Lambykins is precious, but it doesn’t have to be dear
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-last-century cookbook, Fannie Farmer taught homemakers 20 ways to prepare lamb (plus 10 recipes for mutton and four for lamb 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.
Where to buy it
The fresh lamb stocked at the Central Market meat counter is raised in Colorado. If the price of rib roast shocks you, keep in mind that it is bone-in, and a pound buys 3-4 ribs; a seven-rib rack will cost approximately $50.
Cut and cost per pound:
Loin chops, $16.99
At Whole Foods you’ll find free-range New Zealand lamb, which is raised without antibiotics or growth hormones.
Cut and cost per pound:
Lamb rib chops (frenched lamb rack), $19.99
- Compiled by Corinne Welder
Lamb, unlike many modern, mass-produced meats, has a 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 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.
One last note on your lamb’s provenance: Ten years ago, imported lamb from Australia and New Zealand made up about 15 percent of the U.S. lamb supply. Now, it’s about half. There are a lot of reasons for this foreign takeover: a weak dollar, a trade tariff that didn’t work, the demise of a U.S. government subsidy.
But if you do manage to find lamb that hasn’t been frozen and flown halfway around the globe, don’t pass it up. The best lamb we ever tasted — the juiciest and deepest-flavored — was raised right here in the states.
Lamb Chops with Fresh Mint and Romano
1/4 c fresh bread crumbs
1/4 c freshly grated Romano cheese
3 T finely chopped fresh mint
1/4 t kosher salt
1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for frying
4 lamb loin chops (or 2 arm chops)
Combine the first five ingredients in a shallow dish. Place a dry cast-iron skillet over high heat on the stove until it almost smokes. Meanwhile, pat the lamb chops dry and dredge them in the mint mixture, pressing it into the meat. 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 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 how thick the chops are.) Serves 2. •
Rob Byers and Tara Tuckwiller write a food column for The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia.