Alibi V.14 No.12 • March 24-30, 2005 

Eating In

A Chop To Cherishil

Not planning on feeding a small army? Try lamb chops.

As Easter approaches, many butchers will actually stock freshly cut lamb instead of those little hermetically sealed packets in the exotic-meat section. You say a $20 leg of lamb the size of a small toddler doesn't exactly fit your holiday dinner plans? No matter. Lamb chops are the perfect single-serving size. Plus, they're easy to find, speedy to cook and quite affordable, if you know what to look for.

Once upon a time, people knew their lamb. In her turn-of-the-century cookbook, Fannie Farmer taught homemakers 20 ways to prepare lamb (plus 10 recipes for mutton and four for lamb's kidneys). And only one recipe said anything about mint jelly.

Mint jelly is solely responsible for lamb's current image problem. Actually, the whole mint jelly thing started out innocently enough. The British traditionally serve roast lamb with a tart mint sauce, made by steeping fresh mint leaves with water, vinegar, salt and sugar. The tangy sauce is a nice counterpoint to the unctuous lamb. Cuisines all over the world have developed similar tactics; in Greece, lemon might balance lamb's richness. Middle Easterners might dress lamb with tangy fruits, Indians might stew it in yogurt, and so on.

Lamb, unlike many modern, mass-produced meats, has a good strong flavor that will stand up to just about any herb or spice you throw at it: rosemary, garlic, curry spices and cilantro are favorites. Lamb is also impossibly tender, so you need only sear a chop medium-rare and you've got a succulent meal.

Ah, but the cost! True, the price-per-pound on those teensy loin chops is eye-popping. But well-stocked butcher counters offer more affordable options:

Arm chops. As the name—and the round bone in the middle—suggests, these represent a cross section of a lamb's upper arm. It's a well-used muscle, so a bit chewier than a loin chop, but highly flavorful and still quite tender enough for a quick sear.

Blade chops. This cut, from the lamb's shoulder blade, is streaked throughout with fat. Great flavor, but probably best cut into chunks for a stir-fry or curry. Blade and arm chops tend to be modestly priced.

Loin chops. These are small—you'll need two per person—and expensive. But they're meltingly tender, with no oddly placed fat pockets for your dinner companion to wrestle with.

Lamb chops with fresh mint and Romano

Serves 2

Ingredients:

1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil for frying

4 lamb loin chops (or 2 arm chops)

Instructions:

1) Combine the first 5 ingredients in a shallow dish.

2) Place a dry cast-iron skillet over high heat on the stove until it almost smokes.

3) Meanwhile, pat the lamb chops dry and dredge them in the mint mixture, pressing it into the meat.

4) When the skillet is hot, coat the bottom thinly with olive oil and add the chops. Turn the heat down to medium. Leave the chops alone until they are deep golden on the first side, then flip them, reduce the heat to low, cover the chops with a loose-fitting lid and continue cooking to desired doneness (medium-rare is best; cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the chops.)