So I'm calling this carrot and green pepper soup, but it's more like a carrot…
Braised Lamb with Grilled Fennel and Orzo
The theme of tonight’s meal is stepping out of my comfort zone. Finally, for the first time ever I made lamb! There were fairly cheap pieces of lamb shoulder chops at the store, so I decided to dive in. I also bought fennel for the first time. While it may not be the smartest idea to make a dish with two items I’m fairly unfamiliar with, I did so anyway. I’ve learned my lesson now; whenever possible, I’m buying ingredients that I’m a little unsure about. Those chops and fennel resulted in a great meal of braised lamb with an assortment of veggies, piled atop orzo to soak in the sauce.
This probably took me around an hour and a half to make, mainly because the longer you cook a lamb shoulder chop the more tender it gets. There are also lots of ways you can do it. I love cooking on the stove top more than throwing something in the oven because I feel like I have more control over it. However, lots of recipes have you sear the lamb first then transfer the skillet to the oven to cook; sometimes for as long as three hours. Whichever you choose, make sure you have a pan with a lid. Pick your poison, and let’s get started!
What you’ll need:
Lamb shoulder chops
1/2 container sliced mushrooms
4 garlic cloves – mashed
Red pepper relish – I use Rust Belt Pepper Co.
Olive oil – rosemary flavor
Za’atar – I use Z&Z
Start with the vegetables
Heat your skillet – preferably one with a lid, and preferably cast iron – with a drizzle of olive oil and a small amount of butter. Finely chop the onion and carrots. Using a garlic press, add the garlic to your pan and toss in the mushrooms, onion, and carrots. Let these soften on medium high heat. As it starts getting hot, add a healthy amount of lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and chicken broth. These liquids will help create the delicious sauce as everything slowly simmers.
Add coarse sea salt, oregano, rosemary, and a touch of za’atar seasoning. Once you’re satisfied with all the flavors (keep experimenting if you’re not!) let these gently simmer while you prepare the lamb.
Grill those chops
I have a cast iron, square grill pan from Le Creuset that I adore. I rarely get the chance to grill in this apartment, but this helps me get those beautiful grill marks that everyone loves. Instead of searing my lamb in my other pan before starting the vegetables, I decided to grill it. Unfortunately, my grill marks aren’t as impressive as I wanted them to be, but this pan still did the trick.
Season the lamb with coarse sea salt and pepper. Many people marinate the chops overnight, which I think is a solid choice. My lack of planning didn’t leave time for that, so no marinade this time. I didn’t get the grill marks I wanted because I got antsy with how long to sear them. I knew I didn’t want them to cook too much, since I wanted them to do so slowly with all my veggies. Probably 3 minutes per side is safe.
Once you’re satisfied with the sear, bury the chops in the mushroom, carrot, and onion mixture. Check to make sure you don’t need any more broth or Worcestershire sauce, then cover and cook on medium heat for about 45 minutes.
On to the fennel…
Since I don’t know much about fennel, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to treat it. Thankfully I relied on my on-the-fly cooking style, and I decided to grill it in the leftover juices from the chops. I started out by roughly slicing my bulb and laying those pieces on the grill. Once the outside charred, I took them off, sliced them, and transferred them back to the pan. While they grill, start a pot of boiling water for the orzo. This cooks for 7-9 minutes, so try to time it up with the end of your lamb’s cook time. Once all the pieces have a slight char to them, set them aside.
My dad warned me once that he cooked with fennel and as it continued cooking, the flavor got more intense. He said he thought he should have removed it a little earlier. The main reason I cooked it separately was to avoid a chance of ruining the dish.
Dinner is served!
After the time’s passed, check on the meat. If it seems tender – it should be falling off the bone – turn your burner to low, or even off. I transferred my chops to a cutting board (mainly to prep them for pictures) and added the fennel to the mushrooms, onions, and carrots. Stir until all the fennel is coated in the sauce and mixed in with the other vegetables.
There’s nothing better than lifting a lid to be greeted with a cloud of aromatic steam and gently bubbling sauce. I only had orzo on hand, but this would be fantastic with jasmine or basmati rice. Or, by itself! I feel like a traitor to my intensely carnivorous preferences, but I would even serve this with just the orzo and vegetables because I loved the flavor.
Now that I’ve ventured into the world of homecooking lamb, I want to hear your experiences and favorite recipes! Tag your creations with #MyStyleFoods and follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.