The Jimenez Family Farm motto, "everything under the sun," is more than apt for this Santa Ynez-based family business that offers up an assortment of produce (check out the gorgeous blueberries and boysenberries this time of year), salsas and preserves, and homemade pies (there's even a pie of the month club) at several LA-area markets.
But it is their meat cooler stocked with lamb, goat and rabbit that always grabs our attention among the piles of leeks and red onions, even if only from afar. The farm-raised lamb and goat chops/roasts can go for as much as $14 pound, certainly a very fair -- arguably great -- price for pastured and humanely raised meats, but one that can still price out those without belly-swelling paychecks. Lacking the requisite backyard pasture (and city permits) to humanely raise our own meat as Deborah Krasner documents so enticingly in her cookbook Good Meat, eating humanely raised, and simply tastier, animals so often tastes like wishful eating.
But Jimenez Farms also stocks what Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall calls "Thrifty Cuts" in his recently released River Cottage Every Day cookbook, lamb and goat neck bones for $8.50 per pound among them. They also carry whole rabbit for the same price, a meat that merits an entire chapter in Krasner's book . And like necks, one that many Americans (including ourselves) have little experience with in the kitchen (fun!). And so we dived right in to recipe test these local "thrifty" meats.
The lamb necks come in vacu-sealed packages weighing around one pound each (ours was $8.00). We loosely followed Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe, which is basically a slow-braise method enhanced with a little lemon juice: Salt and pepper the necks, sear them in olive oil until brown, and de-glaze the pan with the juice of a lemon (we opted for a generous pour of red wine to lend a richer flavor). Add a few springs of thyme and enough beef broth, other any stock you prefer, to cover the chops and simmer (covered) until tender, about 2 hours.
Fearnley-Whittingstall serves his lamb neck with sautéed kale or mustard greens and pearl barley, but we opted to use up some of the armfuls of abandoned beet greens we carted home from the market instead (several pennies saved that went to our meat purchases; just ask your farmer for discards). In a nutshell: The meat was intensely flavorful, tender-yet-firm, and easy to prepare as long as you have a little extra time for braising. Yeah, you can pretty much leave the pot on the stove while you go about your way. We are lamb neck converts.
Rabbit, Krasner tells us, is a relatively low-fat meat, so it also benefits from slow cooking. She acknowledges that it has a bit of an untouchable status in the U.S. Per the book, her daughter, horrified, exclaimed: "It's like you're cooking kittens!" (she does have a valid point). But, as Krasner points out, rabbits require little land and are "prolific breeders," which makes them a relatively easy animal to raise humanely. And they taste good. And so at Jimenez Farm's stand, we also asked for a small rabbit, which turned out to be 2.3 pounds (about $18.50). Not exactly inexpensive, but not bad for a "splurge" thrifty meat on occasion. And yes, we used to have not one, but several, rabbits as pets. Let the "hypocrite" Tweets begin.
Krasner suggests brining or salting the rabbit overnight and offers a dozen recipes in her cookbook, from a cider-braised rabbit with apples, a stew with red peppers, garlic and chorizo, and roasted rabbit with a bit of bacon on top to add more fat to the equation. We chose the latter, a recipe that involves rubbing the cut-up rabbit (much easier to cut into pieces than a chicken, by the way; save the backbone to make stock) about 20 minutes before cooking with an olive-oil marinade enhanced with salt, fresh herbs (thyme and rosemary, and we added some fresh oregano), red pepper flakes (or freshly ground black pepper) and smashed garlic.
When the oven heats up to 450, you top each rabbit piece with a small slice of bacon, then roast the meat for 20 minutes or so, until browned. Next, you flip the rabbit pieces upside down, deglaze the pan with a cup of white wine, and cook the meat for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. All that's left to do is scatter some oil-cured black olives about and roast the rabbit another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through. Pretty great.
And no, it didn't taste like chicken, it tasted like a gamey, lean-yet-flavorful rabbit. What exactly does that mean? All the more reason to try it for yourself, no lamb necks required (though they are always a good backup plan). Happy farmers' market hunting.
Jimenez Farmers Market Locations: Check the farm's website for locations, days and times, which includes the Tuesday Santa Barbara market, Wednesday Santa Monica (at Arizona) and Solvang markets, Thursday Morrow Bay, San Luis Obispo and Carpinteria markets, Saturday Santa Monica (Arizona and Pico) and Downtown Ventura markets, and Sunday Hollywood, Atwater and Ojai markets.