The meat section at my local Gelson’s is pretty spectacular: if you name a cut of meat, they probably have it. And on Friday night I was craving lamb and, studying the lamb options there, I saw a giant leg of lamb for $70 and a rack of lamb for $40. Those prices would seem to make lamb prohibitively expensive, yet there was another lamb option there for a measly $10.
Those are two big lamb shoulder chops for $10.52.
Here’s the thing about lamb shoulder–like stew meat, it’s not the kind of thing you’d sear and serve up in a matter of minutes (though I did once have something like that at Prune, one of the only dishes I’ve ever eaten there that I didn’t enjoy). Lamb shoulder is built for braising, which means slow cooking it in a flavorful liquid. What happens is the connective tissue starts to break down and what was once a tough cut of meat becomes incredibly tender. You should be able to cut it with your fork.
Noodling around online, I found a few recipes which I synthesized into this one. I chopped up half a red onion, a carrot, (I would’ve added celery but didn’t have it), garlic and parsley:
I got a skillet very hot and added a big splash of olive oil. I patted the lamb shoulder chops very dry, seasoned them with salt and pepper and added them carefully to the hot pan:
This step is the most important step, where all the flavor comes from. You want to get those chops brown. Here they are when I flipped them over:
I did pretty well and continued by browning the sides with a pair of tongs. Once brown all over, I removed the chops to a plate and then added those vegetables I showed you earlier:
The pan’s very hot here, so you may want to turn down the heat so the garlic doesn’t brown too fast. Sprinkle the veg with a little salt and stir until soft but not too brown; then add a big tall glass of white wine (you can sip a little while you’re waiting):
Let that boil away for a bit–it’ll smell wonderful. When most of it’s gone, add a can of San Marzano peeled tomatoes that you’ve crushed by hand, first, in a big bowl. Sprinkle with salt and place your lamb back in there, pouring in any juices that’ve accumulated on the plate:
Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and then check it every so often–once covered the temperature will go up and you don’t want it bubbling in the extreme. Just little bubbles.
Cook like this for 45 minutes to an hour; to check doneness, lift one of those chops to a plate and cut in and taste. Is it super tender? Do you love it? If so, you’re done.
Remove the other chop and, uncovered, bring your tomato sauce to a rapid boil. It will still be very liquidy and you want it to be thick and chunky. So cook until that happens, tasting towards the end for salt.
To serve, you have a few choices. You could boil up some pasta and dress the pasta in the remaining sauce, serving the chop on the side. Or you can do what I did and place a chop on each plate, cover it in sauce and then toast up good bread under the broiler, rub it with garlic and drizzle with olive oil for scooping up sauce.
No matter what, serve with a good red wine and enjoy your seemingly fancy but secretly cheap lamb dinner:
Lamb shoulder is a thrifty lamb-lover’s best friend.