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Grilled Lamb Chops, in Mint Condition
Browse through any collection of Roman specialties and you’re likely to find a lamb recipe called scottadito, which translates as “burned fingers.” The name invites you to pick up a grilled baby rib chop by its elegant natural handle and nibble blissfully around the small bones, even at the risk of singeing your fingers. As in the case of asparagus, another springtime delight, it’s perfectly correct to eat that chop with your fingers. And eating alone, of course, eliminates any concern that your companions may not be as up on dinner etiquette as you are.
Unaccountably, Americans have always displayed a certain coolness toward lamb, eating only about a pound per capita every year. The many lamb boycotters out there are missing out, especially this time of year, when there’s more fresh lamb than usual in markets. Full-flavored American lamb tends to be larger than grass-fed New Zealand lamb, which comes from a different breed and has a milder taste. Australian lamb is somewhere in the middle.
When you feel like treating yourself to a sumptuous meal without breaking a sweat, lamb rib or loin chops are perfect. You can slap them on the grill or, even easier, pan sear them on top of the stove.
Before that happens, give those chops a little rubdown with oil, salt and pepper. Italians often pair lamb with rosemary, thyme or oregano leaves, which can be chopped and incorporated into the rub. Mint, another option, stays green and fragrant if spread over the chops after they’re grilled.
Some solo cooks balk at buying a fresh herb just for themselves, concerned they might not use it all, but fresh herbs rightfully belong in the “small splurge” category—a way of treating yourself right even if you end up discarding a few sprigs. Even better, supply yourself with really fresh herbs. This is the time of year when we can all keep a few fresh herbs in pots or a corner of the backyard, to clip at will.
With the lamb chops, toss together all the good things you’d find in a Greek salad: shredded romaine, cucumber, tomatoes, onion. If you like, Italianize it by replacing the usual feta with ricotta salata, another sheep’s milk cheese, and using gaeta olives instead of kalamatas. Dress the salad with a lemon vinaigrette and, as the finishing touch, head back to the herb patch for a few baby mint leaves to scatter on top.
Grilled Lamb Chops with Fresh Mint
1 teaspoon grapeseed or other vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 lamb loin chops or 3 rib chops (6 to 8 ounces total)
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small lemon wedge
1 small sprig of mint, leaves chopped
In a small bowl, combine the oil, salt and pepper. Rub both sides of the lamb chops with the garlic clove and then with the oil mixture. Preheat a grill to medium hot.
Grill the chops until browned on both sides. Move them to a cooler part of the grill and cook until medium-rare, about 5 minutes longer; if they are thick, turn the chops at least once while cooking.*
Remove the chops to a dinner plate. Squeeze the lemon juice over them and spread the chopped mint on top.
* To pan-sear the chops: Heat a small, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the chops on both sides. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until medium-rare; if the chops seem in danger of burning, add a small amount of red wine or water.
©Toni Lydecker 2006