In writing, you must kill all your darlings.
~William Faulkner

Over the past few years, this site has become some form of writing, albeit ramblings or recipes. That medium allows me to fictionally, even idiomatically, lead those beloved, downy lambs to slaughter.

To do so, first ascertain a venue and gather the tools of the trade. Create a block and tackle from an overhead beam or improvise some sort of frame from scaffold poles. Then, garner a gambrel (an a-frame for hanging carcasses), meat hooks, a sharp 6″ blade, a small hook-shaped knife, a butcher’s saw, and a shotgun. Later comes separation, the act, hoisting the carcass, skinning, evisceration and butchery. The bloody details, angles, etc., are purposely spared, so precise imagination must suffice.

In the end, at the juncture of animal and human worlds, emerge blessed lamb chops. Numinous provender for us omnivores.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH YOGURT & SAFFRON

Lamb marinade:

1 t saffron threads
2 T warm water

2 C plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1/2 C fresh lemon juice
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 T fresh black peppercorns
2 t orange zest
2 t honey

8 rib lamb chops, doubled (each 2″ thick)

Saffron baste:

1/2 t saffron threads
1 1/2 T warm chicken stock

3 T unsalted butter
3 T fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chutneys (optional)

Prepare the marinade. Place the saffron in a large, deep glass bowl and grind to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Add warm water, stir, and let stand for 10 minutes.

Then, add the yogurt, lemon juice, onion, garlic, peppercorns, orange zest and honey to the dissolved saffron and mix well. Pour over and marinate the lamb chops in a large heavy plastic bag and allow to rest, turning occasionally, in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the grill to medium high. As a reminder, hold an open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands retraction. Two (2) to three (3) seconds = medium high.

Meanwhile, prepare the saffron basting sauce. Place the saffron in a small, heavy saucepan. Add warm stock, stir, and let stand for 10 minutes. Add the butter and lemon juice to the dissolved saffron and stir over low heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is blended and heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove the chops from the marinade, bring to room temperature on a cutting board, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the lamb chops on the hot barbeque grate and then grill, turning once, until cooked to your liking (about 5-6 minutes per side for medium rare). Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Brush the chops a couple of times as they cook with the saffron basting sauce.

Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes on the cutting board, then transfer the chops to plates and serve promptly, preferably with dollops of differing chutneys to the side.

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Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.
~Mahatma Gandhi

These finger wielded morsels, carved from a lamb loin rack are sometimes dubbed “lollipops” especially when the bones are frenched (i.e., when the meat on the long bone ends is resected). At this house, the debate rages whether or not to french as some serious next-to-the-bone cooks and eats are discarded in favor of the look. Wasteful of the tasteful, to me. Others rightfully differ and prefer degloved–the chops do appear more elegant. Kitchen diplomacy is ever at work.

LAMB CHOPS WITH PORT, FIG & BALSAMIC

1 rack of lamb, evenly cut into single chops
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 T thyme leaves, minced

2 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 rosemary sprigs

1/2 C ruby port
3 T chicken stock
1/4 C fine Provençal red fig preserves
1-2 T aged balsamic vinegar of Modena

Fresh rosemary sprigs

Season lamb with salt, pepper and thyme. In a large, heavy sauté pan, add the olive oil, butter, garlic and rosemary sprigs and heat over medium high until simmering. But, do not brown the butter or garlic. Remove and discard garlic and rosemary then add lamb chops and sauté until browned some and just medium rare, about 3 minutes per side. Remove lamb chops from heat and tent with foil.

Increase heat, add port to pan and reduce some scraping and stirring with a wooden spatula. Then add chicken stock and reduce further, occasionally stirring. Moderate heat throughout to maintain a lively simmer. Whisk in preserves first until dissolved and then balsamic vinegar, cooking and stirring until reduced to a saucy consistency which nicely coats both sides of the spoon or spatula. As needed, season the sauce with salt and pepper to your liking.

Briefly re-introduce lamb chops to pan and turn to coat with sauce and heat some.

Serve arranged on platter, drizzle with pan reduction and garnish with just a few fresh rosemary sprigs.

Pourboire: alternatively, you can briefly grill the lamb chops at the outset, dropping rosemary sprigs onto the hot coals. On the back end, consider a light touch of chopped toasted pistachios and chiffonaded fresh mint as garnishes in lieu of the rosemary sprigs.

Only in art will the lion lie down with the lamb, and the rose grow without thorn.
~Martin Amis

TANDOORI LAMB LOIN CHOPS

10 lamb loin chops, about 1 1/2″ thick

1/2 C garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 C fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
2 T peanut oil

1/2 C scallions, chopped
2 C plain yogurt
2 T honey
2 t garam masala*
1/2 T paprika
1/2 T turmeric
1/2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 T coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 C packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 T sea salt
1/2 T freshly ground pepper

Put the garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse the machine on and off until the ingredients are finely minced. With the machine running, drizzle the oil through the feed tube. Add the scallions, yogurt, honey, garam masala, paprika, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cilantro, salt and pepper and process until smooth.

Pour the mixture over the chops and turn them to coat both sides. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Season the chops on both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Bring the marinated lamb chops to room temperature. Grill the lamb for 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Let the lamb rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

* See Garam Marsala post

…the American paradox: a notably unhealthy population preoccupied with nutrition and diet and the idea of eating healthily.
~Michael Pollan

A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including the James Beard Award for best magazine series in 2003 and the Reuters-I.U.C.N. 2000 Global Award for Environmental Journalism. Pollan served for many years as executive editor of Harper’s Magazine and is now the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley.

Last night, we attended his lecture and book signing of his biting and informative James Beard Award winner, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. He closed with these remarks (paraphrased):

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”

“Do not eat food which has been advertised on television”

“Do not eat food that your grandmother would not recognize as food”

Sage advice.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH YOGURT & MINT

6 local, organic lamb loin chops, about 1 1/2″ thick
2 plump, fresh garlics, peeled and slightly crushed
Fresh mint leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 T herbes de provence

3 T Dijon mustard
1 T soy sauce
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
2 C plain organic yogurt
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped

Fresh mint leaves to garnish

Rub the lamb chops with an open garlic and mint leaves, and then season with salt and pepper and herbes de provence. In a bowl, mix together the mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, yogurt, garlic and chopped mint leaves. Spread the mixture over the lamb on both sides and marinate in the refrigerator for around 4 hours.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Bring the lamb chops to room temperature. Grill the lamb for 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Let the lamb rest for at least 5 minutes, then serve garnished with mint leaves.

My favorite animal is steak.
~Fran Lebowitz

The Grill is just one of life’s genetically ingrained pleasures, entailing the prehistoric basics of fire and food…profoundly tantalizing all of the senses in the most simple and universal of ways. As much as I adore that haven known as kitchen, there may be no cooking experience as innately fulfilling as hovering around a glowing grill festooned with singing, aromatic food. Elemental, fundamental and lacking pretense with the journey almost besting the destination.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds at the ‘Que.

The etymology of the term is debatable, but one theory espouses that the word “barbecue” is a derivative of the West Indian term “barbacoa,” which denotes a method of cooking meat over hot coals. “Barbeque” could have also originated from the French phrase “barbe à queue” which means “whiskers to tail.”

To strict contructionists, there is a sacred distinction between “grilling” and “barbeque.” According to these purists, when you grill, the cooking process is brief and done over direct heat. On the other hand, with barbeque the cooking process is lengthened, over lower, indirect heat. To me, there is no sin in uttering the terms interchangeably—it is simply food cooked over an open fire at differing rhythms. Some basics follow.

Fire Toys

Grill (ceramic, porcelain enameled, charcoal, gas), grill cover, tool holder, spatula, tongs, fork, work table, skewers, bristle cleaning brush, drip pans, basting brush, oven thermometer, barbeque mitts, chimney starter, fireplace lighter, spray bottle. Note: Burning natural lump charcoal results in less ash than burning briquettes, thus less frequent ash clean out is required.

Grill Lighting

(1) The most efficient way to light charcoal is with a chimney starter that uses no lighter fluid.

Roll two full newspaper sheets into tubes, then bend the tubes to form rings. Turn the chimney starter upside down. A grate splits the hollow inter­ior of the tub into two compartments. Fit the tubs into the base of the starter so that they are pressed against the grate. Be careful to leave a hole in the middle (the hole allows for airflow once the newspaper is lit).

Turn the chimney over so that it’s right side up. Load the chimney to the top with charcoal. Using a long match or butane lighter, light the newspaper in several places through the holes at the bottom of the chimney starter. Wait 10–20 minutes for all the coals to light. The charcoal is ready when you see flames licking at the coals in the top of the chimney and gray ash just starting to form.

Wearing an oven mitt, lift the chimney starter by the handle and slowly dump the coals in a pile onto the coal grate in the middle of the grill, spread them about, and put the starter in a safe place.

(2) The pyramid method is simpler than using a chimney starter, but requires the use of lighter fluid, which can alter flavors and scents.

Build a pile or pyramid of coals in the middle of your coal grate. Spray the pyramid liberally with lighter fluid. In several places, light the pile with a long match or lighter. After a few minutes, the flames may subside as the lighter fluid burns off. This does not mean that the coals have failed to light. In 20–30 minutes, the coals should gradually begin to burn and glow red. Do not attempt to speed up this process by spraying more lighter fluid on the coals. Spread the coals around the bottom grate.

Grill temperature

Grill temperature is best assessed by using the traditional hand test. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it:

1 to 2 seconds — high
2 to 3 seconds — medium high
4 to 5 seconds — medium low
7 to 8 seconds — low

Test for Doneness

Rare: Gently put the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. Take the index finger of your other hand and push on the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm.

Medium rare: Gently put the tip of your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. Again press the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm with your opposing index finger.

Medium: Gently put the tip of your ring finger and your thumb together. Again press the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm with your opposing index finger.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH MINT & TOMATO VINAIGRETTE

1 C extra virgin olive oil

1/3 C red wine vinegar
1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
3 plump garlic cloves, minced finely
1 T dijon mustard
1 T organic honey

1 C mint leaves, chopped
4 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

6 local, organic lamb loin chops, about 1 1/2″ thick
Rosemary sprigs

Combine vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, mustard and honey; and then slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking until smooth. Stir in mint and tomatoes.

Place lamb chops in single layer in glass dish. Pour marinade over, turning chops to coat all around; cover with foil and refrigerate 4 hours, turning lamb chops occasionally.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Strew a few rosemary sprigs around the perimeter of the coals. Grill chops to desired doneness, basting often with marinade, about 5-6 plus minutes per side for medium rare. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill.

As always, let meat rest before serving and spoon some vinaigrette over each chop.

Serve with polenta or roasted potatoes and a pinot noir, old vine zinfandel or French burgundy.