My mom, who's not a red meat fan, has a special dislike for lamb. When Lava Lake Lamb offered to send me a few cuts to try, I was a little worried I might be eating all of it by myself. It's the kind of dilemma a friend likes to call a "happy problem". But a funny thing happened the night I grilled these up; not only did she eat all of her portion, I caught her gnawing on the bones after everyone had left the table. It was that good.
I think lamb tends to get a bum wrap because its definition varies widely depending on where you are. While generally, it refers to a sheep that's less than twelve months old, by some definitions it can be as old as 24 months. Like any animal, the meat toughens and the flavor intensifies with age, and in the case of sheep, "intense" means it gets funky.
Lava Lake Lamb produces grass-fed lamb that's processed at about 6-9 months, which means it's tender and mellow, avoiding the gamey flavor that most people associate with lamb. The fact that it's grass-fed means that it's lower in fat than lamb raised on grains like corn, and because they're not raised in tight pens, they're able to work their muscles, making the meat more flavorful.
This dish is a great way to introduce beginners to lamb because the five spice and garlic are potent enough to subdue any unruly flavors. Grilling the chops not only adds a smokey flavor, the high temperature encourages the Maillard reaction, giving the exterior a wonderful crust of flavor. The glaze is simply red wine with cinnamon and spices boiled down to a thick syrup with fresh plums added in at the very end.
I served this with a grilled ratatouille salad and a delightful Pinot Noir from J Winery. Despite having grown up in Napa, I prefer Sonoma wines because the cooler climate works wonders with Pinot Noir grapes. Amongst the Sonoma wineries, J is one of my favorites because many of their wines are produced in small batches with grapes sourced from a single vineyard. This allows you to really taste the terroir, especially when you try a few of their Pinots side-by-side.
- Put the garlic, ginger, kiwi, fish sauce, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon five spice powder and salt into a small food processor or blender and process until smooth.
- Spread the marinade onto both sides of each piece of lamb and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
- To make the sauce, add the red wine, cinnamon stick, five spice powder, brown sugar, and soy sauce into a small saucepan and boil until it's thick and syrupy. Remove the cinnamon stick and set aside.
- Heat a grill until very hot. As long as your chops are thinner than 1/2-inch, they should cook through without burning over a very hot grill, but if your chops are thicker you may want to use a medium high heat, or build two temperature zones if you are using charcoal. Remove any excess marinade from the lamb chops and place on grill. Cover and leave the lamb undisturbed until you have nice grill marks on it.
- Flip the chops over, cover and grill until they're cooked to your desired doneness. Transfer the lamb to a platter and tent with foil.
- When the meat is done, bring the sauce to a boil over high heat and add the plums. Boil until the plums are cooked and the sauce is thick (about 1-2 minutes).
- Serve the lamb with the plum chutney and garnish with cilantro.