New season lamb but a cheap cut, bland ‘milk’ lamb but stuffed with spicy ‘nduja sausage – this dish is a winner!
From andouille to ‘nduja
Nduja, would you believe it, is pronounced ‘en-DOO-ya’. It’s a kind of spicy sausage/meat paste originating from Calabria in southern Italy – the very tip of the boot’s toe.
Nduja is certainly a relative of French andouille sausage, this one also quite impossible to pronounce for a non-French speaker: ‘ohn-DOO-ye’ with the last syllable barely there.
Andouille was the original nose-to-tail product, consisting of the whole pig’s gastrointestinal content stuffed into a gut casing.
These days, for far fussier customers it’s more of a meat and fat thing with bits of tripe and chitterlings hidden in the sausage meat.
What is ‘nduja?
Nduja is also the product of thrift and ‘waste-not’, but it mainly uses pig fat, lard, and a little meat.
That mass is mixed with copious quantities of sweet and hot peppers, most certainly to mask the offal and to preserve the product. It is stuffed into a pig gut, as a good sausage should be, smoked and air-dried.
It is seriously spicy and hardly meaty at all in taste.
Nduja culinary uses
It can be eaten raw as the amount of spices, the smoking and curing process make it as safe to eat as salami.
Spread it on toast, dab it on pizza or stir it through pasta for a hit of heat and a (vaguely) meaty flavour. It’s great with scrambled or fried eggs.
It is excellent as a topping or filling of any kind: with chicken or other meats, with fried rice for an excellent fusion, or like in this recipe, to add some interest to otherwise blandish meat dish.
It is also very economical, as a little of it goes a long way.
You can buy a decent product in jars, like the Callipo ‘nduja for less than £3 per 100g, as well as the actual sausage in the intestine casing from Natoora for over four quid per 100g. Both will probably last you for a month or longer.
I wouldn’t look twice at vegan ‘nduja’ though – what is even the point? Might as well mix chilli paste with oil instead of paying through the nose for a phoney product.
Lamb neck - best in spring
Lamb neck fillet is gorgeous: inexpensive and just a right portion for one person. It’s easy to cook: either quickly flash grilled for medium rare or slow and low, braised until tender.
However, lamb is not lamb throughout the year, as some might know well. Spring or milk lamb is the tenderest of the new season, usually eye-wateringly expensive and so the neck fillet is the most affordable cut of that delicacy.
But going forward, lamb becomes hogget when it’s over a year old and although the meat is absolutely delightful – some think it only then has the proper flavour – the neck fillet becomes more a hit and miss and I’d recommend cooking it longer rather than flash-rare.
It is not that it’s fattier but gristle, veins and tendons are becoming a little too pesky.
Lamb neck stuffed with ‘nduja
And so for grilling it rare, new season lamb neck fillet will be the ticket.
It gets stuffed with ‘nduja in a very rustic manner. Just make some incisions in the meat and press chunks of the sausage into them. Sometimes the fillet has natural flaps and nooks that can be filled with ‘nduja: utilise them as much as you can.
To keep it together as well as to give the meat wonderful flavour, I attach two sprigs of fresh rosemary to the sides of each fillet with kitchen string, arranging them lengthwise like splints.
These fillets are cooked in a red-hot frying pan, plain or griddled for those decorative char marks.
If the meat was brought to room temperature, it will need as little as 5-6 minutes of cooking on each side, for medium-rare. As the neck fillet is rounded in shape, it’s good to press the sides down to the griddle with a spatula while it cooks.
Resting is crucial, it helps the (not very tender to start off with) meat relax and tenderise. And if you slacked taking the meat out of the fridge and started cooking it from cold, it will get a chance to ‘get there’ while it rests.
More lamb recipes
Slow cooked lamb neck fillet, oven braised with onions, peppers, pear and raisins. Lamb with Middle Eastern style flavours in a one-pot dish.
Lamb breast is a cheap cut which needs to be cooked really slow and low. My recipe is for rolled breast of lamb stuffed with raisins and served with roast grapes.
Spring lamb chump chops seared in a hot pan and smothered with a pillow of herby crumbs. Light, fresh and delicate in flavour just like the baby lamb.