Friday, February 20, 2009

To market, to market.

Saturday morning is one of my favorite times of the week. And one of my favorite things to do on Saturday morning is to head to the Greenmarket in Union Square. There, some 180 merchants provide locally grown and produced foods ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to pasture fed beef, bison, pork, game, poultry and lamb to freshly caught seafood, to honey that's produced right here in Manhattan.

Having access to sustainably farmed, locally raised produce is important to me (actually, it's important to all of us, but that will be a different entry). Knowing who grows my food and their philosophy about food is important, as well. I have the opportunity to do this every time I shop at a farmers' market. There are three that I frequent, two in my home borough of Queens, and the one in Union Square. What most New Yorkers don't know is that there are a total of 47 greenmarkets in New York City, and they operate 7 days a week. Union Square, for instance, is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. The market in Sunnyside is open on Saturday, and the one in Jackson Heights is open on Sunday. Each market features different vendors, and each of them must grow, raise, produce, or catch their own products. But rather than continue on and get into a rant (I'm just finishing my first cup of coffee, and am feeling kind of cranky), I think that I'll talk about what I bought at the market.

One of my favorite farms is 3-Corner Field Farm, which raises dairy sheep and lamb. At the market, they sell lamb, mutton, wool, award-winning sheep's milk cheeses, sheep's milk yogurt, sheeps' skins, and sheep's milk soap. And it's not just leg of lamb, either. Shanks, roasts, breasts, racks, necks, steaks, shoulders, sausages, chopped meat, and cubes of lamb are regular items. In addition, "variety" meats ( you know, the good stuff: liver, kidneys, "mountain oysters," tongues, hearts) feature prominently on the "fresh today" board, and are, surprisingly, among her best sellers. Now, ever since I was a child, I've loved lamb. Roasts, stews, curries, you name it. I have never, though, had lamb that tastes as good as the lamb produced by 3-Corner. First, it's incredibly fresh. It's not frozen and shipped from New Zealand aboard ships, and then trucked from California to a warehouse, and then trucked again to a supermarket. This lamb comes from 166 miles away (OK, so it's not within the 100-mile limit that some folk put on their food, but lets face it, this is New York City; it's hard to find a farm within 100 miles of here). Second, it's incredibly lean. Since they're pasture fed and free ranging, these lambs are fit animals. They aren't fed corn, or other silage, and are not fed antibiotics or growth hormones as part of their diets. Third, as an added benefit the texture and flavor are amazing. Smooth grained, and with a sweetness that hints of grass, the meat from these animals is far and away superior to anything that is mass produced.

So, yesterday, I bought some lamb neck and tongues (which are now in my freezer, while I figure out how to prepare them). As you might imagine, the neck is a pretty muscular part of any animal, particularly a ruminant. This means that low and slow cooking (braising) is the way to go. OK, how does that work? To start, thinly slice about three medium onions. Thickly slice anywhere between four and eight cloves of garlic. (You can include carrots and celery as well, although I didn't.) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large, oven-safe casserole or cast iron dutch oven, brown the lamb in olive oil, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan, lower the heat to medium and sweat the onions and garlic, but don't let them brown. After about three minutes, drain off most of the oil, and return the lamb. Add a little bit of cinnamon stick (NOT POWDER), a bay leaf, some black peppercorns, and half a bottle of good red wine (or about 1-1/2 cups of stock or water). The liquid should come up about halfway on the meat. Bring to a simmer, and then cover the pan, and place it in the oven. After about 15 minutes, lower the heat to 300 degrees, and walk away. Go watch a movie. Seriously. Leave the lamb alone for three hours (at least). At the end of that time, check the pot. The lamb should be falling from the bone, and the onions and garlic should be almost disintegrating. Remove the pot from the oven, remove the lamb from the pot, and set aside, covered loosely, to allow the meat to rest. Now, pour the liquid from the pan into a saucepan, and bring to a boil and allow it to reduce. Pour over the lamb, and serve with brown or wild rice, freekeh, barley, kasha, or other grain, and a veg. I served mine with roasted cauliflower with tahini and garlic, and freekeh (roasted green wheat; simmered in stock, it's got a texture similar to rissoto, with a wonderful bite and rich, almost smoky flavor). Yum. Now that's what I call good eating.

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