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Lamb is elegant -- and easy

Grilled lamb chops, mild and tender, make a lovely main dish for this spring's holiday gatherings.

By JANET K. KEELER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 20, 2002

[Times photo: Patty Yablonski]
Grilled lamb chop with garlic, mint and mango relish. Mint, garlic and rosemary are traditional flavorings for lamb.
Holiday meals bring special problems, along with beloved family and friends, to the table.

Paramount among the challenges is what to prepare. Is the menu fancy enough, we ask ourselves. Is it too much -- or too little -- food for the people invited? Are we serving the same old thing? Will we be sentenced to the kitchen for the day, unable to enjoy the gathering?

Most nagging of all, will the guests like what we've made?

It is impossible to please everyone all the time so the best tact might be to make something that's easy and also elegant.

We think succulent grilled lamb chops are a lovely choice for this spring's holiday gatherings. The rich, tender meat whispers opulence while offering a change from the increasingly common spiral ham. Plus, moving the cooking outdoors takes advantage of the best weather Florida has to offer. Why roast a leg of lamb all day when you can be outside watching the grill and the dog chasing butterflies at the same time?

Lamb has significance for both Christians celebrating Easter on March 31 and Jews marking Passover, which begins at sundown March 27. Lamb was part of the meal eaten by Jewish slaves before they fled Egyptian persecution. Passover commemorates this flight to freedom.

In the Bible, Jesus is called the lamb of God.

Though New Zealand raises about three-fourths of the world's supply of lamb, the majority of lamb we see here is raised in the American west. Texas and California are the leading suppliers of lamb. New Zealand lamb is raised mostly on grasses and American lamb is mainly grain-fed. Grain-feeding, says Randy Colbeck, a meat cutter at George's Meat Market in St. Petersburg, results in milder tasting meat, which appeals more to the American palate.

Occasionally, you'll see New Zealand lamb on restaurant menus or in members-only stores such as Sam's Club or Costco.

Lamb loin chops are perfect for the grill because the meat is so tender. Those smaller rib chops with the bone attached, which make up a rack of lamb, look quite fancy and are tasty, but two bites and they're gone. At about $14 a pound, rib chops aren't your best buy.

Loin chops aren't inexpensive either; they cost between $9 and $10 a pound. However, a pound will feed two people, at least. Two 1-inch chops should be enough per person. If you buy thicker chops, you'll have to gauge the appetites of your guests. A big eater might still gobble up two while one chop will be plenty for less robust diners.

Don't shy away from asking for help at the grocery-store meat counter. This time of year, there is plenty of leg of lamb in stock, but the loin chop selection might be limited or snatched up as fast as it's placed in the meat case. If you want 10 1-inch chops, you might have to ask for them to be cut. Don't wait until the last minute to buy the meat just in case a special order has to be made. You can call and ask about the supply.

A meat market, such as George's, likely will have more stock than what's displayed. Again, ask for help.

Grilling lamb chops is a snap. Figure on six minutes per side over direct heat for medium-rare 1-inch chops; about 10 minutes for 11/2-inchers. Lamb should be pink in the middle and is safe to eat when the internal temperature reaches 140. Grilling lamb to well done will result in dry meat.

If you don't have a grill, the chops can be broiled. Place them on the rack closest to the heating element. Oven broiling might take less time than the grill so watch the chops closely.

Mint, garlic and rosemary are traditional flavorings for lamb. A cut-glass bowl of mint jelly used to be a standard accompaniment to lamb, but you can incorporate the mint flavor by using leaves from the fresh herb. Grilled Lamb Loin Chops with a Mango Mint and Pine Nut Relish introduces mint in its fresh form in a relish awash in mango and garlic. A double dose of garlic, in the marinade and in the relish, enhances the rich lamb with earthy pungency.

Side dishes should also celebrate spring. Keep them simple but elegant so that they don't overshadow the lamb. Asparagus is at its lowest price around Easter so take advantage of the ultimate springtime vegetable. Prepare it simply by steaming or roasting. Steamed Brussels sprouts or whipped turnips are a tasty alternative.

Rice, rather than potatoes, plays nicely with lamb. Wild rice is one option or try Springtime Rice, a melange of rice, asparagus, portobello mushrooms, red bell peppers and asiago cheese. (If you can't find asiago, use good quality Parmesan.)

Grilled Lamb Loin Chops with Mango Mint and Pine Nut Relish

For marinade:

  • 8 lamb loin chops
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 4 ounces vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns

For relish:

  • 2 ripe mangos (peeled and diced into 1/4 inch pieces)
  • 1 large clove minced garlic
  • 3 ounces toasted pine nuts, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon fine diced shallots
  • 20 leaves of mint (lightly chopped)
  • 1/4 cup ounces rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Lay the lamb loin chops in a shallow dish covered in all the ingredients for the marinade. Let marinade for at least one day.

Grill over direct heat, about 5 minutes per side for 1-inch thick chops.

For the relish, combine all the ingredients and let sit at room temperature for one hour before eating. Serves 4.

-- Source:

Grilled Lamb Chops Dijon

  • 3 tablespoons minced orange zest
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 4 teaspoons packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup Dijon mustard
  • 12 small loin lamb chops, trimmed of fat
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In small bowl, mash orange zest and thyme into paste with back of spoon. Stir in mustard and brown sugar. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Preheat grill. Lightly brush one side of lamb chops with about 1/4 of the mustard mixture, dividing it evenly.

When fire is hot, lay chops on rack, mustard side down. Cover and grill 2 minutes. Brush chops with 1/4 of mustard, turn, cover and grill another 2 minutes. Brush and turn chops twice more, grill until mustard mixture is used up, about 10 minutes for rare, or until done to your liking. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings.

-- Source: MasterCook

Herb Crusted Lamb Chops

  • 4 loin lamb chops, 1-inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves; minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon rind, grated
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped lemon basil or 1/3 cup chopped green basil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 4 fresh basil sprigs

Trim and remove excess fat and lightly salt lamb chops. Toast cumin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, just until they become golden and fragrant.

Grind them in a spice mill or crush with a mortar and pestle. In a shallow Pyrex dish or pie plate, combine cumin with garlic, lemon rind and juice, orange juice, and basil and oil, mixing well.

Add the lamb chops, pressing the herb and spice mixture onto both sides of the meat.

Marinate at room temperature for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Grill chops over direct heat for 5 to 7 minutes a side, basting occasionally with marinade.

Garnish with fresh lemon slices and green basil sprigs.

-- Source: From 1994 "Shepherd's Garden Seeds Catalog."

Grilled Loin Lamb Chops with Rosemary

  • 1/2 cup olive oil 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 12 loin lamb chops, about 11/2 inches thick
  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine olive oil, vinegar, rosemary and garlic in a small bowl. Put the chops in a shallow glass or ceramic dish and add the marinade, turning the chops several times to coat.

Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Return the chops to room temperature before grilling.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. Lightly spray the grill rack with vegetable oil cooking spray.

The coals should be moderately hot to hot. Grill the chops for about 6 to 8 minutes on each side for medium-rare lamb, or until cooked to desired degree. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

-- Source: Lobel's Butcher Shop of New York

Springtime Rice

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 portobello mushrooms, cut into small strips
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 1/2 cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add garlic, asparagus, mushrooms and pepper; cook and stir 5 to 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add rice and cheese. Stir. Makes 6 servings.

-- Source:

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