Summer Braise—Makes Me Feel Fine! (An Easy Recipe for Lamb Shoulder Chops)

How to cook lamb shoulder chops (lamb shoulder steaks)….the French way.

Yes--it's a braise, but with the right side, it can be a great summer dinner.

Lamb Shoulder Chops with Garlic Sauce and Gremolata. Yes–it’s a braise, but with the right side, it can be a great summer dinner.

Good heavens, the price of lamb chops here in Amerique profonde is sky high right now. I’m missing all those great tranche de gigot d’agneau (literally, slices of lamb leg; known in the US as lamb sirloin chops and lamb leg steaks) that I cooked up weekly in France.

One cut, however, that’s still casual-weeknight-worthy is the lamb shoulder chop (also called lamb blade chop, lamb arm chop, and lamb shoulder steak). Although you will find recipes out in the world that call for marinating and grilling this cut, I find this cut to be way too chewy when cooked quickly.

Left: Lamb Shoulder Chops (aka Lamb Blade Chops or Lamb Arm Chops). Right: Lamb Sirloin Chops (aka Lamb Leg Steaks).

Here’s the difference between a lamb shoulder chop and a lamb sirloin chop:                                       Left: Lamb Shoulder Chops (aka Lamb Blade Chops or Lamb Arm Chops). A good value, and great for braising!
Right: Lamb Sirloin Chops (aka Lamb Leg Steaks). Great grillers!   Photo Credit: American Lamb

And so, craving lamb, but not quite down for a splurge, I got out the slow-cooker this past week. Yes, I could have used my braiser, but I wanted to head to the pool for the afternoon…so I did the fix-and-forget thing. (In general, although I prefer cast-iron braisers, a slow-cooker works wonderfully as a braiser, too.)

Ingredients

Simple ingredients. I found my lamb chops at Whole Foods.

Although the long-simmering makes this sound like a fall-winter dish, if you serve it alongside something fresh and light (such as the simple tomato-greens salad, shown in the photo, above), it’s a summer-simple meal that tastes fab, right now.

From left: Lamb shoulder chops from Whole Foods; browning them in the Slow Cooker; browning the garlic in the slow-cooker. Then, all you do is add some aromatics, and braise away.

From left: Lamb shoulder chops from Whole Foods; browning them in the Slow Cooker; browning the garlic in the slow-cooker. Then, all you do is add some aromatics, and braise away.

The recipe comes from my book, The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day. The original recipe (below) calls for braising it on the stovetop but if you’re wanting to cook it in the slow-cooker, 3 to 4 hours on high will do just fine.

Lamb Shoulder Chops with Garlic, Lemon, and Wine
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
The garlic in this recipe works two ways. Some is used to embolden the sauce. The remaining cloves are served as a condiment—something extra to dab a forkful of meat in. Or, serve bread alongside, and encourage diners to spread a little roasted garlic on each slice.
Ingredients
  • 4 (10-ounce) bone-in lamb shoulder chops (also called lamb shoulder steaks, lamb blade chops, or lamb blade steaks), cut ¾-inch thick
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 15 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
  • ¼ cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in an oven-safe Dutch oven or braiser over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Cook the chops, turning once, until brown, about 8 minutes (reduce the heat to medium if the meat browns too quickly). Transfer the meat to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic cloves to the pan; cook and stir until just slightly brown all over, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the garlic cloves to the plate with the chops.
  3. Add the wine to the pan; increase the heat and bring to a boil, stirring to loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil until the wine is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and herbes de Provence. Return the lamb and garlic to the pan. Cover tightly, transfer to the oven, and bake until the lamb is tender, about 1 hour.
  4. Just before the lamb is finished, stir together the parsley and lemon zest in a small bowl. Set aside.
  5. Transfer the lamb and 8 of the garlic cloves to a plate; cover with foil to keep warm. Using a fork, press down on the garlic cloves still in the pan (the garlic will pop easily out of the skins at this point). Discard the skins and use the fork to mash the garlic in the pan. Use a wire whisk to blend the garlic pulp into the pan juices. Bring the pan juices to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer until reduced to about ⅔ cup. Stir in the lemon juice; taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
  6. Divide the lamb steaks among four dinner plates; top each with a little of the sauce, then sprinkle with the lemon-parsley mixture. Place 2 of the reserved roasted garlic cloves on each plate and serve.

Other posts you might enjoy:
French Cooking Essentials (includes info about the slow-cooker I used in this post).
What is a braiser? What is a Dutch Oven? Should you invest?
How to Cook Gigot d’Agneau Provençal (Lamb Leg Steaks Provençal)

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Two French Recipes for Fennel Pollen

Here’s how to use Fennel Pollen–the French way–with two super-easy recipes for fennel pollen.

I always appreciate a great “Wow! What is it?” ingredient—something that treats everyone at your table to a new taste sensation.

Fennel pollen does just that. Collected from the blooms of wild fennel, the delicate spice recalls the subtle licorice tones of fennel, but in a sweeter, more ethereal way. I use it often as part of a dry rub in meats—I especially love it on pork tenderloin.

Weeknight Porcetta ready for the oven. This is a recipe inspired by Bon Appétit magazine (I use 1 teaspoon fennel pollen rather than the fennel called for in the recipe).

Weeknight Porcetta ready for the oven. This is a recipe inspired by Bon Appétit magazine (I use 1 teaspoon fennel pollen rather than the fennel called for in the recipe).

Bon Appétit magazine has one of my favorite recipes for pork tenderloin (see my ode to it here). It involves wrapping the super-lean piece of meat with bacon, and flavoring it with rosemary and garlic.

Weeknight Porcetta--straight from the oven.

Weeknight Porcetta–straight from the oven.

My number-one use for it, however, is in my Green Olive Tapenade. Serve the tapenade as part of my Happy Hour Crackers. If you read this blog at all, you know this little number: You simply slather some purchased hummus atop a cracker (Trader Joe’s Original Savory Thins are great for this), and top with a wee bit of the tapenade and a little snipped fresh parsley.

Make my Green Olive Tapenade with fennel pollen. You won't be sorry.

Make my Green Olive Tapenade with fennel pollen. You won’t be sorry.

Here’s the recipe for the tapenade:

 

French Green Olive Tapenade with Fennel Pollen
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 cup
 
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups (8 ounces) pitted large green olives, drained
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ teaspoon fennel pollen
  • ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon dried tarragon
  • ¼ teaspoon curry powder
Instructions
  1. Place the olives, oil, garlic, fennel pollen, red pepper flakes, tarragon, and curry powder in a food processor. Process until the mixture becomes a coarse paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Transfer the tapenade to a bowl and serve at room temperature. Store leftovers in the refrigerator in a tightly covered, nonmetal container for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 1 cup.

I’d love to know: How do you use fennel pollen? (Bloggers–feel free to share a recipe link to your blog!)

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French Hangover Prevention: Or, Three Reasons Why I Never Get Hangovers in France

Here’s how to minimize the instances (and severity!) of hangovers via lessons learned in France. 

Me, on my studio balcony in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, with two of the three hangover prevention tactics. Read on!

Me, on my vacation-studio balcony in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, with two of my three hangover prevention tactics. Yes–one of them is wine (but the right wine) Read on!

I am very hangover-prone. Actually, I think this is a good thing, as it keeps me from over-serving myself.

I consider myself a moderate drinker; at home, I rarely drink more than two glasses of wine a night. I start with an apéritif, and I have a small glass of wine with dinner. And then I’m done, because I know that that third glass will scalp me the next day.

Trouble is, when I’m out enjoying good food with friends, and the night stretches on, I’ll have that third glass. And it never fails to do me in the next day. (Yes, you’d be fair to ask why I never learn….the answer is, well, you know: friends, food, and wine.)

And yet, I just spent seven weeks in Ireland and France (mostly France), and only once did I get even a mild hangover, even though I very often went for that third glass of wine.

Over the years, I’ve thought about what it is that makes me less hangover-prone in France, and, more important, what I can do in the US to reduce the possibilities of hangovers (besides of course, not drinking—not an option for this wine-loving epicurean).

A few observations:

1. French Wines Are Generally Lower in Alcohol

French wine currently in my home right now: All under 13% alcohol by volume; all priced under $15 a bottle.

French wine currently in my home right now: All under 13% alcohol by volume; all priced under $15 a bottle.

When it comes to hangover headaches from wine, many wine-drinkers point to the higher level of sulfites often used in American wines, claiming that the preservatives are the culprits. However, research on this is not conclusive. Can you eat dried fruits without getting a headache? Then sulfites are probably not the problem–as dried fruits are loaded with ’em.

For me, boils down to alcohol content. Many American wines simply have a higher alcohol content (14 percent and more) than most French wines, which often weigh in at 13.5 percent or—usually—even lower.

Yes, it matters: If you drink a 14.5 percent glass instead of a 12.5 percent glass, you’re getting about 13.8 percent more alcohol in each glass you drink. That adds up over a night.

Let’s get one thing clear here. I’m not anti-lift in any way. I like (actually, I adore) that nice feeling of joy and well being that moderate drinking can bring. But I also like to sustain that light, pleasant lift over an evening, and not get stupid halfway into the first course. French wines let me do that (not get stupid, I mean).

Takeaway? Drink French wine, and look at the label: Go for those with 13% alcohol or less. Happily, the timing for this is just right: These days, with the strong dollar, you can find good values from France. In fact, most of the French wines I buy these days are around $12 a bottle.

2. For Heaven’s Sake, Eat Something! (Even If You Have to Be Sneaky About It!)

The modest nibble with your drink. So common in France; so hard to find state-side. These days, I BYON (bring my own nuts) to bars that don't serve snacks.

The modest nibble with your drink. So common in France; so hard to find state-side. These days, I BYON (bring my own nuts) to bars that don’t serve snacks.

Drinking on an empty stomach = a dumb idea. We’ve known that since college, but why is it so hard to get a little nibble alongside a drink in an American bar? (And no, I don’t always want a plate of cheese and charcuterie or a basket of fried appetizers at this point, okay? A nibble. Just a nibble. Please.)

I wrote elsewhere about the little snack that the French always serve with a drink, even at the most casual of cafés. Not only is it a gracious gesture, but it’s a smart one, too. Drinks on an empty stomach get you drunk. And hungover the next day.

What? Serve drinks without a little snack? Well, that might happen in France...if you were dining chez a pack of badgers.

What? Serve drinks without a little snack? Well, that might happen in France…if you were dining chez a pack of badgers.

Hence, the little bowl of nuts or olives or snacks served alongside drinks in just about every café in every French town.

For me, eating something when I drink has become such a ritual that I cannot do without. Back home in Amerique profonde, if I’m meeting friends for drinks at an American bar that doesn’t serve food (and wouldn’t think to bring a little nibble alongside your drink), I often bring a little bag of nuts along to furtively nibble on while I imbibe. I share, of course.

3. Eaux, the Water!

In France, Mr. Eau and I always start the evening with an apéritif, either in our apartment or at a café. We have dinner with wine—but in moderation. Then, we take a walk; a nice long walk around wherever it is we’re staying.

At home, I call my husband Mr. Sportcoat, but in France, he has another nickname: Mr. Eau. He adores French mineral waters, even more than I do.

At home, I call my husband Mr. Sportcoat, but in France, he has another nickname: Mr. Eau. He adores French mineral waters, even more than I do.

And then, it’s time for what we call “Café Eau.”* We are absolutely nuts about French mineral waters, and always have a huge array of them in our apartment or hotel room. We pull up a table and chair by the window (or in the garden or on the balcony) and polish off a liter of cool, wonderfully tasting mineral water as we chat into the night, recounting our day’s pleasures, annoyances, and discoveries. Café Eau is just as important (and enjoyable) to us as that pre-dinner apéritif.

Some hotel, somewhere in France. Mr. Eau and his supply of water.

Some hotel, somewhere in France. Mr. Eau and his supply of water.

And it’s a piece of the puzzle that keeps me from getting a hangover.

Not just any water will do. I think there’s something in mineral waters that truly do the body good–as in nutrients that get replenished. And they taste good. My favorite is Vittel, a very rain-on-wet-stone-tasting still water. And I adore Badoit**, a very-lightly-fizzy, slightly bicarbonate-y sip that’s really refreshing and also makes you feel better after a heavy meal.

Mrs. Eau and her after-dinner bottle of Badoit.

Mrs. Eau and her after-dinner bottle of Badoit.

Drinking great French mineral waters is so much more joyous than that end-of-the-night gulping down of tap water. (Kind of like the way taking long walks in a beautiful city is is more pleasurable than walking on a treadmill.)

In short: It’s easy to drink more water when you love the taste of the water you drink. And the more water you drink, the better you’ll feel the next day.

Forget San Pellegrino. Would somebody please start importing Badoit?

Forget San Pellegrino. Would somebody please start importing Badoit? Photo credit.

Sadly, neither Badoit nor Vittel are available back in Amerique profonde, so I settle for the ubiquitous San Pelligrino (yawn) or Volvic (good, but dreadfully expensive at my local Whole Foods).

We don’t have “Café Eau” every night at home, because we’re not exactly on vacation anymore and our days and evenings aren’t as leisurely. But I do keep lots of really good water around.

And that, my friends, is how I generally avoid getting hangovers in Amerique profonde.

So, I’m curious: Do you find you get fewer (or less severe) hangovers in France—and if so, what do you attribute that to?

* Eau is the word for water. Eaux is the plural. Either way, it’s pronounced “Oh.”

Yorre** PS: A word to the wise: Select St. Yorre mineral water at your own peril. It’s refreshing and has a compellingly saline-y minerally flavor and wonderfully tummy-soothing qualities, but can also have, um, laxative effects. You’ve been warned. You’re welcome.

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