I hate mint jelly. There I said it! :) (Blame it on one bad experience.) These are NOT your traditional lamb chops. It's NOT your rack of lamb. Sometimes simple is best. It applies in life, as well as with food. When we get back to the basics and eliminate a lot of the "extras", we wind up bringing out the full flavor in something that speaks to us in an unmistakable, primal way. In this case, the epicurean equivalent is when these seasoned and savory lamb chops sweep you off of your feet, and have you sitting back in your chair, closing your eyes, going "Mmmmm, mmmm!" as you sink your teeth into them.
The first time I had lamb, I was truly disappointed. It was at an unmemorable restaurant when I was in my teens; the meat was dry, and it was served with mint jelly on the side. My first reaction was, "Mint jelly? What's that? I've heard of grape jelly, but mint?" When I tasted the "classic" combination of lamb with mint jelly, it reminded me of stale Christmas fruit cake, and I avoided lamb on the menu for years after that experience.
Then I thought about it - condiments should enhance your enjoyment of food, not camouflage the taste of something you'd rather not eat to begin with. Even if those original lamb chops were prepared to perfection, I should have enjoyed them without the minty preserves.
Searing meat stove-top, then finishing it in the oven, is a technique that you can use not just for lamb, but for fish, pork chops, and almost any other non-poultry meat to guarantee tender and juicy cuts, that are not crucified. The stove-top searing seals in the juices and gives the meat excellent color and caramelization. When you finish the internal cooking process in the oven, you don't risk charring the outside of the chops. And, most importantly, to ensure a tender result, remove your meat from the oven about 3 - 5 minutes before you think it's really done, and let it sit - because the cooking process continues with the heat that's sealed inside.
So throw out your mint jelly. (Ok, if you really like the stuff, you can keep it - but you aren't going to need it for this recipe!) If you never liked lamb before, I can guarantee you, that after you try it this way, it will change your mind.
12 lamb chops
coarse sea salt (or regular table salt is fine if you don't have fleur de sel or other premium cooking salts)
fresh ground pepper
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1. Throw out the mint jelly. :) <--- ok, ok, I'm just making a point - you won't need it!
2. Generously salt and pepper every lamb chop on both sides. Preheat the oven to 400°.
3. Heat a really large cast iron pan (or Le Creuset or similar oven-safe pan) on the stove until it's searing hot.
4. Place the olive oil in it and swirl it around to coat the bottom. After about 45 seconds, place the lamb chops in the pan. This might take a bit of strategically fitting them all in the same pan, but you can do it!
5. Don't move the lamb chops and heat them for about 2 - 3 minutes until the bottoms are starting to brown. Flip them over using tongs.
6. After 2 minutes, turn off the heat on the stove. Tear off a really big piece of aluminum foil and cover the chops in the pan with it, like a tent.
7. Place the foil-tented pan in the oven for approximately 5 - 6 minutes - no more! The idea here is to produce tender medium to medium rare lamb. When you over cook lamb, it gets dry and tasteless. We're going for juicy and soft.
8. Remove the entire pan from the oven and do not uncover it. The tented foil will retain the heat in the pan and the chops will continue to cook internally while they rest for 2 - 3 minutes. You want the juices to sink back into the meat before you cut into them or serve them.
Serves 3 - 4; or 2 very hungry people.
I like to serve Pinot Noir or a Petit Syrah with lamb. It's got more of a gamey (but pleasant) taste than pork chops, and I find that these wines complement it well. You can also go with a buttery Sauvignon Blanc.
When I made these, I served lentils cooked in chicken broth (with a little salt), and sautéed garlic spinach on the side. I recommend a leafy green vegetable or broccoli to serve with the lamb to add some color to your plate, and potatoes work nicely as a side dish, too - especially mashed.
If prefer to let the lamb speak for itself, but it you like a more pungent note, sprinkle some minced garlic on the chops after you flip them over on the stove.
And, finally, if you just need your mint jelly accompaniment, feel free to serve along side.