Neck of lamb with pearl-barley cakes and mustard sauce

Serves 4

Neck of lamb is usually used for braising, but with spring lamb it's like a prime cut. Ask your butcher to take the fillets off the bone and chop the bones into small pieces which you can use for the sauce.

4 lamb neck fillets, weighing about 150g each
A little vegetable oil for frying

For the sauce

The bones from the lamb chopped into small pieces

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
A little vegetable oil for frying
tbsp flour
tsp tomato purée
a glass of red wine
500ml beef stock
A couple of sprigs of rosemary
1tbsp grain mustard

For the pearl-barley cake

1 large onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
A couple of good knobs of butter
60g pearl barley, soaked in cold water for 2 hours then drained
About 750ml chicken stock
50g mature cheddar, grated
2tbsp plain flour
2 small eggs beaten
40-50g fresh white breadcrumbs

To make the sauce, heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the lamb bones and onion on a high heat for a few minutes until lightly coloured. Dust with the flour and stir well then add the tomato purée and gradually stir in the red wine and stock. Add the rosemary, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about an hour or so. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and simmer until the sauce has thickened then whisk in the mustard and remove from the heat.

Meanwhile gently cook the onion, garlic and thyme in the butter for 2-3 minutes then add the pearl barley and stir well over a low heat for a minute. Gradually add the chicken stock in about four batches, season and cook on a very low heat, stirring every so often until the pearl barley is soft and tender. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese, taste, and season more if necessary and leave to cool. Once cool, mould into 4 flat cakes about 8-9cm wide, with the help of a spatula or palette knife.

Have 3 dishes ready, one for the flour, one for the egg and the third for the breadcrumbs. Carefully coat the cakes in the flour, shaking off any excess then dip in the beaten eggs and finally in the breadcrumbs, pushing the crumbs well into the cakes with your hands. Re-shape if necessary and flatten a little and refrigerate until required.

Next, heat some vegetable oil in a non-stick or heavy frying pan and cook the pearl-barley cakes for 3-4 minutes on each side, adding some butter when you turn them over, then keep warm in a low oven. While the pearl-barley cakes are cooking, season the lamb neck fillets, heat the vegetable oil on a ribbed griddle plate or heavy frying pan and cook on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes on each side, keeping them nice and pink; then leave to rest for a few minutes. Cut the lamb into 4 or 5 slices and lay on the pearl-barley cakes then heat the sauce and pour around.

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