style loaf of bread
1 jar of preserved green figs
the best butter you can find
Preheat the oven to 140°C.
One of the challenges when cooking large chunks of meat is getting the flavour inside the meat. Large roasts are often over seasoned on the outside, yet bland on the inside.
My dad gave me this big ass syringe to take care of that problem. Normally a syringe of this size would be used to medicate cattle, horses or unbearable mother-in-laws, but it works just as good for injecting salt water into large roasts. You can buy a less “Dr Frankenstein” looking version of the syringe that does the same job over here on Yuppiechef.
Dissolve 2 tablespoons of the salt into a cup or so of water and pull it into your injector of choice. Stick the needle deep into the meat and start gently pushing the liquid out as you pull the needle out. Try to get the needle as deep into the meat as you can.
If you don’t have an injector try poking some holes in the neck with a carving fork and then letting it soak (fully submerged) in a salt water brine for 30 minutes to an hour. Adjust the amount of salt in the water and the amount of time spent in the brine next time you make it, until you figure out the measurements that work for your palate.
You could skip this step altogether, but I really think it is worth the effort to get an evenly seasoned end result.
Mix the remaining salt, pepper and dried coriander seeds together and generously season the outside of the meat by rubbing it in with your hands.
Roughly chop the onion, carrot and celery and place it in a roasting tray with a lid. If you skipped the “injecting the neck with salt water” step, add a half cup of water to the pan to prevent burning. Place the sheep necks on the bed of vegetables and cover with the lid. If you don’t have a roasting tray with a lid, cover it with a double layer of heavy duty tin foil.
Cook covered in the oven for roughly 3 hours, by which time it should look something like this. Exact cooking times will vary according to the size of the necks. You will see a lot of the fat has rendered out and formed pan juice in the bottom of the pan. You will also notice the meat starting to come away from the bone. This is a good sign!
Remove the lid or tinfoil covering and continue to cook for another 90 minutes or so, basting the necks with the pan juice every 30 minutes. You want to get the outside nicely browned and crispy. That’s all there is to it. Serve with fresh bread, real butter, preserved green figs and some cheddar cheese. Food fit for a king I tell ya!