James Mavros’ lamb’s neck

Aaaah, a pleasant day in the country. Lunch was a leg of lamb, a lamb, I might add, which had been born, raised, and slaughtered not all that far from the table on which we ate. The post-lunch recovery was spent assisting (more accurately, watching, bemused) the round-up of a flock of ewes and lambs, chasing a burly fox across a paddock or two (fruitless) and wondering why we Westerners eat sheep but not foxes, beef cattle but not dogs, chickens but not cockatoos.

I often wonder who took the first bite of some of the delicacies that grace our tables. Who was game enough to toss down the first oyster? How many thousands of gourmands gave their life searching for the latest fungus sensation? And who decided that under that stinking, oily, filthy, matted mass of wool, all capped by the thickest head in the animal kingdom, lay the most delicious of meats?

At the base of that head lies the neck, a cut of the beast to which I had not really given much thought until I ran into it in a tiny restaurant which charged tiny prices for the quality of its cooking. It’s as simple as any other slow-cooked item, with one proviso. The neck has a few tiny bones drifting about here and there, so beware.

2 lambs’ necks, split down their lengths by your butcher and cleaned of any excess fat — Inside the vertebrae is the sheep’s spinal cord. When you see how thin it is, you will understand why sheep are not usually Rhodes scholars.


black pepper

3 cups port

10 small onions or 5 large onions, sliced into rings

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced finely

4 carrots, chopped into bite-size pieces

6 waxy potatoes, peeled and chopped to the same size as the carrots

at least a litre of lamb stock to cook

the neck, but if you don’t have it, use water — and you’ll end up with not only a lovely neck, but a lovely stock as well


Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or stock pot. Brown the necks all over, making sure they do not stick or burn. Remove, pat dry and season well with salt and black pepper.


In the same pan, scrape up any sediment with a wooden spoon and de-glaze with the port, cooking fast and furiously for several minutes.


Cook the onions and garlic gently over a low heat until they lose their colour. This step could take 10–15 minutes. Every now and then, when the onions appear to be drying out, add a splash of port. The onions will soften, brown, and take up the port.


Put the necks on top of the onions, meat side down, so that the meat does not dry out, andspread around the carrots and potatoes. Cover with the water/lamb stock.


The necks must now simmer, uncovered, for 2–3 hours. If you have lamb stock, do not cook on top of the stove, but covered, in a 200°C oven for about the same time. Keep a good eye on the show, making sure the mix does not boil vigorously. The heat should just cause the surface to ripple. After about an hour, remove the potatoes and set them aside, covered with some stock from the pot.


You might need to add a little water through the cooking, but don’t be too heavy-handed. The lamb is done when the meat comes away from the bone easily.


Leave it overnight, so that any fat given off will solidify and can be removed easily. Once you’ve removed the fat, toss the potatoes back in and re-heat, covered, in a low oven for about 20 minutes.

WINE: I remember having this dish as James cooked it. We had a bottle of French red burgundy with it. It was great. A small group of heroes is making better and better Australian pinot every year. I like Bannockburn, De Bortoli (Yarra Valley), Coldstream Hills, Scotchman’s Hill and Balgownie’s. Unfortunately they are all still young wines. It will be interesting to see what they look like as 10-year-olds.