If one flavour stands out from my time cooking in Spain, it is the taste of Aragonese lamb from the north-eastern Pyrenees region. I always loved making the popular local dish lamb chilindron, just so I could steal a taste of the succulent pieces of lamb forequarter cooked on the bone in the rich red sauce. I have used lamb neck for this recipe because of its robust flavour and for the ease of removing the bone once cooked. Celeriac is an earthy-flavoured root vegetable that is delicious roasted in salads, mixed with mustard mayonnaise for remoulade or pureed with butter and milk as I have done here.
100ml olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 brown onions, finely diced
1/2 tbsp thyme leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 red capsicums, seeds and membranes removed, finely diced
4 tomatoes, finely diced
*250ml fino sherry
*40g sweet paprika
2 lamb necks, cut in half lengthways with bone in (ask your butcher to cut the lamb necks in half)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp parsley, chopped
For celeriac puree
1 large celeriac, peeled and diced
75g melted butter
25ml extra virgin olive oil
75ml warm milk
* Quantities have been amended and reduced from an earlier printed version that called for 65g paprika, and 560ml sherry)
In a pot of water, boil the celeriac until cooked. Pass through a mouli while warm, or puree with a stick blender and beat butter and oil into the puree. Add warm milk and stir until mixed in and puree is smooth. Season with sea salt, cover with plastic wrap and keep warm until needed.
Heat half the oil in a large heavy-based pot over a medium heat. Sauté garlic, onion, thyme and bay leaves until onion is soft. Add capsicum and cook until paste-like, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sherry and paprika and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Add 1 litre of hot water, increase heat and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer sauce gently for 30 minutes. Reserve sauce.
Preheat oven to 150C. Season the lamb necks well and fry them in a heavy pan with remaining olive oil to colour the outside. Place lamb in a deep roasting tray and pour warm sauce over until covered (add more hot water if needed). Cover with baking paper then foil and roast for four hours. Check to make sure the lamb comes off the bone easily.
Gently lift the lamb necks from the sauce and place on a cooling rack to cool slightly. Cool the sauce so the fat sets on top, then scrape the fat off and discard. While the lamb necks are warm, remove the bones by holding each lamb neck half on your hand, cut side facing up, then pull the bone out, starting from one end. The meat should be tender enough so it comes out easily and quite whole. Remove any white sinew (sometimes found on the edge near the bone). Place the lamb necks on a deep baking tray with the cut side facing down, pushing each one back together so it forms a solid piece of meat.
Pour sauce over the lamb necks and chill until needed. Make celeriac puree (see below).
When ready to serve, reheat the lamb neck in the oven at 180C, three-quarters covered in sauce until the meat is soft and caramelised on top, about 15 to 20 minutes. Place a spoonful of celeriac puree on a plate. Place half a lamb neck on the puree and pour some sauce over, making sure you get some of the peppers in the sauce. Finish with chopped parsley and a little sea salt.
When removing the bone from the neck after cooking, check for chips of bone at the ends where it is cut from the body.