There have been numerous plates of lamb chops that have stuck in my memory over the years. There have been singular chops, too, eaten on the hoof, meat bone in foil, juice caught just before falling to the ground.
I remember a batch in New York, at the Dead Rabbit bar in Manhattan. It is an odd fixture, a sort of fortified relic of Irish emigration surrounded by modern America. When I visited, years ago, I was a little confused by its location, sitting quietly close to Wall Street in the financial district. But then that’s part of its charm, and inside, a hectic melee of whiskey and sawdust makes for a good time.
I don’t know whether the bar still serves them, but the lamb chops have hung about in my mind. A plate – ordered after drink number three or four, and so my memory isn’t too skewed by inebriation – was almost anointing, fat rendered spectacularly, meat soft and melting.
Another round was gratefully received in Marrakech, Morocco.
I love how lamb is cooked in north Africa, rubbed with warming spices and charred on flaming grills; the older the metal, the better. The flavour is intense, locked in by the intensity of the cooking; curling fat almost sparking and fizzing as it is licked by flames.
Lamb pairs so brilliantly with chilli, cumin and garlic, and a handful of chops, with soft flatbreads and minty-hewn yoghurt, is a happy experience in the fading warmth of Marrakech, scooters nipping about the place under yellow light, beer in hand.
And I can still hazily picture the restaurant in Jaffa, Tel Aviv, despite having been up for 48 hours and near-delirious from heat and 100ml measures of vodka. Before going in for lunch, I had resorted to buying a pair of shorts, because my trousers, which I’d thought would be suitably loose and floppy in the sun, were starting to upset me to an inordinate degree.
I cannot remember the name of the place, but we were fortunate to avoid the usual queues, settling in for cooling tea; bowls of rich hummus; the most eclectic and colourful of salads; fresh, sesame-seed topped bread, which tore into prophetic-sized chunks for dipping into various sauces; chicken shawarma; roast aubergine; and lamb chops. The chops, treated, I think, with punchy za’atar, were so delicate, each bulb of flesh tearing away from its encircling bone with gentle ease.
We return to the UK. In London, where I’m based, the steak joint Blacklock in Soho might be my first port of call for lamb chops these days. And then the east London institution that is Tayyabs – even more famous now thanks to a recent visit from actors Pedro Pascal and Jon Favreau – where the chops are cooked in the Punjabi way. Another winning method.
Here’s another option. The French chef Cyril Lignac serves his chops
with chimichurri – lamb loves mint, parsley and coriander – adding green Tabasco for a lift, and crushed almonds for texture.
LAMB CHOPS WITH CHIMICHURRI
Serves 2-4, depending on appetite
12 lamb chops
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley
¼ bunch coriander
¼ bunch mint
6 garlic cloves, peeled and degermed (this means removing the little stem in the middle of each clove)
2 pinches cumin powder
20cl olive oil + 1 dash for cooking
A few toasted and crushed almonds
Fine salt/coarse salt/fleur de sel/ground pepper
In a blender, add the stripped herbs together with the degermed garlic. Start blending, then add the olive oil, Tabasco, cumin, lemon juice and orange zest. Blend. Put aside in a bowl.
In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the peas. When cooked, drain them and plunge them into a bath of ice water.
In a frying pan, add a dash of oil. Season the chops with salt and pepper and brown them. Add a piece of butter and sprinkle them with crushed almonds. When they are cooked to the desired level, place them on a plate.
While the chops are resting, in a sauté pan, add a piece of butter and the peas, deglaze them with the orange juice, bind them and let them heat up. Season with fine salt.
Place a spoonful of chimichurri on the plates, add the chops, pour in the peas, and then sprinkle with almonds.