Easy to make, easy to love: Lamb Chops with Dijon Mustard and Thyme

by Terry B on February 17, 2010

Dijon mustard adds a surprisingly delicate touch to these simple, flavorful lamb chops, pan seared and finished in the oven. Recipe below.

dijon-lamb-chop

Our love affair with lamb is pretty much a year-round thing. So when the American Lamb Board asked us if we’d like to help get the word out about an actual Lamb Lover’s Month—February, as it happens—we jumped at the chance.

There are a lot of things to love about lamb, starting with its distinctively rich, mild, sweet taste. Too much has been made of its gaminess, I think. As I said when I wrote about lamb stew, “that gamy flavor—as the dictionary defines it, ‘having the tangy flavor or odor of game’—is what makes lamb special. It’s the same quality that separates venison from beef and duck from chicken. And while I love a good steak or roast chicken, there’s just something exciting about the ‘wildness’ of game.” Even though lamb has a more intense flavor than beef, it also seems somehow lighter than beef to me.

Lamb is also lighter on the environment. Sheep are generally raised in ways that are easier on the planet and on the animals themselves than other animals raised for meat. They’re naturally grazing animals, not suited for factory farming and feedlots. With improved animal husbandry practices, much American lamb is raised with little or no feed grain. Instead of requiring the production of feed grain with its attendant fertilizer and pesticide requirements, sheep actually contribute to healthy land. They do so by grazing omnivorously and keeping weeds in check without the use of pesticides and, well, by providing natural fertilizer.

In fact, when Harry and Gwen Carr started Mint Creek Farm in downstate Illinois, they originally brought in sheep to help them revitalize the farmed-out land they’d bought. Their plan was to plant pastures with a mix of perennial grasses and rotationally graze the sheep to enrich the soil. Quickly, though, raising sheep became the focus of their farm. They now supply 100% grass-fed lamb to farmers markets and select grocers in Chicago. They also sell lamb nationwide through their website.

sheep_american_lamb_board

Sheep are ubiquitous in America, raised in all 50 states. They’re highly adaptable to a wide range of climates, at home from the rolling hills of California to the high desert country of Idaho and native grasslands of Pennsylvania. In all, more than 70,000 American sheep operations produce more than six million sheep a year. Sheep operations are just as varied, ranging from farm flocks of 50 or fewer animals to range operations of 1,000 or more.

Lamb producers are stewards of the land, managing their pastures and rangelands as sustainable resources. They use great care in shepherding their flocks to protect water and avoid overgrazing. Sheep in the United States actually contribute to the environmental balance by grazing vegetation in a way that creates healthier land. And they help control invasive weeds without the use of herbicides.

The farmers, ranchers and others who raise sheep are just as vigilant when it comes to their animals’ well-being. Pennsylvania rancher Keith Martin, whose celebrity chef customers include the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller, feels that reverence and respect for the animals should extend from the farmer to the chef to the consumer. “Do I need to know how to cook? Does the chef need to know how to raise sheep? No, but we are both ingrained in the process in different ways. The chef relies on me to raise lamb with a superior flavor profile. The greatest expression for the lamb is for the chef to know how to cook it right,” Martin says. “The consumer’s role is to respect that there is a lot more on the plate than just a piece of meat. That’s the connection and the intimacy we’re bringing to the table.”

this-house-of-skyAs we all become more aware of where our food comes from, we can’t help but think about the people who produce it. When we started talking about Lamb Lover’s Month—okay, and full disclosure here, the beautiful lamb loin chops the American Lamb Board provided for this post—Marion remembered a book she’d read some time ago that beautifully records a way of life that has all but vanished. In his memoir This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, Ivan Doig tells of growing up in the rugged Montana wilderness with his grandmother and his father, Charlie, a restless man who worked various jobs as he and his son moved from place to place—sheepherding, haying, ranching… First published in 1978, This House of Sky is still in print and deservedly so. I’ve just started reading it and am already enthralled by Doig’s ability to capture not just the harshness and beauty of the Montana landscape, but the powerful ways place and family shape us.

As many times as I’ve cooked with mustard, I always forget how delicate it can become. In this dish, Dijon mustard mingles with thyme and the juices from the lamb and loses its sharp vinegary edge, delivering insteadLamb-Is-For-Lovers-Logo a subtle brightness that balances the lamb’s richness. So celebrate Lamb Lover’s Month—with this recipe or any number of recipes you’ll find at the American Lamb Board’s website. Chances are you’ll become a year-round lamb lover like us.

Lamb Chops with Dijon Mustard and Thyme
Serves 2

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 loin lamb chops, 4 to 5 ounces each, about 3/4-inch thick
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
canola oil

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Mix Dijon mustard and thyme in a small bowl, stirring to combine. Set aside. Pat lamb chops dry with a paper towel and score the fat along the chops’ sides with a knife to prevent curling when cooking. Season generously with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat an oven-proof nonstick skillet or grill pan over high heat. Brush pan with canola oil and sear the chops, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate and remove the pan from the heat.

Brush chops on both sides with a generous coating of the mustard/thyme mixture. Return chops to pan and place in the oven to finish. Cook for just 4 to 5 minutes total, turning halfway through. Plate and serve.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Mint Creek Farm February 17, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Terry,
Great write up on lamb and what a wonderful way to celebrate Lamb Lover’s Month, with Lamb Chops coated in Dijon Mustard and Thyme! We also appreciate the shout out and hope to continue encouraging folks to give lamb a try. February is the month of love and we have been sharing with our CSA Members meats that we can’t get enough of, and mutton is one of them. We love mutton as much as we love lamb and I think mutton chops would also be fantastic in this recipe!

Laura [What I Like] February 17, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I had no idea there was even a lamb lovers month! Wonderful write up on the farm, and I can’t wait to go out and buy some responsibly raised lamb chops to smear with mustard and thyme!

Terry B February 17, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Glad to help spread the word, Mint Creek Farm! We have some of your delicious ground lamb in our freezer right now, waiting for the right recipe. Are you selling any mutton in Chicago these days? Maybe at the Pickle?

Thanks, Laura! Yeah, we had no idea about the month either until I heard from the American Lamb Board. February is also apparently National Aggressive Driving Month [not kidding]. I don’t think the two are related.

Mint Creek Farm February 17, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Hi Terry,
Mint Creek sells at the Green City and the Logan Square Winter Markets. We do have our products in the Dill Pickle, but they only carry our most popular items. So, until mutton catches on…I doubt they will be carrying it. Anyway, I try my best to have 1-2 mutton choices when I am selling at Logan Square (every Sunday at the Congress Theater from 10-2). I usually have shanks, stew meat or chops on hand. I hope to see you there!

Melissa February 18, 2010 at 2:52 am

I have always loved lamb. My grandpa used to roast entire lambs in the back yard in a giant rotisserie. (I think it is a Serbian thing!) We would pick the skin off with a fork ,once it got crispy, while it was rotating . Mmmmm, salty crunchy fatty goodness. Love that this recipe is so simple. And thyme is my favorite herb, I just hate picking it. It looks like you use dried thyme, though. excellent.

louise February 18, 2010 at 4:21 am

Hi Terry,
Been a quiet fan of the blog since our mutual friend over at Work Coach Cafe told me about your wonderful site. Had to write to say THANKS for such a beautiful multi-layered post!
After making a decision to eat meat (after two decades of not eating it) I discovered lamb.
I think one reason I decided on lamb as my occasional meat of choice (besides it’s wonderful taste) has been the ecological way it is raised. It is lighter on the land – and on the eater!

Like many people, I started with New Zealand and Aussie lamb, but wanting to eat more “locally” have since found several (No. California) producers who are raising and butchering the animals in a conscious and humane way (or so it seems and I hope).
Your post did a great job of describing the important role many of these ranchers are playing in taking back our food sources from Agribusiness. Hope you’ll continue to make these connections in future posts.
BTW – loved the reference to Doig’s book. Read it in ’00 on a wonderful trip through WY and Montana. Will check out the Lamb Board and plan to prepare the recipe.
Thanks again,
Louise

Terry B February 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Thanks for the update, Mint Creek Farm. Maybe we’ll see you Sunday!

What a wonderful memory, Melissa! You know, something that’s often puzzled me about lamb is how a creature that runs and ‘gambols’ so much can still have so much fat.

Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment, Louise! I find the more I write—and therefore think—about food, the more I think about its sources. As a nation [and indeed as a planet], more and more of us have moved away from an agrarian life. As a result, far fewer people are producing food for far more mouths. So Agribusiness will never go away—there are just too many people to feed for small farms to do the whole job. But my hope is that the growing awareness of how our food gets to our tables will help nudge Agribusiness toward greener, more humane practices.

Dani H February 19, 2010 at 10:36 am

Your photograph is stunning, as always, Terry. I love lamb, too. and finding out that it’s better for the planet makes me all kinds of happy. This recipe sounds really, really good, too. I’ll be trying it soon. Take care.

Toni February 20, 2010 at 7:10 pm

I’ve been eating lamb since my childhood and have always preferred it to beef. Like you, I’ve been thinking about where my food is sourced, and I will choose “local” whenever possible. It’s why I no longer buy N.Z. lamb. We produce enough of it here in this country – we don’t have to buy it from the other side of the world.

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful post.

Shauna February 20, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Glad to hear you’re reading one of my favorite books, Terry- and that Marion loves it as well. Lamb- good stuff!! Thanks for the recipe- I’ll give it a whirl!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) February 21, 2010 at 1:15 am

I have fond memories of my father standing outside at the backyard grill, at all times of year, tending to the lamb chops we used to get from the local butcher. I never figured out what my dad did to make the chops taste so good, but he certainly had the touch.

Chef Dad February 23, 2010 at 1:27 am

Our family has a regular Easter tradition of lamb and we now have a standing date with good friends who do not otherwise have lamb besides what I bring for Easter. It is similar to what you do here, Terry, but with more herbs, garlic and creole mustard rather than dijon. Here in Austin, Texas we buy Loncito’s Lamb from the farmer’s market. Good people, good lamb.

Kate February 24, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I’d never made lamb before last night and I wanted to write and thank you for this recipe. It’s the one I used and it’s rare my husband has such an enthusiastic response to any kind of food. This recipe has become part of my permanent collection, not to mention that now I’m brave enough to add lamb to my vindaloo. :) Once again, many thanks!

Terry B February 24, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Dani—Isn’t it nice to have something we like be good for the planet for a change?

Toni—And we are totally spoiled here in Chicago with a local farm source. There are a couple of lamb shanks in our freezer right now that will show up on these pages one day soon.

Hi, Shauna!

Lydia—Greta memory! In St. Louis, many of our neighbors would grill pretty much year ’round.

Chef Dad—Lamb loves garlic! Often when I cook lamb, garlic plays a big role—I just wanted to try something different here.

Thanks, Kate! I’m glad it was such a hit. And now you’ve got a whole new carnivorous world to explore!

coleen February 25, 2010 at 9:14 pm

My hubby & I always have some lamb in the freezer, too! When we lived in South Dakota, they have a regional dish called Chislic. It is basically seasoned lamb chunks deep fried (no breading) served with fries. You can add any sauce or spices that you like as far as I know. Totally yummy!
(we do a leaner version by grilling the stew meat with some spices. grill till crispy on the outside, tender on the inside.)

Terry B February 25, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Coleen, your leaner version has my mouth watering right now. Not kidding.

Andy Alex March 14, 2014 at 4:38 am

Good to know that sheep actually contribute to healthy land by grazing omnivorously and keeping weeds in check without the use of pesticides by providing natural fertilizer and also that sheep help revitalize the farmed-out land. The plan to plant pastures with a mix of perennial grasses and rotationally graze the sheep to enrich the soil is good. Though hay, grass or other forage are normally used feeds, variable feeds like grain mixes or other pelleted sheep feeds of good quality purchased from sheep feed dealers can be also be used.

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