It's not very often that I whip up a plated lamb dinner for friends.
Good-quality lamb is a real splurge, but sometimes life's events call
for nothing less than the best. This simple, showstopping menu does just that.
My fiancé and I celebrated our "anti-versary" this weekend (which is a long story in and of itself) that just so happened to coincide with some of our dearest friends "real" anniversary. We decided to celebrate the occasion by doing what we do best, sharing a delicious meal.
These friends live down the street so I cook for them regularly, but our dinners are usually casual and more often than not consist of assorted leftovers I pawn off from recipe testing. (Hey, all the food has to go somewhere!) For this more important meal, I wanted to serve something memorable yet effortless — nothing flashy but still an upgrade from my everyday fare.
I narrowed down the main course first: I wanted a luxurious meat to be the dinner's main focus. I love eating lamb but rarely cook it, so it seemed like the perfect option, especially since we are in the heart of spring. After a trip to the market to see what looked best, I purchased lamb "double rib" chops — a mild and flavorful cut that when pan-seared and quickly roasted yields a tender, succulent piece of meat.
After finalizing the main dish, it was time to choose the sides. I needed a colorful vegetable and a hearty grain. Green beans, my usual go-to, seemed too predictable. Roasted cherry tomatoes on the other hand, would be bright, sweet, and provide a lovely contrast to the lamb. (Plus I knew they could be made in advance.) As for the starch, I opted not to serve my favorite olive oil roasted potatoes and whipped up an herb-infused pearl couscous using the bounty from my flourishing garden instead. (And I actually prefer my couscous served at room temperature, so I could make it earlier in the day.)
Since I knocked out my side dishes in advance I had plenty of time to sip on champagne and enjoy the beautiful Southern spring day. To hold us over until dinner, I set out a simple snack of cheese and crackers to nibble; I didn't feel the need to go over the top, as I often feel compelled to do. And with the lamb as the showpiece, I wanted us all good and hungry.
The lamb rib chops came together in a breeze. Such a prized cut needs little adornment — just olive oil and a generous amount of kosher salt and pepper. At the last minute I decided I to make a pan sauce (because why not?) while the lamb was resting, so I created a decadent mustard shallot sauce with pantry ingredients on the fly. While making the sauce I popped the roasted tomatoes back in the oven to reheat, and then I assembled our meal. I plated the couscous and the cherry tomatoes first. I rested the chops on top of the couscous followed by a splash of mustard sauce, a sprinkle of chopped herbs, and a big drizzle of good olive oil.
We devoured the meal, and what a meal it was. Everyone gushed and I glowed. It was definitely something to be proud of. In the end, this menu is true proof that simple and seasonal is always delicious, and always worthy of celebration. The lamb was the real treat, and now we may just have ourselves a new "anti-versary" tradition! (I'll be counting down until next year!)
Lamb Chops with Creamy Mustard Shallot Sauce, Roasted Tomatoes & Pearl Couscous
For the roasted cherry tomatoes: 1 pound (approximately 2 dry pints) cherry tomatoes, sliced in half 2 tablespoons olive oil 3 - 4 cloves garlic, sliced Zest from half a lemon Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
For the herbed couscous: 2 1/2 cups chicken stock (or water) 2 cups uncooked pearl couscous 2 tablespoons good quality olive oil 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar Lemon zest from half a lemon Squeeze of lemon juice 3 - 4 tablespoons finely chopped herbs (such as Italian parsley, basil, and mint) Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
For the lamb: 4 - 6 double lamb rib chops (2 ribs) with bones attached (see Recipe Notes) Good quality olive oil Wondra flour, for dusting (optional) Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper Canola or vegetable oil, for cooking
For the mustard shallot sauce: 1 large shallot, finely chopped 1/4 cup white wine vinegar 1 cup chicken or beef stock 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard 2 tablespoons heavy cream 1 tablespoon butter Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
For the tomatoes, preheat
oven to 350°F. Place the tomatoes on a sheet pan and toss with
olive oil, garlic, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Cook,
stirring once, until the tomatoes are soft and starting to shrivel,
about 30 - 40 minutes. (The tomatoes can be made a few hours in advance and held at room temperature while preparing the couscous and the lamb. To reheat, return them to the oven while the lamb is resting.)
For the couscous, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Stir in the
couscous and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook
for 10 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and stir in the olive oil,
vinegar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and herbs. Season with salt and
pepper, and adjust ingredients as desired. (The couscous can be prepared alongside the lamb and served hot, or made in advance and served at room temperature.)
For the lamb, preheat oven to 325°F. Preheat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high to high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil and continue heating until the oil is piping hot, but not smoking.
While the pan is heating, remove the lamb chops from the refrigerator and rub with olive oil. Dust all sides with a light coating of Wondra flour (if using) and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the ribs to the pan, fat side down, and sear until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Turn and continue searing the ribs on the bottom and both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and continue cooking — cook until the lamb registers an internal temperature of 120°F for rare (about 5 minutes), 125°F for medium rare (6-7 minutes), and 130°F for medium (about 8 minutes). Tent with foil and allow the meat to rest while making the sauce, about 10 minutes (the lamb will finish cooking as it sits).
While the lamb is resting, make the sauce. Add the shallots to the pan drippings from the lamb and sauté over medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine vinegar. Increase the heat to high and boil until the liquid is almost evaporated. Add the stock and continue boiling until the sauce is reduced by three fourths. Stir in the mustard and heavy cream, and continue cooking until desired thickness is reached, another minute or so. (The sauce will thicken up a little more as it sits.) Remove from heat and whisk in the butter. Taste and season with salt if needed.
Most lamb recipes call for "Frenching" the ribs—meaning the excess fat and meat covering the bones is removed—but I prefer to leave them as is, because the fat adds more flavor.