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All We Can Eat
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 04/06/2012

Cooking Off the Cuff: Lambing time


These breaded lamb cutlets don't require anything more than a squeeze of lemon. (Edward Schneider for The Washington Post)
Jackie and I had been away for a couple of weeks, and we headed off to the farmers market thinking that we’d find all sorts of new produce. The daffodils were out in force (some of them, indeed, already drooping), so why not the onions? Well, the three Saturdays that had passed since our last visit hadn’t done much to change the market lineup, and I guess we were silly to think they would have.

What we did find at the market was a reminder that our favorite sheep farmer would not be at her stand again until May. It’s lambing time, and the ewes and their new offspring need a great deal of attention. We wanted to take advantage of her last appearance, so chops were suddenly on the menu, along with Russian banana fingerling potatoes, carefully stored since last season by an excellent producer. They were firm, and we knew from experience that they’d be flavorful.

On the way home, I developed a yen for something we hadn’t had in years: breaded lamb cutlets. You don’t see these all that often, but they do turn up occasionally, including as a favorite element of a Bolognese-style fried dinner (fritto misto), typically with its rib bone available as a handle if you want to eat with your fingers. (And who doesn’t?) Looking to extend the usefulness of our four lamb chops beyond a single meal, however, I cooked the bones and trim into a broth. About 40 minutes in a pressure cooker with some vegetables yielded an aromatic base for sauces or soups — or, as you will see, potatoes.

Now I had the nice eye of each rib chop and variously shaped pieces of no-less-nice meat from neighboring muscles. I lightly pounded them (the eyes a generous 1/4 inch thick; the other bits were thinner), seasoned them and breaded them for frying in the usual way — flour, egg and breadcrumbs, in this instance mixed with grated parmesan to remind me that the inspiration here was the part of Italy to which that cheese is native.

These would take only a few minutes to pan-fry, so I got the potatoes going, using a technique I rarely employ: I put them into a heavy pan, in a single layer, with just a teaspoon of butter, salt, a few sprigs of rosemary and enough of that lamb broth to barely cover them. (Any other stock or broth would work well, too.) I simmered them, tightly covered over low heat, until nearly done, say 17 minutes (turning them once). Then I uncovered the pan, slightly turned up the heat and cooked until the potatoes were done and the broth had reduced to a glaze made shiny by that scrap of butter. I don’t recommend doing this with potatoes that are less firm than my Russian bananas. Something like a russet potato cut into chunks would too readily fall apart, not that it wouldn’t taste good.

I simply crisped the breaded lamb in clarified butter (olive oil would have been good, too) until deep golden on both sides. The thicker pieces from the rib eye remained just pink inside, and the thinner scraps cooked through, making everything very tender. Lamb has more flavor than most pork and far more than almost any veal (I hedge because older veal that’s been on grass for a while can be very flavorful indeed), so it really is a fine choice for breaded cutlets like these. You don’t need to make any sauce, though if you have something like an Italian-style salsa verde in the house, you could bring it out of the fridge. But, as in so many situations, a squeeze of lemon is a good idea.

By Edward Schneider  |  07:00 AM ET, 04/06/2012

Categories:  Recipes | Tags:  Edward Schneider, Cooking Off the Cuff

 
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