Up until recently lamb was a special occasion meal that was right up there with crab for my requested birthday celebration. I love lamb, but it can be pricey, especially for a family of 5. My five are not your average eaters, 3/5 of them are big, athlete, hungry eaters who devour their meal in half the time as everyone else. Needless to say, we did not serve lamb on a regular basis when my sons were all living at home.
Now that we are two serving lamb, especially lamb chops, is more affordable and we do not have to wait for a special occasion to have a treat. At my grocery store the rib lamb chops come already cut up into single rib pieces and will cook in less than 5 minutes on the stove. To make delicious lamb chops all you need is a small amount of preparation and a couple of standard ingredients. The lamb chops are so delicious very little needs to be added in for flavor. Do not be intimidated, believing that lamb chops are “gourmet” and will be difficult to prepare. They are little gems and so easy to prepare.
How to make lamb chops
First take the lamb chops out of the refrigerator 1 hour before you want to cook them. Take them out of the packaging and arrange on a plate. Blot both sides of the lamb chops with a paper towel, then sprinkle a pinch of Kosher salt lightly but evenly over the lamb chops on both sides. At this point you can decide how “fancy” you want to get. I like to sprinkle ground sumac and a bit of chopped fresh rosemary, but you can decide what, if any herbs and spices you would like to add. If you do not have sumac, salt and rosemary will be just fine. I do not apply ground pepper at this time because when I cook meat with ground pepper, the pepper can burn in the pan or on the grill and have a bitter taste.
Let the seasoned lamb chops rest on the counter for one hour. The meat will come up to room temperature, which is what you want. Beginning the cooking process with meat that is at room temperature vs 40° F, means less cooking time. There is no need to cover the lamb with plastic wrap, just keep them undisturbed on the counter. If you are nervous about having uncovered meat on your counter, loosely cover the lamb with plastic wrap.
When you are ready to cook the lamb chops, use a skillet, cast iron pan, or grill pan, and heat the pan on the burner on high heat. Add a drizzle of oil (canola or olive oil) to the pan, just enough to lightly coat the bottom. You are ready to cook the lamb chops when the pan is hot and the oil will be shiny and just about to smoke. Arrange the lamb chops on the pan, turn the heat down to medium-high heat, and cook for 2-3 minutes undisturbed. Be careful not to crowd the pan by adding too many lamb chops. Depending on the size of your pan and how many lamb chops you are cooking, you may need to cook the lamb chops in a couple of batches. In my 12-inch cast iron skillet, I can cook 5-6 rib lamb chops at a time.
After 2-3 minutes of cooking, turn the lamb chops over and sear the other side. Continue to cook, undisturbed for another 2 minutes. These are thin chops and are difficult to get an accurate internal temperature reading using an instant read thermometer. Learning how to gauge meat doneness by touch will be invaluable. It will take some practice, but with time you will feel more confident about your ability to judge doneness by touch and sight. (See Note) You can always make a cut through the middle of a piece of the lamb chop to see the color of the inside of the meat. If it is bluish-red, the lamb will need a little more cooking time, if it is pink take the lamb chops off the pan immediately.
I prefer my lamb chops rare to medium-rare. The color of the inside of the meat will be closer in color to red than pink. The meat will have some slight resistance when you press down on the meat, not mushy, but not firm. The total cooking time for the lamb chops on my stove using a hot cast iron skillet was 4 -5 minutes. It turned out a perfect medium-rare lamb chop. Individual lamb chops from a rack of lamb are small, so careful to not overcook them.
After you have cooked the second side of the lamb chops, and believe they have arrived to your desired level of doneness, take the lamb chops off the pan and put them on a plate. Grind fresh black pepper over the lamb chops and let the chops rest on the plate for 5-10 minutes, uncovered. The lamb chops will continue to cook with the residual heat and the juices will release through the meat.
After the resting period the lamb chops are ready to serve. It is all that simple. They can be eaten hot or at room temperature, and you will be tempted to use its little rib pick them up to eat using your fingers. Lamb chops taste great with dark leafy green vegetables and fresh ripe tomatoes. I particularly like serving lamb chops with a yogurt sauce made with ground sumac and chopped mint.
Create a beautiful early fall harvest dinner for two
Thirty minutes before you cook the lamb chops turn on the stove and bring a large pot of water to boil. You want to time it so that you begin cooking the corn just as the lamb chops are done cooking and resting.
Cook corn on the cob. Put the corn in boiling salted water and boil for four to six minutes. I like my corn on the crisper side, so feel free to adjust the cooking time to suit your preference. Make sure there is enough water in your stock pot to cover the entire ear of corn. When the corn is done, remove them from the boiling water, and place the corn on a plate. Smear each ear of corn with butter. Cover the corn with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm.
Begin cooking the lamb chops around the time the corn is cooking. Three ribs per person is a nice main course serving, two ribs per person for an appetizer.
While the lamb chops are resting and the corn cooking, slice a fresh garden tomato into about 3/8-inch thick pieces. Three slices person is a reasonable serving. Locally grown tomatoes from a farm stand, or your neighbor, tastes dramatically different from tomatoes purchased at the grocery store. Seek them out when you can. Arrange the tomato slices on dinner plates and very lightly sprinkle with flaky sea salt and your favorite fresh herb, like basil or thyme.
If you want to spruce up dinner, make a yogurt sauce to serve with your lamb chops. This can be prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator. The yogurt sauce is best when served at room temperature, so if you do make it ahead, take it out of the refrigerator an hour before serving.
Yogurt Sauce for Lamb Chops
Mix together in a small bowl, 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/2 tea of sumac (optional), leaves from one sprig of mint (minced), pinch of kosher salt, and about a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. Serve the yogurt in a separate bowl on the side so people can help themselves. I am loving my homemade yogurt and this sauce was a wonderful addition with the lamb.
We have four padron pepper plants that are producing tons of peppers. I find that I am always adding them to the mix of our daily meal. If you got them use them, they are so good with just the right amount of heat. Shishito peppers would be nice as well. Just sauté the peppers with a shy 1 Tb of olive and sprinkle of Kosher salt until charred and blistered.
This is a simple, finger-licking, delicious dinner. A great meal to enjoy the last of the corn and tomato harvest before they are gone. Add some crusty bread and a dry red or rosé wine, an you have a perfect meal for two.
Lamb Doneness Temperature via Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything
125° F very rare
130° F rare
135° F Medium-rare
140° F Medium
150° F Medium-well
160° F Well-done
Use Harold McGee as a reference to learn about the texture of meat at different levels of doneness. From Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking, (pg 154)
“Rare meat is more resilient when poked with a finger like the thumb-forefinger muscle when the two digits are stretched apart and red juice begins to appear on the surface.
Medium-done meat is more firm, like the thumb-forefinger muscle when the two digits are squeezed together–and squeezes red juice to steak and chop surfaces, while the interior pales to pink.
Well-done meat is frankly stiff to the touch, little juice is apparent, and both juice and interior are both dull tan or gray.”
Becoming familiar with the touch and texture of meats at different stages of doneness is a great skill to develop.
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