Get Cooking: How to cook with lamb and beef bones

In the Bible, in the 37th chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, the Lord grants a vision to the prophet as He takes Ezekiel to the Valley of the Dry Bones. God tells Ezekiel how, on the Last Day, he will re-vivify the dry bones, all scattered about pell-mell: He will “breathe life into them” and “attach tendons to them” and “make flesh come onto them.”

This passage in the Scriptures occasioned the anatomy lesson of the great Black spiritual “Dem Bones,” written in the early 1900s, where we learn how all those bones are connected, “the knee bone connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone connected to the hip bone,” and so on.

Cooks, now hear the word of the Lord.

When cooked and broken down, especially in wet cooking (a braise), all those connections in meat — of ligament, tendon, various muscle fibers, even to an extent what we call “silver skin” — give their utmost in deliciousness, that gelatinous, lip-coating silkiness not easily obtained via other, mostly dry cooking preparations.

And, while not a connective tissue itself, the cartilage in meat bones also dissolves into gelatin during a braise, further increasing that quotient of awesomeness. The bones of younger animals are high in cartilage that later turns into bone. So, veal bones are prized over beef bones for making stock, as are chicken feet, which are almost pure cartilage.

The recipes here, of lamb and beef, both heavy with bone, give off that gelatin, along with all the other flavors donated by the other ingredients. Your butcher can get you lamb neck or (for instance, at Whole Foods) you will find it in their freezer case. In a pinch, substitute lamb shank, even more readily available.

Oxtail is almost all bone, little meat. Beef shank is loaded with meat relative to its thick bones. Marrying the two in a thick and super winter-hearty stew seems like a win-win: many prized meat chunks swimming in a broth saturated with gelatin.

Braised Lamb Neck with White Beans

Serves 4-6 depending on portion size.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds lamb necks
  • Olive oil, for browning
  • 6 cups water or low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and large diced
  • 1 celery stalk, small diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 pound dry white beans (flageolet, cannellini, Great Northern or the like), rinsed and soaked 6-8 hours, drained
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Trim the lamb necks of any superfluous fat. Brown the lamb all over in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the liquid and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a slow simmer and cook for 2 hours, the lid of the pot just ajar. Set aside.

Over medium-high heat in another large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, cook the onions, carrots and celery in 2 tablespoons olive oil, stirring, for 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes, assuring that the garlic does not burn.

Add back the lamb necks, their cooking liquid and the drained beans. Toss in the herb sprigs and the salt and pepper. Stir all together, bring to a slow boil and cook at a steady simmer, pot lid ajar, for another 2 hours or until the beans are cooked to tender but not mealy.

Let the braise cool overnight in its pot, covered. When ready to serve, remove the congealed fat that will have risen to the surface and solidified; remove the herb stems; pull away the lamb meat from its bones (there will be many nooks and crannies) adding back the meat bits to the braise.

To serve: reheat the braise, adjust for seasoning and serve sprinkled with fresh thyme leaves.

Oxtail and Beef Shank Soup

Adapted from “Caldo de Colita de Res, Oxtail Soup” at muybuenocookbook.com. Serves 6-10.

Ingredients

  • 10 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds oxtails
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef shank with bone(s), meat cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into thick coins
  • 2 medium red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces, peel on
  • 2 stalks celery, thick-sliced on the bias
  • 2 small-to-medium corn on the cob, fresh or frozen, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 Roma tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1 zucchini, thick-sliced on the bias, peel on
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, rough-cut
  • Lime wedges and corn tortillas

Preparation

Bring water to a boil and add salt, garlic, onion, both meats and their bones. Bring to a boil, lower to a slow simmer and cook for 3 hours, the lid of the pot slightly ajar.

Add all the vegetables, raise the heat to a boil, then lower to a steady simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the pepper, coriander and cilantro and cook for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Adjust for salt. Serve with lime wedges and corn tortillas, spreading any available cooked marrow on the tortillas.

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