For years, I convinced myself that I didn’t care for lamb. I found that I could only ever describe it as “lamby,” which is not exactly a compliment. But now, the way I am constantly trying to persuade people to cook more lamb, you would think I was secretly working for the American Lamb Board. (I am not.)
Surely you have these same people in your life, the ones who claim to not like lamb. (Maybe you are one yourself.) To them I say: You should really try ‘this’ lamb. Trust me!
The lamb that officially changed my mind, which I may now dub “The Gateway Lamb,” is actually a particular cut: the meaty, savoury loin chop.
There’s nothing fussy involved, no overnight marinade or hourlong cooking. No shoulder muscles to separate, no unruly leg to truss and tie. Just a quick-cooking, mildly flavoured steaklike cut you might otherwise overlook because, well, it’s lamb, and you don’t really like lamb.
(Just as certain cuts of beef tend to taste “beefier,” some cuts of lamb can come across as “lambier.” There are, of course, other factors at play — the lamb’s origin, what it was raised on and fed, and so on — but flavour varies considerably from cut to cut.)
Loin chops look like teeny tiny T-bone steaks — which, yes, are very cute — but there’s more to love than that. As with beef and pork, cuts from the loin area of lamb tend to be leaner and more tender than those from the rib area. (Much of the lamb’s flavour comes from the fat, so a leaner cut generally translates to a less lamby flavour.) They’re also typically cut thicker than a rib chop (about 1-inch thick), meaning they can be seared long and hard to golden-brown perfection, getting crisp on the outside without overcooking.
They are even better when they are dusted with fennel seed and cracked black pepper, which add flavourful, crunchy, toasty bits. After cooking these chops in the largest skillet you have, let them rest on a cutting board for a few minutes.
While you do this, throw together a last-minute shaved cucumber and fennel salad with lots of lemon and plenty of herbs. Grains or rice would be a welcome addition, but so would warm flatbreads or roasted potatoes. These chops are so little that it might be too intimate to slice the meat off the bone for anyone who isn’t a child, so just provide small, sharp knives for a DIY kind of vibe — which I think is maybe part of the dish’s charm.
Spiced Lamb Chops With Fennel and Cucumber
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed
- 1 1/2 pounds lamb loin chops, about 1-inch thick, or individual rib chops (unfrenched)
- Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon canola
- 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 1/2 hothouse or 1 Persian cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1 small shallot, thinly sliced into rings
- 2 lemons
- 1/2 cup picked dill or mint leaves
- Cooked couscous, rice, farro or barley, for serving (optional)
- Using a knife, mortar and pestle or spice grinder, finely chop or coarsely grind fennel seed. (Just grind it enough to break down the whole seeds: You’re not looking for a powder.)
- Season lamb with salt, pepper and fennel seed.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place lamb fat-side-down in the skillet and cook until it’s a good golden brown, about 2 minutes. (This also renders some of the fat, which you’ll sear the meat in.) Using tongs, turn the lamb and cook until it’s nicely browned on each side, 1 to 2 minutes per side, which will give you medium-rare meat. Transfer lamb to a cutting board to rest for at least 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, toss sliced fennel bulb, cucumber and shallot in a medium bowl. Zest and juice 1 lemon and add to the fennel. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve lamb chops whole on a large serving platter, or slice lamb away from the bone or rib about 1/4-inch thick, then transfer to a large serving platter or divide among plates. Cut remaining lemon in half and squeeze over lamb. Scatter with dill or mint and serve alongside fennel salad and cooked grains, if you like.