Whether you're there because of budget constraints or a healthy culinary curiosity, the nether reaches of your butcher's showcase contains some interesting cuts. One of the more unusual is beef neck, often sold as soup bones. Neck pieces are heavy with bone and very tough, but if you have the patience to cook them slowly, they develop a rich, beefy flavor and lush texture.
Neck Pot Roast
If your butcher's obliging, you should be able to buy a single large piece of neck to treat as a pot roast. Sear the neck in a heavy pan to give it those rich browned-beef flavors, then nestle it into a roaster or casserole dish with onions, garlic, celery, carrots, bay leaves or anything else that appeals to you. Pour in enough water or beef broth to cover it -- a splash of wine won't hurt, either -- then cover the pan and slide it into your oven. Check it periodically until the meat is fork-tender, typically after four to six hours. Strain the cooking liquid, skim its fat, and use that as a sauce with the beef.
Stuffed and Rolled
Cooking beef neck on the bone is easy, but the meat must be pulled off the bone in pieces. If you have a good boning knife and some patience, you can make a showier dish by deboning and stuffing the neck. Make a lengthwise starting cut where the meat is thinnest, then use the tip of your knife to follow the line of the bones underneath. The bones are odd-shaped, so it takes patience, but eventually you'll separate most of the meat into a ragged oblong. Season it and roll it around a stuffing such as rice or spinach, then tie it with butcher's twine and cook it as you would a bone-in neck.
Braised Neck Slices
You're more likely to find neck as slices, usually about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick. You can use those in any recipe calling for oxtails, but most are variations on stewing or braising. Brown the slices briefly in a heavy skillet, then layer them into a baking dish or slow cooker along with onions, garlic and other aromatic vegetables. Cover them with broth, tomato sauce, prepared gravy or some other flavorful liquid, and simmer them gently until they're tender enough to cut with a spoon or the side of a fork.
A Few Bright Ideas
Once it's cooked, your meltingly tender neck meat has a wide range of uses. You can use it to stuff a memorable batch of homemade ravioli, or season it with cumin and garlic and use it as taco meat. The liquid you use to cook your beef neck will develop a rich flavor and lots of body from the bones and connective tissue, making a superlative broth. Save it for another day's cooking, or combine the broth and cooked meat with your favorite vegetables to make a hearty soup or stew.
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