“Not every sauce has to start with a demi-glace,” said Monsieur le Chef as we headed to our local specialty vinegar and oil boutique.
Talk about preaching to the converted! My style of cooking is all about quick pan sauces using wine and/or broths along with flavorings such as vinegar, mustard, fruit jam, lemon juice, brandy—and maybe a touch of cream or butter here and there (and fresh herbs everywhere). Cook the meat. Deglaze the pan with wine and/or broth, reduce, then add those and other flavorings. The result? A beautiful little sauce for any-night dining at its true-to-France best.
Demiglace? Leave those to les chefs. They get paid for their time in the kitchen. Or maybe we’ll make one on the weekend. But not tonight.
Earlier, we had stood at the counter of Whole Foods, admiring the gorgeous lamb chops. Now, we arrived and Vom Fass, a specialty oil, vinegar, and spirits shop, with outlets here and there in the U.S. and around the world.
With lamb in mind, we tasted a variety of flavored olive oil and herb combinations.
We played with all sorts of combinations, but narrowed it down to a choice between fig balsamic vinegar and orange olive oil or date balsamic vinegar and orange olive oil. Suddenly, the idea of lemon (rather than orange) struck us. Melissa put the combination on little spoons, we tasted it, and we had a clear choice: Date balsamic vinegar with lemon olive oil—a wonderful contrast of sweetness, depth, and spark. And isn’t there something inherently right about lamb—a Mediterranean meat—being flavored with dates, an ancient Mediterranean fruit?
We made a lovely recipe with a goat-cheese crust for the lamb, but seriously, I think the combination of the date-vinegar and the lemon-infused olive oil would work beautifully and simply on grilled lamb chops. Use 2 parts oil (say, 1/4 cup) to 1 part vinegar (2 tablespoons), and add a touch of water if it seems too thick.
We headed back to David’s kitchen at Baru 66 and rolled up our sleeves on something a little more elaborate, but not by much. The full recipe is below, but here’s a step-by-step account:
1. Flavor 8 lamb rib chops: Salt, pepper, olive oil, and a bunch of fresh thyme. Ideally, you should let this all refrigerate (covered in plastic wrap) for 2 to 3 hours or overnight. We didn’t have that much time. If you don’t have that much thyme (ha-ha), just sprinkle about 1 teaspoon dried thyme over the chops.
While the lamb was infusing with those flavors, we made a panade–a topping of breadcrumbs, butter, goat cheese, honey, lemon zest, parsley, and an egg white (see exact measurements, below). We worked it all together in a metal bowl until it was the consistency of a bread dough.
We whisked together some lemon and olive oil, along with a touch of water to keep the sauce from being too thick.
We browned the chops on all sides in hot olive oil over medium-high heat. Actually, brown is perhaps too strong of a word: We colored them. Marquer, in the language of the chef.
The idea is to sear them just a bit, turning as needed. You just want them lightly browned—seriously, this took about 2 minutes total.
Voilà. Truly, they’re not that brown at all. Put them on a shallow roasting pan.
Cover them with the panade. The panade should be a nice, thick chapeau over the meat.
For good measure, we threw in a few garlic cloves onto the roasting pan. We roasted the chops in a preheated 375°F oven for 7 minutes for a rosy-pink medium. This bonne femme would likely use a meat thermometer to check the doneness (I like my lamb chops at about 150°F.) But le chef knew exactly when to take them out.
We pooled a little of our sauce around the chops and added a fat garlic clove to each dish. Not only is it a pretty garnish, but the cloves are nice to spread over French bread served with the meal.
Alas, my photographer, Richard Swearinger, was nowhere around, so I took a few shots myself. Believe you me, they tasted much better than they look in my so-so photo: I just loved the way the tang of lemon and vinegar contrasted the richness of the meat while the sweetness of the date flavor kept it all in balance.
To me this is a real “bonne femme” kind of recipe—a clever French way to “stretch” the meat: Lamb chops are an expensive cut, and just two on a plate can seem a bit skimpy. But when you add this topping of cheese and herbs, you add richness and make the dish more satisfying—without bulking it up in the usual predictable ways (potatoes, pasta, etc.). We served it simply with our Farandole de Legumes de l’Été.
Here’s the recipe:
Lamb Chops with Goat Cheese Panade and Lemon Olive Oil/Date Vinegar Sauce
8 lamb rib chops (trimmed), about 1 1/2-inches thick each
1/4 cup olive oil, divided (plus more if needed)
1 fistful of fresh thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
2.5 ounces semi-ripened goat cheese
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley or chives or a combination
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tablespoons date balsamic vinegar or fig balsamic vinegar*
1/4 cup lemon-infused olive oil
2 teaspoons water
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
Place the lamb chops in a single layer on a plate. Season with salt and pepper to taste; drizzle with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and top with fresh thyme sprigs. Cover and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. For the panade, in a medium bowl, combine goat cheese, bread crumbs, fresh parsley, honey, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Work into a moderately stiff dough (it should feel a bit like bread dough, but be flexible enough to form into a patty). If it’s too crumbly, add a little more more olive oil.
Remove and discard the thyme from the chops. Brown chops lightly on all sides as directed, above. Divide the panade into 8 balls. Place a ball on each chop and flatten it to cover the meaty part of the chop. Place the chops in a shallow baking pan; scatter the garlic cloves around the chops. Drizzle the chops and garlic cloves with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Bake the chops about 8 minutes or until done to your liking (about 8 minutes for medium rare). Allow the chops to stand 5 minutes before serving.
While the chops are baking, whisk together the date vinegar, lemon-infused olive oil, and 2 teaspoons water. Set aside.
To serve, arrange 2 chops on each of 4 warmed dinner plates. Place 1 garlic clove on each plate; divide the sauce amongst the plates, pooling the sauce around (rather than over) the chops. Sprinkle with snipped fresh chives and serve.
* A word about these specialty ingredients. If you have a specialty olive oil/vinegar store, you’ll likely find one or the other. If not, simply use the very best aged balsamic vinegar you can get your hands on. You can also find fig vinegar on the Vom Fass website.