Lamb. Rich and satisfying. Chef and author Michael Chiarello loves the meat and, with his restaurant experience, knows just the proportions to serve. As an entrée, two or three chops per person is plenty. That lamb flavor can, it is true, seem overpowering. The trick is to pair that meat flavor with something contrasting but equally intense. Chef Chiarello suggests this roasted cherry vinaigrette offering just that needed flavor balance.
Serve the lamb and vinaigrette over polenta for a main course. On the side, offer a deep Pinot Noir.
This vinaigrette can be used in many other ways: topping barbequed chicken or beef toned with black grill marks, trout, and of course with salads. It’s a Swiss Army knife of sauces.
The recipe below suggests cooking only half the cherries. If cherries are not available, or you prefer a different flavor, you can use pitted and halved apricots in their place.
Lamb Chops with Roasted Cherry Vinaigrette
Yield: serves 6
For the vinaigrette:
- 1 pound fresh sweet cherries such as Bing or Rainer, pitted and halved
- 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Sat salt, preferably gray salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 scallions, white part only, cut on the bias into ¼ inch pieces
- 1 ½ tablespoons tarragon vinegar
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
For the lamb:
- 18 lamb chops cut from a rack of lamb, at room temperature
- Sea salt, preferably gray salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
For the vinaigrette, preheat the oven to 450°F. In a large bowl, mix the cherries with 7 tablespoon of the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Heat an ovenproof sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and heat until shimmering. Add half of the cherries and toss them once or twice. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast until the cherries around the edges of the pan begin to turn lightly brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and add to the remaining half of the cherries. Add the scallions, vinegar and tarragon. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Set aside.
For the lamb chops, prepare a hot wood fire in a charcoal grill or have a grill pan ready. Season both sides of each chop with salt. Brush lightly over with olive oil. If using a grill pan, heat the pan over high heat and oil and pan. Grill the chops for 3-4 minutes on each side. Transfer the chops to a platter and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
If serving with polenta, place a mound of polenta on each warmed plate. Place 3 chops on the top of the polenta with bones pointing towards the plate’s center. Top with a spoonful of vinaigrette. Ladle any extra vinaigrette into small ramekins to pass at the table.
Source: Adapted from Michael Chiarello
Hero Food by Seamus Mullen has a very different perspective. For personal health reasons, seasoned chef Mullen decided to focus on 18 very healthy ingredients and then create wonderful recipes using them. Now his list of 18 is pretty diverse: olive oil, dried, beans, almonds, grains, anchovies, good eggs, good birds, sweet peas, parsley, berries, carrots, corn, stone fruit, good fish, squash, mushrooms, greens, and good meat.
By “good” he doesn’t mean avoiding spoiled. He means getting the specific varieties or cuts that can generate wonderful flavor.
This recipe, for a slow roasted lamb shoulder, immediately caught Suzen’s eye. With her cooking school in New York, Suzen tries to offer clients a true range of flavors. She offers, the clients decide, and we prepare a lot of chicken, beef, and salmon. Lamb is not a frequent client selection. It’s the Bambi thing. So, for a weekend feast, she was all over this lamb idea. Me, too. Visions of mint jelly did cross my mind.
And we made this dish. Uh, sort of.
Our butcher did not have lamb shoulder. He did have a lamb roast but at $45, Suzen held it in her hand and weighed her options. She put it back.
“What if,” she began.
Now, that phrase “what if” has led to many things in our civilization. Einstein said “what if” and came up with relativity theory, for example. Suzen was less dramatic.
She used pork shoulder instead of lamb. Equally delicious. You just need to accommodate the cooking time. In fact, it’s a pretty good indication that the recipes in Hero Food are robust when you can make this kind of change and yet achieve a perfect meal.
Lamb to pork was one change. The other was simpler. His recipe calls for Quick-Cured Lemons which requires a few days of curing. We were hungry that very day, and had no preserved lemons already on hand. So I Googled and found a 3-hour version of preserved lemons. I’ve already posted that blog just a few days ago.
That’s it. That’s all the changes we made. We had our cousin over for dinner and she beamed. “What is this?” Karen asked.
“Lamb,” I said. Karen stared at me.
“Pork, for god’s sake,” Suzen corrected me. Karen took another piece.
The diligence and care in Hero Food make it a book you want to look at and consider strongly for the sagging bookshelf of yours. There’s always room for one more. This should be the one.
Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder
Yield: serves 6
- 1 cup good-quality black olives, pits removed
- 6 slices Quick-Cured Lemons [see our earlier post on this blog for a solution here]
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- Generous handful mixed fresh herbs, like rosemary, oregano, sage, parsley, and/or thyme
- ½ cup good olive oil
- 1 lamb shoulder, roughly 4-6 pounds, and deboned [ask your butcher to do it]
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large mortar and pestle or in a food processor, work together the olives, cured lemons, garlic, herbs and olive oil in to a nice, rustic paste. If you are using a food processor, be careful not to overprocess it; you want the paste to be a bit coarse.
Open the lamb shoulder up on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to trim any connecting meat to form a nice square. Rub the lamb all over with the paste you’ve just made. Carefully roll the whole thing up so that it looks like a Yule log and truss it with butcher’s twine every inch and a half. Refrigerate the lamb for a few hours or overnight to allow all the wonderful flavors to come together.
Removed the lamb from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Place the lamb on a rack fitting in a roasting pan. Roast for 1 to 1 ½ hours. You’re looking for an internal temperature of about 148°F. I like to tie a few branches of rosemary together with string to make a nice herb brush and use that to baste the lamb with the dripping every 20 minutes or so. Once the lamb is done, set it aside in a warm place to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
While the lamb is resting, I like to wilt some bitter greens lake puntarelle or dandelion greens in a hot skillet with some of the drippings from the lamb pan. It only takes a couple of minutes and works really well with the lamb.
Carefully remove the butcher’s twine. With a sharp knife, carve the shoulder into thin slices. Serve the sliced shoulder family style with platter of the wilted greens.
Source: Hero Food by Seamus Mullen