It is very rare for me to encounter a meat dish that I think is literally finger-licking-good. Pastries, yes. Chocolates, daily. Cheeses and cookie dough go without saying. But meat, I hate to confess, really isn't my thing. It sounds very un-American, I know.
It's not that I don't enjoy a good bowl of wings while feigning interest in the Superbowl, or Gorgonzola Burger Night at work. I do. (Although even then, if we get right down to it, in both cases, it's really the hunky, melting cheese I adore.) But meat is so heavy, and such an endeavor, that is has to be just right for me to bother getting into it.
All this is simply a very long, round about way of saying that this recipe for fried lamb chops is good. Finger-licking-good, in fact. The only trouble with this it is that, if you want to make it with local grass-fed meat, well, you have to buy the whole lamb. And that, in turn, requires making the link between animal and plate.
If that sounds like an unhappy process, hear me out. I mean, don't you think this is a good-looking sheep? A bit skiddish, and camera shy, to be sure, but the type that would produce a very nice, respectable young lamb. The kind that is very good to eat. He's Icelandic, to be specific, one of those old world varieties known for his burly stance come cold weather and especially his beautiful wool. Not to mention his superbly juicy meat.
He belongs to Patrick Roll up in Pembroke—at West Elms Farm—where he lives along with a bunch of rabbits (yes, also to eat), and a llama, and a goat. Although you feel a bit out of place as you drive up—it's a bit of a farm in suburbia scenario—once you realize what Roll is doing and how the lambs eat, it's very cool. On only four acres, he's raising grass-fed lamb. Four acres! Just imagine that.
The way he does it is by rotating the sheep. They get a few days here, a few days there, and then are hustled along by the threat of the electric fence. (Roll says the lambs are actually very smart, but always bump into the fence the first day. Needless to say, it never happens again.) This is actually good for the grass, because it allows for constant trimming without total destruction, which in turn strengthens the roots and prevents the tops from going to seed. Plus, the lambs are forced to eat everything on their plate, even the less tasty things (weeds always go first), which means more food, on less land, and so more fat, healthy lamb to eat.
If it sounds complicated, it's not. The most important thing, in fact, is simply that you know when you buy local, grass fed meat that you are eating a happy, healthy animal, and hopefully end up feeling the same way. I know for me, it's one of those warm, fuzzy moments inside.
Especially when it is lamb chops I am eating, and they are battered and fried. This recipe is not only good, but it's easy, and though it will use up nearly a year's supply of olive oil, at least the other ingredients are fairly routine. All you need is flour, and baking powder, and club soda for the batter, and a bit of salt and pepper to give the meat a rub down. Then you grab a few sprigs of rosemary, presuming you still have some surviving in a sunny corner or maybe even (!) outside, and fry those, too. All this should explain why it's a good idea either to be predisposed to finger-licking-good meat, or to have a napkin handy nearby.
So without taking up any more of your time, I'll leave you to it. Enjoy—
ROSEMARY FRIED LAMB CHOPS
adapted from Olives & Oranges by Sarah Jenkins and Mindy Fox
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 and 1/2 cups club soda
olive oil (about 3 cups)
salt and pepper
8 small lamb chops (From the ribs, not the loin. In other words, a whole rack.)
4 sprigs rosemary
In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and club soda. Pour olive oil into a large, deep skillet and heat over medium flame. Rub chops with salt and pepper, and let sit for several minutes. When oil is hot, dip chops one at a time in batter and carefully toss into oil to fry. Fry as many as you can fit in the pan at one time, for about 2 or 3 minutes per side. Remove with tongs and let dry on a paper towel to soak up the fat. When all chops are fried, throw in the rosemary, turning it quickly, until it becomes a little bit crackly. Place lamb chops on a serving plate and crumble fried rosemary over top. Serve with a garlic aioli dipping sauce if you'd like, or with a drizzle of lemon.
For more information on managed intensive grazing, the rotational grazing described above, go here or here. If you want to know why we care whether or not cows and sheep eat grass in the first place, I highly recommend checking out this book. Turns out it's more important than we think.