As frustrating as shopping at Stop & Shop in South Boston can sometimes be, every once in a while they seem to amaze me. How is it possible that I can’t find a yellow onion without a hole in it but they carry the best skirt steak I’ve ever seen? No pork chops with valid expiration dates but giant cans of escargot for under $5 that you will not find anywhere else.
On Sunday, I had an impromptu urge to make beef short ribs so I took a trip down there and sure enough, they didn’t have any. Why would they carry beef short ribs when they can carry beef neck right? Yes, I said neck. Hacked up, gnarly upper vertebrae entwined with tough, fibrous meat.
Sounds nasty, but I was up for the adventure. After all, with this much bone, it would be hard not to extract a boatload of flavor with some simple, slow-cooking.
Looking for inspiration with my bag of necks, I walked up the street to American Provisions, a specialty grocer focusing on locally made, sustainable foods and a great source for high-quality, hard-to-find ingredients.
After browsing the vast selection my eye caught a cloth bag full of Charleston Favorites Stone Ground Grits; admittedly not something that I dabble with very often. Grits are of American-Indian origin and most commonly eaten down South for breakfast.
They’re very similar to hominy or polenta, consisting of corn that is coarsely ground in a stone mill, and they are cooked in a manner similar to risotto; whisked into simmering liquid and slowly stirred until soft.
I figured that something rich and creamy like grits would compliment an intensely flavored, braised piece of beef so I took a shot and created a unique recipe of my own. When I got home, I pulled the necks from the bag and examined them.
It was a good thing that I bought enough because there wasn’t much meat left on the bones. Some of the necks looked like they came from a cow with Scoliosis, all warped and tangled around itself.
I seared the necks in my new Staub cooking vessel (I’m obsessed with the interior, cast-iron finish) and then removed them to saute my mirepoix. To the mirepoix of carrot, celery, and onion, I added a few cloves of garlic, and a bouquet of rosemary, thyme, and dried bay leaf.
I hit the pot with some dry red wine and beef stock before returning the necks to the mix and braising them for two hours at 325 degrees; a very classic braise. While the Staub was in the oven, I had plenty of time to get the grits going and conceptualize the other components of the meal.
I started off by rinsing and soaking the grits in cold water to essentially clean them and help remove any dirt of bran that rises to the top of the water. I didn’t realize that they would be so dirty, but I ended up skimming off a good amount of crud that rose to the surface.
I added the golden, yellow confetti to a pot with boiling water, milk, and heavy cream and brought it to a simmer while whisking constantly. 25-30 minutes later, the whisk became heavy and could barely flow through the pot because the grits became so thick and creamy.
I seasoned them, and mounted them with a Paula Dean-sized pat butter and some grated, sharp white cheddar cheese. I had to keep the lid on to keep my wife’s and my own fingers out. These things were deadly!
When the necks were done braising, I removed them from the pot and
pulled all of the tender, succulent meat from the bones. I wish we had a dog, because these neck bones would have been the ultimate chew-toy.
I strained and reduced the braising liquid into one of the most intensely beef-perfumed sauces I have ever tasted. The amount of flavor condensed into just a few tablespoons of sauce was mind-blowing.
I spooned some of this neck “gravy” into the bottom of my mini cast-iron frying pan, which I was using as a serving vessel, and carefully arranged the neck meat on top. Next, I layered the creamy, buttery grits on top of the meat and sprinkled them with some sliced chives.
In order to bring the dish to the next level, I added some chopped pistachio nuts for texture as well as a sprinkle of pistachio “dust” that I made in my spice grinder.
The buttery nut has this unique flavor that paired really well with the slow cooked beef and creamy grits. It also looked like Tinkerbelle’s bag of pixie dust exploded because of the neon green hue. To top it off, I added the zest of an entire lime for some freshness and acidity to cut through all of the rich components.
I threw the entire cast-iron skillet into the oven to warm it up and to wake up all of the aromatic oils in the pistachio nuts. Within minutes it was steaming hot and ready to serve. If this wasn’t a little taste of the South in a pan, I don’t know what is. Slow cooked, beef neck in its own gravy, smothered in cheesy grits… this would make even the straightest Yankee talk with a Southern drawl.
I served this bold, assertive dish with an equally persistent red wine from Argentina. The 2008 Luca Beso de Dante is a blend of 55% Malbec and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon that is aged for 12 months in 70% new French oak. It sports an inviting nose of cedar, spice box, violets, earth notes, black currant, and blackberry. Rich, plush, and savory in the mouth with firm tannins that were smoothed out by the buttery food.
With 92 points from Wine Advocate, this highly praised red is not only delicious now, but could also benefit from years of cellaring. It was one of the most serious and complex wines from Argentina that I have ever tasted. Siobhan and I shared the bottle and the small cast-iron pan because one portion of this meal was enough for the two of us.
Surprisingly, the beef neck was tantalizing and luscious. It literally melted in your mouth. I will absolutely eat neck again in the near future. As much of a pain in the neck, Stop & Shop can be, they do turn out a few hidden gems every once in a while, enough to keep me coming back.