Dinner Double Feature, Part 1: Cheap lamb chops made tender

by Terry B on November 26, 2008

Coarse kosher salt quickly tenderizes cheap cuts of lamb, and oranges and pomegranate molasses combine with roasted golden beets for a lively winter salad.

While I occasionally turn Blue Kitchen over to Marion for a post, in real life, we’re often in the kitchen together making a meal happen. That was the case recently for this quick weeknight dinner. So this week, you’ll find a pair of cooking posts. I’ll start off by telling you about the lamb; then in the second post, Marion will tell you about a beet salad with oranges and blue cheese quickly assembled using beets roasted the night before.

British music hall comedian Max Wall once said, “Show business is like sex. When it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful. But when it isn’t very good, it’s still all right.” That’s pretty much how I feel about lamb. It was love at first bite the first time I had roast leg of lamb. And lamb chops always catch my eye on restaurant menus.

But more modest cuts have their own lamby charm, especially now, with daily economic headlines making us all want to just pull the covers over our heads. One such cut is lamb shoulder arm chops. Cut from the arm portion of shoulder, these inexpensive chops are quite flavorful, but can also be on the chewy side. As Fox Fire Farms’ website puts it, “This does not mean the shoulder chop is not tender or of secondary quality. It simply means you can’t be in a hurry when cooking this delightful lamb chop.” They’re best suited for slow braising, which tenderizes them; but during the week, I have neither the time nor the patience.

Kosher salt to the rescue. Well, and Jaden over at Steamy Kitchen. I first used her technique for tenderizing steaks—by heavily coating them with coarse salt for 15 minutes or so before cooking—when I made Pan Seared Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce back in January. It worked so beautifully that I immediately had to try it on some tough but tasty lamb shoulder chops. What I discovered was a way to enjoy tender lamb without sticker shock or a long wait.

Pan Grilled Lamb Shoulder Chops with Rosemary
Serves 2

2 bone-in lamb shoulder arm or blade chops, 6 to 8 ounces each
coarse kosher salt [you can also use coarse sea salt]
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary needles [or 1-1/2 teaspoons dry]
freshly ground black pepper to taste
canola oil [or other high smoke point cooking oil]

Place lamb chops on plate and salt generously with coarse kosher salt or sea salt on both sides, as much as a teaspoon per side. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse chops under cold running water and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Season on both sides with freshly ground black pepper and rosemary. DO NOT ADD ANY MORE SALT.

Heat a ridged grill pan over medium-high to high heat. [You can also use a regular skillet, but lamb tends to be fatty and throw off a lot of rendered fat; I personally don't get this, because they look so skinny and fluffy.] Drizzle some canola oil in the pan and brush it around to coat the ridges. Add chops to pan and cook on one side for about 4 minutes. Turn and cook on the second side for about 2 minutes for medium rare. Plate and serve.

A couple of quick notes

Lamb and beets? Unbeatable. Marion’s beet salad in the next post was a perfect foil for the meaty richness of the lamb—bright, tart and earthy. A nicely complex mix that comes together quickly.

Read all about it, er, me. I was just interviewed by Nina for the November newsletter of Chicago Locavores, even though I warned her that I’m a locavore newbie. Read the interview and check out the rest of this exciting resource for shopping, cooking and eating local.

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Donald November 26, 2008 at 12:11 pm

Isn’t that a great technique? I first heard about “salting” from Alton Brown. Now I do it with chicken and cheaper cuts of beef. Can’t say that I have done it with lamb. I tend to shy away from the shoulder cut unless I am grinding it or roasting larger cuts.

This dish sounds great expecially with the rosemary.

Kim November 26, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Thanks Terry,
I am not a big lamb lover and the past few times I’ve had it, it was bland in taste. I didn’t think about the Kosher salt idea and I use the same brand on all my cooking. Maybe now I won’t be afraid to try cooking lamb in the future! :D

Olga November 26, 2008 at 8:06 pm

That looks insanely good!

Terry B November 27, 2008 at 2:24 am

Donald—Rosemary is often my go-to seasoning when I’m cooking lamb. Another is garlic. When we do a leg of lamb, it’s both!

Kim—I’ve heard lamb called many things, but never bland. Try the salt, along with some rosemary. I tend to undersalt food when I’m cooking, but this method seasons the lamb nicely. Too much salt is bad, of course, but I find that if something is tasting a little bland, adding a little more salt doesn’t necessarily make the food taste salty, but instead livens up the flavors there.

Thanks for stopping by, Olga!

Lisa November 27, 2008 at 4:31 am

What a beautiful blog you have. I love the salt method. I tried it with steaks and pork chops and it worked well.

kitty November 27, 2008 at 4:47 pm

yum!
honestly, Mark and I have to start cooking more often. It’s embarrassing how often we eat out because of our schedules.
Your blog inspires me to turn on my stove!

kitty November 27, 2008 at 4:51 pm

hey did you read this amazing article in the New Yorker several weeks ago? It’s about the restaurant Alinea in Chicago. Have you been there?

Here’s the link.

Terry B November 27, 2008 at 8:06 pm

Thanks, Lisa! I haven’t tried salting pork chops yet. Okay, that’s next on my to-do list.

kitty—I totally understand the schedule thing. If you poke around here at Blue Kitchen, you’ll find lots of meals that come together pretty quickly. We have not, in fact, been to Alinea. Achatz, along with the experimental chefs behind Moto here, is redefining the art of cooking with science. And while I’m glad it’s happening here in Chicago, our tastes tend to run more toward Asian and neighborhood bistro cuisines.

chocolate shavings November 27, 2008 at 11:33 pm

That salt tip is great – I will be trying that technique very soon!

Your lamb chops looks amazing… I think I might have to buy some lamb in the next couple days!

RecipeGirl November 28, 2008 at 8:00 pm

I’m a huge, HUGE fan of both lamb chops and beets. I need to get some of that Pomegranate Molasses. I keep coming across great recipes in which to ultilize it!

Kevin November 29, 2008 at 3:23 am

Those lamb chops look really tasty! They would go well with those beets.

Mike November 30, 2008 at 1:53 pm

Good call on the salting and from a lover of lamb, that whole plate looks delicious! Plus rosemary and lamb are a match made in heaven

diva December 1, 2008 at 11:52 am

thanks for the tip on the coarse salt! never knew that. and this dish looks amazing. gosh im’ hungry already.

reesecup October 10, 2009 at 11:19 pm

I tried the lamb chops (shoulders) with the sea salt changed up on the seasoning but this little trick worked the lamb was great It melted in our mouths thank you very much

Patrick December 12, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Made this last night and it turned out great. Used a cast iron skillet instead of the grill and sauteed some mushrooms in the pan with butter and red wine after the lamb came out. Very easy recipe. We’ll definitely make this again.

Jasmine February 15, 2011 at 1:59 am

Amazing lamb shoulder chops!!! I added some garlic and freshly squeezed lemon and they came out great! Thanks! Great Valentine’s Day dinner! My husband enjoyed it!

Julie March 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I made this last night- added some fresh minced garlic to the pepper/rosemary seasoning before pan searing. Turned out great!

Lexi Tejeda July 11, 2012 at 3:33 am

I made this tonight, as well as the beet-orange salad. Excellent! Served w/ grilled asparagus. I salted for 1 hour, then put garlic, rosemary and pepper on the chops until it was time to grill. Thanks for this technique! I didn’t want to spend the time to braise. I cooked to medium rare, and it was acceptably tender.

Denise August 29, 2012 at 4:18 am

Bought lamb shoulder chops from the butchers special section… ie: soon to expire… After much searching found your recipe. My hubby is new to lamb, and usually really dislikes dealing with bones and fat… He was literally licking his fingers and telling me to keep checking out the “special” section! Bravo to a quick midweek winner dinner!
Thank you!

Terry B August 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Thanks, everyone! I’m delighted that this older recipe keeps seeing some action. And interestingly enough, Denise, I made a version of this for dinner last night. You’re right—it’s a quick and reliable weeknight dinner.

james t September 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm

it’s actually best to season the steak (at room temp of coarse) before, but add salt right before it goes on the grill. otherwise the salt draws the juice out. you dont want that.

Terry B September 2, 2012 at 4:09 am

James, that’s what I used to think too—and the conventional wisdom. But when I tried this method, it made the meat wonderfully tender. The salt does draw moisture out at first, but then it is drawn back into the meat and actually changes the protein cell structure, tenderizing the meat. And Rob Levitt, owner of the Butcher & Larder, confirms its effectiveness. As chef at mado, he said they used to salt pork chops in the morning to make them tender for that night’s diners. I would encourage you to try this method—with the lamb chops or with steaks.

harold richards October 28, 2012 at 10:18 pm

instead of pepper and rosemary, use freshly ground garam masala. you’ll get a burst of flavour from these spices that is much more satisfying than bland herbs like rosemary.

Nathan January 7, 2013 at 7:30 am

@harold richards

What is this blasphemy? Rosemary is one of my personal favorite herbs and a standby pairing with lamb.

Shoo! Away with your nonsense.

This recipe is golden. I made one change in that I put the rosemary and some garlic on the lamb with the salt to sit. It draws the flavor of the herbs into the lamb and leave it after the lamb is washed off, leaving your lamb flavorful and your grill pan much easier to clean when finished!

Terry B January 7, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Harold, the garam masala sounds like a delicious change up. We eat lamb fairly often and are always interested in new ways to make it.

Nathan, that’s a great idea to let the slat also draw in the flavors of the rosemary and garlic. Thanks!

Jess E February 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm

I stumbled upon this cut at the grocery store last night, googled it and your recipe came up! We’ll be eating lamb and celebrating Valentines Day with this tasty recipe tonight! :)

Terry B February 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Happy Valentine’s Day, Jess! I hope you like it.

Jason W March 3, 2013 at 2:15 am

I love lamb chops and this cut was on sale at my local grocery store: 4 shoulder chops for under $5! I tried this recipe and while the salt did a great job of tenderizing the meat, I found it to be far too salty for my taste. Next time I’ll try less salt and some fresh garlic with the pepper and rosemary.

Linda March 8, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I am a Lamb lover,as it was on our dinner table often,as being Armenian we love lamb,I also let my leg of lamb sit in fresh garlic,red onions and bell pepper any color with burgundy wine or any red will do for kosher salt and pepper cut for shish kebabs One to two days ,then put on a skewer alternate with fresh red,yellow or red bell peppers tomatoes and onions inbetween each piece of lamb,served with wonderful rice pilaf and Armenian or fresh Greek salad, to die for ,you can add olive oil to the marinade also,this is a family favorite better than steak,you can use the cheaper pieces to make a good lamb broth for your pilaf also will be good and flavorful ,hope you try this :)

Joanne July 31, 2014 at 8:53 am

This recipe is quick and easy and so very tasty and tender! I made it last night. I had defrosted the lamb, but then did not have the time to slow cook it in the crock pot like I normally do (which also results in very tender meat), so I googled “fast tender lamb chops” and this recipe came up! I let it sit at room temperature with the salt for 45 minutes while I prepared assorted vegetables, and then rinsed the salt off (very important to do that) and then heavily covered them with fresh ground pepper, fresh ground dried rosemary leaves and garlic. Wow, the flavor was so good that I did not use the red pepper jelly that I usually put on lamb at the table! This is a keeper recipe; Thank you!

amy November 21, 2014 at 7:26 pm

I pan seared and cooked three lamb shoulder chops. They were doing nicely and all of a sudden they started to curl totally up! I had to get scissors and cut all around to get them to lay flat, but I was never able to flip and get a good sear. Please help me understand why they curled? Was my pan too small, the 3 were laying side by side and touching?

Terry B November 21, 2014 at 10:34 pm

Amy, the probable cause was a strip of fat along the edge of the chops, much like you see on pork chops. The fat tightens up as it cooks (think how bacon shrivels up) and pulls the chops tight, causing them to curl. Next time, try cutting through the fat every inch or so all the way to the meat before cooking. That should help avoid curling. Hope the still tasted good, though.

amy November 22, 2014 at 6:51 am

THANKS! First I want to compliment you on actually “responding” to me! I’ve been on a cooking adventure (with a diet) and have been attempting to bake whole wheat bread and NEVER get a rise. Two sites whose recipes I’ve used have NOT responded to my comments/questions. And then there is YOU! So kudos for your attention and respect to people. You are indeed right, I had forgotten all about cutting the fat and was racking my brain because the only other caveat I could remember was “which side of the fish to put down first” so it wouldn’t curl. The chops tasted GREAT and I will definitely try making them again! Glad to have met you and will certainly sit a bit and go through your website!

Terry B November 22, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Thanks, Amy!

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