Inexpensive lamb shoulder chops become the star of a flavorful meal when you add thyme, garlic, tomatoes, wine and oven braising. Recipe below.
There are so many thing I love about this dish. First and foremost is the distinctive, mildly gamy flavor of lamb. As I’ve said in these pages before, that gaminess is the same quality that separates venison from beef and duck from chicken. I also love the straightforward simplicity of this meal—a handful of ingredients, simple preparation and time are all that’s required. And most of the time is the meat cooking unattended in the oven—prep time is minimal. And maybe most of all, I love the way it transforms a humble cut of meat into something delicious and satisfying.
In last week’s post about Oven-braised Asian Short Ribs, I talked about oven braising and how its even heat tenderizes flavorful but chewy inexpensive cuts of meat without drying them out. Lamb shoulder chops are another cut perfect for this treatment. Relatively inexpensive, they’re also often marbled with fat that translates into flavor, especially when cooked slowly so that some of the fat literally melts into the meat.
Lamb shoulder chops are fairly widely available in supermarkets, but the chops in question this time were 1-inch thick beauties from Mint Creek Farm. But even thinner chops [typically, they're about 1/2-inch or so] should be cooked for the full time on the recipe. It’s not about doneness in this case—the cooking time is required to break down the tough meat and connective tissues to make the meat tender. As you can see in the photo, I served the tomato-based sauce over penne pasta. It would also be good with rice.
At the end of the recipe, you’ll find links to other lamb recipes, including a quicker way to tenderize lamb shoulder chops. But do try the braising technique—it’s a great excuse for making your kitchen warm and fragrant on a winter evening.
Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops and Tomatoes
2 bone-in lamb shoulder chops, about 8 ounces each
salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons dried thyme, divided
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 14-1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes [see Kitchen Notes]
cooked pasta or rice
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Season chops on both sides with a little salt, a generous amount of black pepper and a little less than half the thyme. Heat a large lidded, ovenproof skillet over medium-high flame.Add oil to skillet and brown chops, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and reduce heat under skillet to medium.
Add onion and sauté about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and remaining thyme and cook, stirring, until just fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add wine, briefly scraping up the browned bits, then add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Return the chops and any accumulated juices to the pan, cover and place in the middle of the oven.
Braise the chops for about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours, until tender. The meat won’t be falling-apart tender as some oven-braised meats are, but that’s not what you want from chops. Still, they will be plenty tender and quite flavorful. Plate the chops with pasta or rice alongside. Using a slotted spoon, top the pasta or rice with the tomatoes [the slotted spoon will deliver just the right amount of liquid]. Spoon a little of the juices over the chops and serve.
Canned tomatoes—why they’re okay and how to pick them. Canned tomatoes are a great convenience in the kitchen. They’re also just as good for you as fresh—maybe even better. According to some sources, the heat of the canning process actually allows the lycopene in tomatoes to be better absorbed by the body. My first choice for canned tomatoes are those with no salt added—that gives you more control over the seasoning of your meal. But they’re getting increasingly hard to find. In an effort to differentiate their products and gain more facings on store shelves, companies are tarting up canned tomatoes with all kinds of herbs and seasonings, making plain tomatoes harder to find. Hold out for no salt added if you can find them; if not, try to find those that are merely salted and adjust the amount of salt you add to the chops.
Hungry for more lamb? Here are a few recipes for you. First, if you don’t have time to braise, try these Pan-grilled Shoulder Chops with Rosemary tenderized using a 15-minute coarse salt treatment that I learned from Jaden over at Steamy Kitchen. On the other hand, if you’re looking for more excuses to heat up the oven and your kitchen, try these Roasted Lamb Ribs with Rosemary and Caraway with a nice anise-like kick, or this hearty Lamb Stew made with dark beer and plenty of potatoes. And finally, if you’re feeling flush, try tender [and pricier] loin lamb chops using this Pan-grilled Lamb Chops with Couscous with Onions and Raisins. The chops are simply prepared; the couscous offers a mash-up of Mediterranean/Moroccan/Middle Eastern flavors and heat.