Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Braaied lamb chops with verjus
Everyone makes a braai their own way. Usually there is lamb, and boerewors, or ribs, or toasted sandwiches (braaibroodjies). There may be steak, or thick rashers of pork belly. But one thing is sacred and not to be messed with: no gas allowed. It's real fire, made with real wood or real charcoal.
Here at No. 9 we used to braai in a built-in braavleis place, made from bricks and mortar, with a grid that could be lowered or raised on three different levels. But that area now houses my mother's extensive succulent collection and a tickey creeper (Ficus pumila) grows over the braai itself. While there is a big ugly Weber braai on wheels, it is seldom used, unless there are hordes which need feeding. Braaing mostly happens on this little braai (you see how many ways you can use the word "braai"?). We call it the Mickey Mouse braai, because of its diminutive size. But it packs a punch.
Rib chops are the kind with the long stem, or rib bone. Loin chops have tender lamb loin on side, like a T-bone. We had loin chops for this. I eat very little lamb in the States because it is so very expensive. So South African time is lamb chop time. You can't shop in any supermarket without finding heaps of them.
Variations are endless - lemon juice instead of verjus. Branches of rosemary or thick lemon slices under the chops as you cook them. Oregano chopped into the marinade. Yogurt painted onto each chop. A marinade of onion, chutney, lime leaf, curry powder and milk, all whizzed up together and slathered over the meat for 24 hours.
But this is a simple version:
Enough lamb chops (at least 3 per person)
1/4 cup verjus
Red Turkish pepper
Salt and pepper
An hour before cooking them, season your chops and sprinkle them with verjus.
Make a fire: newspaper balls and dry wood. When the flames leap, cover them with natural charcoal. Stand back, or close your eyes, close the house's windows, go inside - this gets smoky. When the coals have started to glow after about 15 minutes you can come back out again and look at them for a long time. It's nice if you have a drink while you do this. You may adjust a coal now and then. But wait for a layer of fine grey ash to form over them and only then even your coal pile out. Put the wire grid over them, about 4" above the top layer. Add your chops.
If the chops are fatty there will be a conflagration. Don't panic. Allow the flames to burn for a few seconds before removing the affected chops - in danger of incineration - to a cooler spot. Put them back once the fat on the grid has burned off. You may have to keep moving the meat from spot to spot if the flames continue - it could be a sign that your fire was still too hot, at least it is with me. Impatient. But bargain on about four minutes to a side.
When each chop is brown on both sides it's ready to come off. We are not looking for rare chops, as we are usually not dealing, in South Africa, at least, with lamb that has been aged - so it is tougher. The best chop is a tiny notch below medium. I know this sounds wrong, but trust me. If you are braaing well-aged chops, give them the finger poke to assess doneness, and do not over cook them.
When cooked, put your chops in dishes with lids and let them rest for five minutes to relax a little. They exude delicious juice which is best mopped up with some garlic bread, or, if you must, simply boiled and sliced open potatoes.