Eric Akis: The succulence of the lambs

Eric Akis

I enjoy eating lamb, but for some reason, I don’t do it very often. Perhaps that’s because it never seems to be as prominently displayed in grocery stores as other types of meats, such as beef and chicken.

But when I was shopping the other day, my eyes glommed on to some beautiful-looking, large and meaty lamb chops, and I just had to have them.

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They were tender lamb loin chops, which look like mini T-bone steaks and are cut from the loin of lamb, located beside the rib section of the animal.

In the summer, I would normally go outside and grill those chops on my barbecue. In winter, though, I prefer to cook them inside, and deeply sear them in a hot skillet until they’re pinkish red in the middle.

Before doing that this time, I looked in my refrigerator for inspiration on how to flavour the lamb chops and found a jar of red currant jelly. I decided to build a sauce around that preserve and spooned some into a pot. To balance its sweetness and add flavour, I mixed in some red wine, tangy balsamic vinegar, orange juice, salty soy sauce and a pinch of spicy red pepper flakes.

To start making make the sauce, all you do is simmer those ingredients until the jelly is melted and blends with the other ingredients.

Once the lamb is seared, it’s removed from the skillet, the excess fat is removed from the pan and the sauce gets poured in. You add fresh mint to the sauce and simmer it until it’s lightly thickened. Then the chops get set back in the pan and are sumptuously cooked in the sauce a short while.

It was a nice lamb dish that’s not hard to prepare. The same is true for the two side dishes I served with it.

One was roasted brussels sprouts that I set in the oven to cook just before I started preparing the lamb. By the time the lamb was seared and added to the sauce, the sprouts were cooked.

I also served the lamb with orzo, small rice-shaped pasta, that I tossed with such things as citrus zest, walnuts and a soft cheese, which could be goat or feta. You can make this dish ahead of time and reheat it when ready to serve with the lamb. See recipe for details.

All recipes serve two, but they could easily be doubled or further expanded.

Lamb Chops with Red Currant Mint Sauce

Tender, juicy lamb seared, bathed in and served with a sweet and tangy redcurrant jelly-based-sauce flecked with mint.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About 15 minutes

Makes: Two servings

3 Tbsp red currant jelly (see Note)

2 Tbsp red wine or beef stock

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

2 tsp orange juice

1 tsp soy sauce

• pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

2 tsp chopped fresh mint

1 Tbsp olive oil

4 large and meaty lamb loin chops

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• fresh mint sprigs, for garnish

In a small pot, place the jelly, wine (or stock), vinegar, juice, soy sauce and pepper flakes, if using. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Whisk and simmer this sauce a minute or two, until the jelly is melted and well combined with the other ingredients. Remove sauce from the heat.

Heat the 1 Tbsp oil in a skillet set over medium-high. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Sear lamb four minutes per side, or until cooked medium rare to medium. (If you prefer the lamb more well cooked, simply sear it a bit longer.) Remove the lamb from the skillet and set on a plate.

Drain the fat in the skillet. Set the skillet back over the heat, pour in the sauce and bring to a simmer. Mix the mint into the sauce. Simmer sauce until very lightly thickened. Return the lamb chops to the skillet and heat through a minute or so on each side.

Lift chops out of the pan and divide between two dinner plates. Spoon the sauce over the lamb, garnish with mint sprigs and serve.

Note 1: Red currant jelly is sold in the jam/jelly aisle of most supermarkets. I used Bonne Maman brand.

Orzo with Creamy Cheese, Walnuts and Parsley

Orzo is rice-shaped pasta sold at most supermarkets. In this recipe, it is cooked, drained and tossed with a few flavour-enhancing ingredients. It makes a nice side dish for lamb, pork, chicken and fish, such as halibut.

Cooking time: Eight minutes

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Makes: Two servings

1/2 cup orzo

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

3 Tbsp to 1/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted (see Note)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 Tbsp to 1/4 cup coarsely crumbled goat or feta cheese

Bring a small pot filled with water to a boil. Lightly salt the water, add the orzo and cook until just tender, about eight minutes.

While orzo cooks, place the oil, zest, parsley and walnuts in a serving bowl.

When cooked, drain the orzo well, reserving 2 Tbsp of the cooking liquid.

Place the orzo and reserved cooking liquid in the bowl.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then put the cheese in the bowl.

Toss everything to combine and serve (see Eric’s options).

Note: To toast nuts, place them in a skillet set over medium heat. Cook and stir a few minutes, until lightly toasted and aromatic.

Eric’s options: You can prepare the orzo and toss it with other ingredients hours before serving. Once cool, cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve it with the lamb. When you need it, simply zap it in the microwave until hot again.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Simply seasoned sprouts roasted in a hot oven until richly coloured and tender.

Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes

Preparation time: Five minutes

Makes: Two servings

1/2 lb medium to large brussels sprouts

1 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for serving

• salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Trim a little from the end of each brussels sprout. Cut each sprout lengthwise in half and set on the baking sheet.

Drizzle and sprinkle the 1 Tbsp oil, salt and pepper on the sprouts and toss to coat. Roast, stirring the sprouts once or twice, for 30 to 35 minutes, until richly coloured and tender.

Transfer sprouts to a serving bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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