When it’s spring and the birds are blooming and the trees are singing, or something like that, and a young man’s fancy turns to… Well, never mind, we know what young men’s fancy is. But an old guy’s fancy may turn to – Lamb Chops! And yes, Shari Lewis was nice for that other fancy.
Yeah, I know, we always thought of lamb as the overdone leg that mama would have sometimes. And only sissies eat lamb and I don’t like lamb. Guys, grow up, get over it. Real men eat whatever they damn well please. I know in the South manly-men don’t eat lamb. But the rest of the world does, and lamb is mighty fine eating. And yes, good lamb chops are expensive. But, if you have a Costco or something similar that does wholesale pricing, and you keep a serious lookout for sales, you just might be able to afford them. You want at least double-cut, and preferably triple-cut. The bigger the cut number, the thicker the meat. Now single-cut (about ½”) is ok for pork chops, but just will not do for lamb. Double-cut is twice as thick. Triple cut is 3 times thicker.
Set the oven for 450°.
Lamb chops, about 2 per person if you are having a good, filling, side dish or two. 3 per if they’re only double-cut. I’m talking about the small sized chops here. About ½ the size of pork chops. You’ll know them when you see them. You won’t usually see the pork chop size. They get reserved for restaurants. Or they come from sheep, not lambs. You don’t want sheep.
Now, you want some good, fresh mint. Yeah, you can use dried, but fresh is better.
You also want a good grade of mint sauce. Cross & Blackwell is the very best. You can make your own if you really want to. Mint sauce is nothing more than an infusion of mint leaves in a sweet leaching liquid. Oh, all right, a herbal vinegar, if you please:
1/2 cup finely chopped mint
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 cup English malt vinegar
Mix it up in a saucepan, simmer for about 20 minutes, let it cool, decant into airtight containers (old condiment bottles work well).
Take some butter, cold from the refrigerator. Add about 1 ½ tablespoons per chop.
1 clove of fresh garlic per chop, minced. Yes, they’re garlicky. Goes nicely with lamb.
Small bowl food processor or lots of elbow grease.
Put the butter in, add the garlic and get it mixed in. Add just enough mint sauce for flavor and work it in. Don’t put so much sauce in that the mixture becomes liquid. You want this to be rather stiff. That’s why we use cold butter. Work in a good amount of mint. I put in about as much as the mix will hold. Your taste may call for some less. Put the chops in a pan with a grill rack. I always line the pan with aluminum foil, otherwise it’s a mess to clean up. Set the chops on the rack, getting each as close to level as possible. Now, for each chop, dig down with your fingers beside each bone, making a little pocket. Fill the pockets with the butter mixture and keep heaping it on the chops until you run out of topping. Really mound it up. Pop in the oven for 45 minutes for triple-cut. The cooking time can be varied to suit your taste. This should get you done with very little pink. If you like your lamb a bit rarer, reduce the time. I do like mine about medium, but Herself can’t stand underdone lamb.
Of course, you can always pan-fry them. Just treat them like any other kind of meat. You know the drill – Add some olive oil, add some butter. Get the pan hot to where the mix shimmers slightly and the butter is no longer foaming. Ease the flame down between medium and medium-high depending on your range-top. Slide a little crushed garlic in and cook until it is brown, then remove the debris. Add the chops that you have salted and peppered, both sides. Try about 5 minutes a side for double-cut. This should be about medium. If this is too rare for you, just add a bit more time, but be careful of burning. You may need to reduce the heat and go for a little longer time. Anyway, garnish with some chopped mint. Serve with mint sauce.
You can also grill lamb chops, the rules are the same as for any red meat. You might try grilled with some kind of rosemary marinade. The Greeks really like rosemary with their lamb, and they are the experts. Actually, most all the Middle East types deal quite well with lamb. Look for Greek, Lebanese, and so on recipes. They are all the same basic culture, though they will all deny it. And may want to cut your throat for saying so. Alexander had the policy of mingling the cultures. Not to mention the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire – need I go on?
But I’ll get more into Middle Eastern lamb recipes at a later time. Oh hell, I might as well talk a little about kibbe – there are a million spellings. The basic kibbe is:
1 lb. Finely minced lamb. It mostly gets ground in this country – but that is not right. Keep the fat content down low.
1 medium onion, finely minced. Or more, to taste. You can also puree, but I like fine mince better.
2 teaspoons good kosher salt, or less, to taste
1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
Pepper to taste (optional)
1/2 cup fine burghul – cracked bulghar wheat – soaked for 30 minutes and pressed dry.
Mix the whole mess together. If it is too sticky, try adding a little water.
Now you can bake it or fry it (make that 1 cup burghul for cooked). Deep dish, patties, whatever. Don’t overcook it dry.
But the absolute best way to eat it is raw, like steak tartar. It is called kibbe naeya. I can just see the queasy looks out there. Raw lamb, yech! But it really is delicious. And I wouldn’t lie to you about something as important as food! Of course, you have to have a supply of meat that you can absolutely trust, and that may be hard. If you get clean meat, skim off the surface 1/8″ or so with a clean sharp knife and do your own grinding or mincing you are pretty safe. Anyway, get (or bake) some good fresh pita bread. Get a really good grade of extra virgin olive oil. Greek or Lebanese is better than Italian for this. Put some spicy veggies in the olive oil if you like. Now, tear off a strip of bread, get some kibbe and some olive oil on it. If you’re going to be authentic, use a central communal bowl, and only use your right hand to tear and roll the bread. Depending on the place and local custom, you might have a central dish of olive oil or one per side of the main dish, or even individual dipping bowls. All samey-samey. Chow down and enjoy – it is wonderful!