Ingredient of the Week: Lamb Chops

Have you ever noticed how so many of the dinner plates in cartoons look the same? The family sits down to supper, and each place setting has a round, white plate containing a cut of meat and two sides. The sides are usually white or orange or green, representing mashed potatoes or carrots or peas. And the meat is always a slab of something brown, usually to mean a steak or pork chop. But occasionally, the slab of brown has a bone, and the bone is drawn with a frilly white covering like a chef's toque. I've always been fascinated by the cartoon diet and eventually discovered that these brown pieces of meat with paper socks are actually lamb chops.

My nostalgia for childhood cartoons and my curiosity for trying new things led me to attempting my first rack of lamb. I've always liked lamb, but it intimidated me. The hefty price tag meant there was little room for error, and if cooked wrong, it could come out gamey or tough. But it turned out that the lamb chop, like the cute fluffy thing it once was, doesn't have to be intimidating, after all. Read on and learn how to prepare this simple but delicious ingredient just in time to impress your guests for the holidays.

What is it?

The rack of lamb is a cut of lamb perpendicular to the spine and includes 16 ribs or chops. If you were to buy the rack this way, it is considered a double rack of lamb. Usually, however, the rack is cut in half lengthwise, making it just eight ribs per package. This is called a single rack. After cooking, the rack is carved into individual cuts of meat containing one bone each, and this is the lamb chop.

How do I use it?

Racks of lamb are at their best when seared, covered in herbs and breadcrumbs, and then roasted. The rack should be frenched prior to cooking; this means cleaning up the excess meat and fat to expose about two inches of rib bone. Frequently, the rack will come already frenched.

As with roasting any meat, it's essential to use a meat thermometer. Insert one into the rack of lamb before putting it in the oven. For rare doneness, roast until the inside reaches 125 to 130°F; for medium rare, 130 to 140°F; and for medium, 140 to 150°F. The rack is ready to come out of the oven when it reaches five to ten degrees below the desired temperature because it will continue to cook. I enjoyed my chops at a happy medium.

Where can I find it?

I found my chops in the meat section of Costco on I-10 and Bunker Hill. The single rack set me back a little more than $20 and was enough for two to four servings.

Recipe: Roasted Rack of Lamb Serve with a side of purple potatoes. Don't forget those mini chef's toques to dress the bone ends!

What do you do with your lamb chops?

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