Sunday, February 1, 2009
Mary had a little lamb chop.
I feel extremely conflicted and hypocritical for eating lamb. In fact, I wish I'd never been introduced to the delectable, sweet flavor of lamb chops.
Actually, I'm lying to you. Discovering lamb chops was like discovering chocolate or wine for me - life wouldn't be the same without them. Luckily, the price of good chops keeps me from eating the cute little bastards very often, so I'm not responsible for too many lamb murders.
If you've never eaten lamb before, I recommend starting with loin chops, as they are both gentle and exciting to a virgin palette. Once you get a taste for it, you might decide to move onto the slightly stronger yet still delicious leg of lamb (though its preparation requires more attention and babysitting to get any gaminess out of the meat.)
And because I've already dug myself a bit of an ethical mud hole with this post, I might as well bring up something that changed my perspective on eating meat a few years ago. I was standing in a Barnes and Noble, skimming the cookbook section (as I find myself doing a couple times a month in a Hitchcockian/deja vu sort of way, not remembering how I got there but there just the same) when I picked up Jamie Oliver's cookbook, Jamie's Italy.
I was flipping through it, already feeling my credit card crawling out of my purse and towards my fingertips, when I came across an image of an Italian farmer smiling and hugging a lamb around the neck. Only upon closer inspection, I realized he wasn't hugging it, but rather holding it up, having just slashed its throat. I nearly threw the book across the room and hauled ass out of there. I considered the ways in which I would deal with this revolting display of cruelty on the way home - start an anti Jamie Oliver website, stalk him next time he appeared on the Today Show with a bucket of red paint, or possibly just go about it the old fashioned way and write a letter. Time passed and I did none of those things. I did the classic 'me' thing and simply blocked it out.
Cut to me in another Barnes & Noble a few months later. The book smiled at me again from its proud position on the best sellers stand. I gave it the evil eye and turned my back. But before I knew it, I had it open again, turned back to that horrific image. Thank God this time I actually read the accompanying chapter where Jamie promptly defended it, opening my eyes to how dumb I am. I can't remember his exact words (still can't quite buy the damned thing), but he basically explained he included the image to show people that the farmer had killed the lamb in the most endearing and humane way, holding it to his chest, moving the knife as quickly and painlessly as possible.
The lamb had never been crowded in the truly horrific confines of a slaughterhouse, packed like a sardine amongst its peers for weeks suffering the hurricane of flies and bugs found in such circumstances. Nor did it have to suffer the inhumane slaughtering method still used by so many of these places (and animal or not - they do know what's coming to them. I once showed up at the ranch where I boarded my usually Xanax-demeanored mare to find her frantically pawing at her stall door, eyes as wide and white as cue balls. When I walked past the barn, I found they'd just slaughtered their prized hiefer and strung her up for skinning.)
Rather, the little guy or gal lamb had just gone out for a walk one day with its owner not knowing the wiser. No pain. No brutality or torture. No prolonged, terrifying lead up - the way I hope to go myself some day. Aha! So that's why Jamie put the image in his book - to make us think about how animals get to our plates.
Well, it worked on me. I now try to buy grass fed beef as much as possible, free range chickens, and the like. And not just for karma's sake, but for my own health too, as these animals aren't pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals to compensate for crowded, unsanitary conditions. After all, if I'm going to eat meat, I don't want to feel extra guilty about it.
And now...who's hungry? I could go for some lamb - humanely raised of course...
Rosemary and Meyer Lemon Lamb Chops with Couscous (Below)
4 loin lamb chops
1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 small garlic clove, smashed
salt and pepper, for seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 tablespoon butter, for pan frying
1/4 cup vermouth or white wine
juice from 1 meyer lemon
1 tablespoon salted butter
Combine the rosemary, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil in a large Ziploc. Add your lamb chops and smush around to be sure the exterior of each chop gets some of the love. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, or if you're short on time, leave them out at room temperature for 30 minutes to absorb the flavors.
Remove the chops from the ziploc (discarding the garlic) and season both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside while you heat up your olive oil and butter in a large nonstick pan over medium high heat. Once the butter has begun to foam, add the lamb chops, reducing the heat to medium, and allow to cook for four minutes (many people advise 2 minutes, but I like mine medium versus rare.) Carefully flip to the other side and cook another 4-5 minutes, until you've gotten a nice seared crust on the other side (again - less if you like yours rare.) Remove and transfer to a platter to rest while you make your sauce.
To start the sauce, drain off the excess fat from your pan (but DO NOT wipe clean.) Turn the heat onto medium high, and add the vermouth and lemon juice, bringing to a boil and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Allow to simmer until reduced by half, then lower the heat and stir in the salted butter to melt. Drizzle the warm sauce over the plated chops.
Couscous with Shallots, Meyer Lemon Zest, Currants and Pine Nuts
1 1/2 tablespoons salted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
3/4 cup couscous
zest of 1 meyer lemon
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons currants or dried cherries
fresh cracked black pepper
sea or kosher salt
Heat a medium rimmed and lidded skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until softened - about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Once it's boiling, remove from the heat and stir in the couscous and lemon zest. Put the lid on and set aside for 20 minutes. Remove lid, fluff with a fork, and stir in the pine nuts and currants or cherries. Taste for salt and pepper (I usually find I need to add a good pinch of salt if I've used low sodium chicken stock.) Serve hot.