It’s been a busy couple of weeks around here. I’m about to head off to San Francisco for work, and whenever the day job gets really busy, I have to resort to what we call the Eatdown. In our house, the Eatdown means a journey into the reach in freezer. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The freezer is full of vacuum packed gnocchi, leftover braised short rib and pork belly, duck and rabbit confit, garlic, pea, and tomato purées. It’s also full of basics – stocks and fabricated meat, which can be thawed in the refrigerator over a day or two, ready to cook when we come home from work.
On Tuesday, I found a small lamb shoulder chop, vacuum packed, in one of the bins in the reach in. It probably weighed a half pound, bones and all. I moved it into the refrigerator to thaw. During the dull commute home – marked by accidents and other delays – I considered the options. What goes with lamb? Mint. It’s spring and our back garden is overrun with pots of mint. And peas. This is a perfect example of seasonality – the foods that come to the table at the same time often taste the best together.
The vegetable accompaniment to the lamb was a simple melange of green beans and zucchini, dressed with olive oil, sea salt, and Pondicherry peppercorn. What is Pondicherry peppercorn? Sometimes known as “true red peppercorn,” it represents the ripened state of the black peppercorn, the immature berry of the Piper nigrum plant. Harvested almost exclusively in Puducherry (Pondicherry), they spoil unless processed quickly and are not widely available. I used to buy them from Le Sanctuaire until their supply ran out; Chef Joshua Linton of Chicago’s Aja, and Joshua Tree Spice Studio, was amazing enough to source it for me recently. The fruity, nutmeggy, spicy quality of the Pondicherry pepper complements the vegetables and olive oil perfectly.
Lamb shoulder, minted peas
This sounds like a lot more work than it is. It comes together in less than forty minutes, I’m not kidding. Start with the minted pea purée. To keep it bright and fresh-tasting, you only need to cook it for about five minutes after you add the peas. Once you’ve cooked the lamb, use the microwave to steam the vegetable accompaniment while the meat rests. Don’t knock the microwave. Particularly for spongy vegetables like zucchini and eggplant, the microwave reduces the risk of mushiness.
For the pea purée:
one medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic confit
three or four sprigs thyme
2 cups (ten ounces) shelled English peas
one cup (five ounces) shelled edamame
3-4 cups filtered water
about 6-8 flat leaf parsley leaves
6 leaves basil
dozen leaves mint
juice of one lemon
Place a saucepot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp olive oil. Reduce heat, add the onion and sweat until translucent and tender. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and thyme, and sweat another several minutes until fragrant. Do not allow the garlic to take on any color. Add the peas, edamame, and water, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for five minutes. Remove the bay leaf and all the thyme branches.
Purée in a vitaprep or blender with the fresh herbs until completely smooth. Push through a tamis if necessary. Season with salt and pepper, and adjust with a little lemon juice.
For the lamb:
2 lamb shoulder chops
salt and pepper
chives, sliced thinly
small mint leaves
Season the lamb chops with salt on both sides. Set a skillet over high heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp olive oil. Add the lamb to the pan and reduce heat to medium. After about 2-3 minutes, turn over and cook another 3 minutes. Cooking times will depend on thickness so check for doneness at intervals by touch. Season with salt and pepper and rest for about seven minutes before slicing.
For the vegetable accompaniment:
one small zucchini, diced 1/4″
1/4 lb green beans, trimmed and sliced 1/4″
sea salt and Pondicherry peppercorn
Combine the vegetables in a microwave-safe dish in layer not thicker than 3/4″ and microwave on high for 90 seconds. Season with olive oil, salt, and Pondicherry peppercorn. If you don’t have a microwave or refuse to use one, you can sauté the beans in olive oil for about two minutes, add the zucchini, and sauté a minute more.
Spread some minted pea purée on the plate and arrange slices of lamb on top. Serve vegetable accompaniment on the side. Garnish with chives and mint.
Potatoes fried in lamb fat
I had a russet potato left over from gnocchi-making earlier in the week and needed to use it before leaving for San Francisco. I squared it off and diced it 1/8″ to accompany the lamb, and fried some of the tiny dice in olive oil. Cooking the lamb chop left about a tablespoon of lamb fat in the pan, so I decided to dice up the remaining potato trimmings and fry them up for my husband.
This is probably where I admit I don’t love lamb. I’ll eat it and all, and sometimes I’ll even enjoy it, but I have an uneasy relationship with the lamby taste and it’s easy to cross the line. So I wasn’t really planning to eat any of the potato fry-up, since lamb fat tastes even more of lamb than the meat. I tasted the potatoes, though, to make sure they were seasoned correctly, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. I would have eaten the whole plate.
The mint really makes the dish. Don’t leave it off.
1 russet potato, peeled and diced between 1/8″ and 1/4″
2 tbsp lamb fat, reserved from previous dish
sea salt (or black truffle salt) and black pepper
If the lamb fat is still in the skillet, return the skillet to medium high heat. When hot, add the diced potato and sauté until crisp and golden, about five minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper, and chives. Plate and garnish with mint leaves.