Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lamb Chops and a Summer Mint Pesto Recipe

Selling direct to the customer at the Farmers Markets has been really interesting. We get asked all kinds of questions (almost as many as when I teach knitting). Our customers want to know everything about the meat they are buying (how the animals are raised, what they eat, how they are killed). We are happy to share the information because we know that we are raising our animals with care and that even though many of them are going to become meat, that they have lived happy and healthy lives in the outdoors eating grass and moving around freely. 

I think it is great that consumers are interested in the source of their meat and what happens to it. So many people just eat a burger and don't think about the animal who died to become their meat, nor the supply chain that brought the meat to the grocery refrigerator section all neatly wrapped in plastic. To say that whole process is complicated, regulated (as it should be), and mammoth would be an understatement. There are a lot of people living in the U.S. (not to mention the entire world) who just want to eat a burger and not think about it. It is not until recently with the publication of many books (listed below) that regular eaters have started to think about the source of their meat and food.

Books on food and meat I recommend:
Omnivore's Dilemna by Michael Pollan
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Meat: A Kitchen Education by James Peterson
River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall
Good Meat by Deborah Krasner

The largest obstacle to selling our farm raised lamb is that many, many customers have never cooked nor eaten lamb. They honestly don't know what to do with it. I have realized (after a few years) that developing recipes is the key to easier sales. If a customer walks off with a recipe in their hands, they have the confidence to feel like they haven't wasted their money and that they will be able to properly cook our lamb. Some cuts are easier to sell than others. Like lamb chops. Most people are used to looking at beef steaks on a piece of styrofoam at the store so showing them the lamb chops translates easily in their brain. They can visualize a lamb chop on a plate.

Our lamb chops are tiny - much tinier than a beef steak - and tinier than western raised lamb chops which come from larger meat breeds of sheep. We slaughter our animals at around 100 lbs. From that 100 pound animal, we receive back around 30 pounds of meat. Isn't that astounding? A live lamb doesn't equate into a lot of product, does it? Each lamb gives us 14 rib chops and 14 loin chops. The chops are the most tender section of the lamb. They run along upper back of the animal. It makes sense that this cut of meat would be the most tender - it doesn't do as much work as the shoulders (the part of the animal that pulls the animal up the hills - hence is has the most connective tissue and is tougher), nor the legs. French meat poster available here.

There is a difference in both taste and appearance to the two different chops we sell. Rib chops (also known as "rack of lamb" when served in an entire piece, usually frenched with little poufy things on the ends of the bones) are from the front backbone section of the animal. They have more fat on them which adds to the flavor of the meat. They are longer in length and usually weigh more. The loin chops are from the section of the back of the animal which is closer to the leg - where the animal becomes smaller if you are thinking about your dog or cat. Many of our customers prefer loin chops because they are leaner.


At our house, we like both cuts of chops - loin and rib. Truth is we don't eat too many of them because we need to sell them because they generate the most revenue per pound of meat (just like the cobbler and his kid's shoes). 

How I Cook a Lamb Chop
My preferred method of cooking (when we decide to really treat ourselves) is to grill them simply on the barbeque over very hot heat. It only takes about 2 to 3 minutes per side to obtain a rare to medium rare chop. You have to be very careful or the chops can be overcooked in seconds. We process our chops to be 1 1/4" thick. Obviously, if you buy 2 to 3" chops you will need to cook them longer. You need to use a lot of commonsense when cooking meat - something I find lacking in today's cooks. But I am here to help them get over their fears of cooking lamb, aren't I?

Most of the time, I just spice the chops with salt and pepper. But since I'm now developing recipes to add extra value to our meat, I recently worked up a recipe for Lamb Chops with Mint Pesto that I will share with you here today.


Mint has always been a classic combo with lamb - mostly as mint jelly.  We here at Leyden Glen Farm have a diabetic daughter so sweet things don't usually hit the dinner table. Mint runs rampant in our garden though and I love it as a "spice" to be added to lamb. This recipe is very easy and even if you aren't going to use it on lamb, I have found many ways to use "Mint Pesto" on veggies and in summer salads and in yogurt as a summer spirited dip.


Mint Pesto for Lamb Chops (or whatever!)
1/2 cup mint leaves, freshly plucked from a garden
1/2 cup flat parsley leaves
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pluck the mint leaves from the stalks and wash. Spin in a salad spinner to remove all water. Do the same with the parsley. Place the herbs in a food processor (they will fit in a mini one). Chop until fine. Add the juice of the lemon and the salt and whir. Slowly add the olive oil and mix through until the mixture looks saucy. Stick your finger in and taste. Do you want a little more of an oily texture? Add a couple more tablespoons oil and whir. A garlic clove can be added but I prefer mine simpler. I save the garlic for the basil because I think it overwhelms the mint.

That's it. Place it in a lidded jar. It will keep for about a week or you can freeze it for winter. Pull it out and add it to potatoes, pasta to make a quick weeknight salad, add it to yogurt to make a quick dip. Yummy, yummy and really quick! And of course, you can put a dollop on some lamb chops like shown in the photo my photo! To cook the lamb chops, follow the instructions above.

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