Pan-Sautéed Lamb Chops with Blackberry Sauce

Thursday October 13, 2016

Lamb is the stuff of myth, legend, and part of the story of the domestication of animals.  It is mentioned in the Bible and were used not only for religious purposes, but for food and wool.  It is a meat that is found in every cuisine.  It marries well in Moroccan tagines, Indian curry, Southern barbecue, French stews, Near Eastern dolmas and moussaka, and the cooking of the British Isles.  It has a nice sweet nature that goes well with vegetables of all kinds, fresh and dried fruits, mustard, wines, garlic, tomatoes, and nuts.  The term spring lamb refers to animals born in the spring; it even has its own dish in France, Navarin Primanteur, spring lamb and vegetable ragoût.  The early Christians had a custom of serving a whole roasted lamb for Easter, a custom continued by French royalty until the 1700s.

Lamb was domesticated in the Near East probably around the same time of domesticating grains and has ended up outnumbering any other type of livestock for food in the world.  While many cuisines call lamb their staple protein, America calls it more of a secondary choice after beef.  Statistics note the British and French eat approximately five times the amount of lamb as Americans.  Our 1961 copy of Larousse Gastronomique devotes 12 pages exclusively to lamb.  The French cassoulet of baked beans has a lamb stew with lots of garlic and vermouth at its core.  Napoleon conquered Spain and began exporting their sheep back to France and royalty like Louis XVI kept sheep on their country estates (George Washington kept a herd of sheep at Mount Vernon as well).  Many of these breeds were brought to the U.S. and crossed to make modern breeds good for producing both wool and meat from the same animal.

Shepherding became synonymous with the opening of the Midwest and Western U.S. and the best lamb comes from Down breeds imported from England in the mid-1800s.  The Basque of Nevada and the Navajos of New Mexico are living testaments to the old way of ranching sheep.  The best breed for top-quality meat is a small lamb of the Down breeds known as a Shropshire.  The U.S. now imports alot of its lamb from Australia and New Zealand.  Lamb is known as a polygastic ruminants, that is it primarily eats grass and grains, like cattle and goats, converting it into protein, by virtue of having more than one stomach.

Today’s lamb is fresh and of high quality year round.  Mutton is a reference to lamb 2 years or older and is not usually sold in the United States; most year-round lamb is between 6 and 12 months in age at slaughter.  USDA Genuine Spring Lamb is 3 to 6 months in age and really a specialty; it is very tender and we do not call for any in these recipes.  Look for a dark reddish meat with a fine grain with a fresh smell.  If it smells gamey, it is old lamb.

The lamb is divided into portions: shoulders, forelegs, breast, then the ribs and loin.  The leg, which is usually dry roasted, is fine for slow cooking.  The best portions for braising are the shoulder and tough foreleg, known as the shank.  There is a lamb butt at the top of the leg at the shoulder, but it is a cut only found at a butcher shop.  The lamb shoulder, either bone in or boneless, is cooked as a whole roast (can also be called the lamb butt) or cut into stew meat.  The shoulder chops are a wonderful braising cut as well since they are made up of many muscles. If you love lamb stew, do obtain a lamb neck; it is really excellent for full- flavored stews, quite similar in consistency and delicate flavor like oxtails.  Leg of lamb is also cut up for stew.  We recommend you cut your own stew meat; already cut-up lamb stew meat is usually miscellaneous leftovers. Lamb is as tasty with the classics of onion, carrot, and celery, as it is with eggplant, morels and domestic mushrooms, sausage, paprika, ham, artichokes, and any type of simple or complex potato dish, and of course, mint jelly.

Lamb is best used within 2 to 3 days of purchase, or else frozen.  Defrost in the wrappers or plastic freezer bags, in the refrigerator for about 24 hours.

Every time you see fresh blackberries at the produce stand you should think of this recipe. Blackberries are fabulous with lamb and this sauce is completed in minutes. Stash a few baskets in the freezer during berry season or else buy a bag of unsweetened berries; both are great. The sauce is the most simple style reduction, which is a fancy cooking term for letting it boil and evaporate, which naturally condenses the flavors and thickens the consistency of the sauce. Serve with rice pilaf and baby broccoli sauté.

Cooking Method: Stovetop

Cook Time: About 20 minutes

Serves 4

Ingredients

8 small, thick loin lamb chops

Freshly ground black or multi-colored peppercorns

2/3 cup dry red wine, such as Merlot

2/3 cup canned beef broth

2/3 cup fresh or frozen blackberries

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Salt, to taste

Instructions

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season the lamb chops lightly on both sides with peppercorns. Arrange in the skillet and brown one side of the chops, lower the heat to medium and cook the other side until done medium-rare (about 6 to 8 minutes). If your skillet is not large enough, you will have to do this in two batches. Transfer the chops to a serving plate, tent with foil, and let rest while making the sauce.

Return the skillet to high heat. Pour the wine into the pan and let bubble a minute or two to reduce by almost half. Add the broth to the reduced wine, bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and allow the mixture to cook at a low boil for 2 minutes. Add the blackberries and butter. Swirl the pan around so the butter melts evenly and heat the berries for a minute (not too long or else the berries will break down–frozen berries will take a bit longer to cook than the fresh). Adjust the seasoning with salt. Place 2 chops per portion on dinner plates, then drizzle the sauce directly over the chops.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Weeknight Cooking, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2008, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

Lamb Curry

Curry has a reputation. Hot, spicy, exotic. First of all, curry describes the basic braising method of Indian cooking, not the spices.  Curry is derived from the Hindi word kard, which translates to “cook over a long period of time” or “sauce.” Curry does not have to be a spice mixture bought in a can at the supermarket; spice mixtures are highly individual touches varying from cook to cook.  The can of curry powder is a British invention so they would not have to mix the spices every time (we have to admit liking that concept ourselves).  So when you see curry in a recipe title, you will know that the dish is braised like a stew with a variety of spices.  Those very spices, called a masala, give a vibrant color and flavor to the stew which can be thin or thick in consistency.  A lamb curry such as this, curry d’agneau, is one of the classic bistro dishes of France.  This is a thick, aromatic main dish stew with long-grain basmati rice a must as an accompaniment.

Cooker: Medium or Large Round or Oval

Machine Setting and Cook Time: High for 1 hour, then Low Heat: 6 to 8 hours

Serves 6

Ingredients

2 pounds shoulder of lamb, shank, or butt roast, fat trimmed, cut into 2-inch cubes

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

2 to 4 tablespoons cooking oil

1/2-inch piece fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic

2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, stemmed and deveined

1 cup vegetable or chicken stock

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon tumeric powder

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

5 green cardamon pods

3 black cardamon pods

1 4-inch cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

4 whole cloves

One 14-ounce can coconut milk

2 large tart apples, such as Fuji or Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped

1/3 cup fruit chutney, processed until smooth in a food processor

1/2 cup thick plain yogurt

1 teaspoon salt, to taste

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Instructions

In a large nonstick skillet in two batches, heat the oil and brown the lamb and onions over medium-high heat, about 10 minutes.  Place the meat and onions in the slow cooker.

Place the ginger, garlic, and green chiles in a mini-food processor and chop; add a bit of the stock to make a paste.  Add the paste to the skillet with any oil left in the pan, stirring, and add the cumin, coriander, and tumeric, cooking a few minutes stirring constantly.  Sprinkle with the flour and add the remaining stock; stir until smooth and pour into the cooker with the coconut milk and apples.  Place the cardamon pods, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and cloves in a cheesecloth bag; nestle into the mixture.  Cover and cook on HIGH 1 hour.

Reduce heat to LOW and cook until lamb is very tender, 6 to 8 hours.  Remove and discard the spice bag, and season to taste with salt.  Stir in the chutney and yogurt; let sit in cooker 15 minutes to heat.  Serve with steamed white basmati rice and chopped fresh cilantro.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and ulie Kaufmann. (c) 2002, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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