I was intrigued by the souris d'agneau a la reglisse. Literally mouse of lamb with licorice. The "mouse" is a small shank, which resembles a rodent in shape and, well, color. I had to try it, and it was delicious, with a hint of sweetness I sometimes like in lamb (think mint sauce) and that amazing licorice flavor.
Then just last week I heard a program about a new dish of lamb and licorice, this time using the neck or "collier." It was on Carnet Nomade, one of my favorites on France Culture radio, a program about the city of Montpellier having had a competition to choose a dish that would (in the best french sense of Le Marketing) be the city's culinary signature, as cassoulet is for Toulouse or brandade is for Nimes. They called the dish (before it was even chosen) La Clapassade (which means something like 'cup of stones'). The winner: A student of linguistics from Quebec, Michel Otel, who made it from signature products of Herault province, including a licorice candy called grisettes. I had to try it (I stayed last year in Montpellier for a few days with a professor of linguistics from the university. Fate.)
But where to find suitable licorice? They don't just melt in the black ropes we eat here. They use licorice root, which apparently french children used to (still do?) eat in sticks, which look like bark, and which you can simply drop into the braise (see the video below of the creator of the dish preparing it). Fortunately, our amazing Wheatsfield coop has an "herbal" section that included licorice root, though it was chopped, so I had to wrap it in cheesecloth before adding it.
Oh, and of course where to find lamb neck! The answer is, as so often, the ISU Meat Lab. They have it in slices about an inch thick. The French apparently will bone the neck for a large braising piece, or cut the meat off the bones. But simpler is faster. And I guess you can substitute another fatty, bony cut, like breast of lamb (Denver ribs or lamb ribs) or, as in Paris, shank.
J and I think this is a winner. And it's definitely 10 minutes or less active time, though divided into two, five minute segments, about eight hours apart. As with most braises, this is even better warmed up the next day. And the leftover sauce is amazing on, well, leftovers. But if you pour this over rice or noodles or polenta, you'll have little sauce left, it's so good.
3 pounds lamb neck slices, bone in (four slices about 1 inch thick)
1 packet dry french onion soup mix (I use Knorr)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock (homemade if possible. See this blog)
1 ounce licorice root, tied in cheesecloth
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon Kitchen Magic (optional)
4 small carrots, peeled (optional)
2 small parsnips, peeled and halved (optional)
5 sprigs thyme (optional) OR lemon or lime zest (optional)
Green olives (optional)
2 tablespoons Wondra
- In a slow cooker, place the lamb neck slices, the soup mix, wine, stock, licorice root bag, and honey.
- Stir in the optional Kitchen Magic and top with the optional carrots and parsnips, and one sprig of thyme.
- Cook on low for about 8 hours.
- In a small saucepan, stir together the Wondra a two tablesoons of water, white wine, or stock.
- Using a strainer, carefully pour the liquid from the slow cooker into a gravy separator (which I didn't do for the pic above :-(). Wait 15 seconds, then pour the stock into the saucepan and place over high heat, stirring, until thickend slightly. About one minute. Correct the seasoning.
- Using a spatula, carefully place one or two lamb slices on each plate (they are fall-apart tender). Arrange the optional carrots and parsnips. Pour sauce around and garnish with thyme sprigs, zest, or green olives. Pass the extra sauce or reserve for another use (delicious on leftovers).