Lamb neck fillet, marinated overnight in hot, sweet and herby marinade, cooked quickly under hot grill. It can taste better than lamb chops or loin steaks and is ready in just 15 minutes.
How to cook cheap cuts of meat?
There are some cuts of meat, usually inexpensive ones, that can handle two cooking approaches – quick and pink or long and tender.
Beef flank for instance (or skirt, or bavette, depending on where you are and how the animal has been carved) can be flash fried into a very flavoursome steak, or braised forever in a casserole.
Meat cuts that come from more than one single muscle have connective tissue holding the piece together. As it cooks, it gradually toughens more and more until the point where it gives in, loosens up and softens.
Splash out if you want well-done
That means there’s no in-between state. Cheap ones are tender if either seared or cooked into oblivion. Rare or pulled: therefore, if you think you can cook a skirt or rump steak medium-well or well-done and enjoy it, you're probably wrong.
I say 'probably' because the cut you are cooking might be unusually tender coming from a happy, fat animal. It isn’t just the cookedness that decides how tasty and tender your piece of meat is!
As a rule, however, a cheaper cut cooked medium will be tough. So, if you like your steaks or chops without a hint of pink, you have to splash out on pricey cuts.
Lamb is seasonal
Lamb neck fillet is one of the best value cuts: excellent and cheap. As I sincerely hope we all know, locally produced lamb is very seasonal.
Very tender new season meat arrives in late spring, usually after Easter even though we like to think it is new season lamb traditionally on our tables on Easter Sunday.
Lamb arguably reaches the best flavour in summer and then it becomes hogget (not so tender but maturely tasty) and later mutton (tough, good for a pie) come late autumn and winter.
Depending on when in its season you buy and cook it, the neck fillet will be a super-delicacy albeit a little bland (new season), or a full of flavour toothsome piece of meat (more mature). Especially at the latter stage you should give it just a quick flash in the pan.
How to best cook lamb neck fillet?
My favourite method of cooking it is as below: marinate it well, grill for a short spell then rest, slice and serve.
The marinade is everything lamb feels good with: garlic, mint and rosemary, plus a shot of sweetness and a hit of acidity. Chop it up, pound it or blitz in a blender, pat all over the lamb fillets and leave them in the fridge, uncovered, for the longer, the better.
Lamb neck fillet comes in the size close to a single serving, but don’t apportion one per person - invariably the fillets will vary in tenderness. So it’s far more equitable to slice them all when cooked and rested, and then divvy up the slices between the diners so everyone can sample all the fillets on offer.
More cheap cut recipes
Not all beef is eye-wateringly expensive: short ribs, braised for hours in sweet and tangy flavours, make an excellent cheap dinner.
Thai beef salad is made with the cheap and gorgeous bavette steak (aka flank) which is exceedingly good value.
Gammon shank is cheap as chips and in my view much nicer than its lamb equivalent. Especially when served with braised cabbage and plum sauce.
More lamb recipes
You can cook lamb neck fillet deliciously slow and low, braised in the oven with onions, red peppers, pears and raisins.
Also slow roasted – and that’s the only cooking option for it – is lamb shoulder. I like it rubbed with anchovy paste and drizzled with a drop of truffle oil.
The aristo of lamb cuts, lamb loin, wrapped in prosciutto and cooked in a low temperature oven result uncannily like cooked sous-vide. Marvellous!