Lamb Chops with Olives
Agnello alle Olive

serves: 6

This is a lovely, careful way to prepare thick lamb chops-quite different from the usual fast grilling approach-and it makes them extraordinarily flavorful and tender. The chops brown gradually in a heavy skillet over relatively low heat, steadily building the flavors of caramelization, and then cook covered with a small amount of liquid and seasoning elements. This short period of moist cooking doesn't draw the meat juices into the liquid (as it would in long stewing or braising) but instead brings the seasoning flavors more intensely into the meat itself. Here, lemon, olives, and oregano give the chops the tangy taste of Abruzzo. For a great winter meal, accompany them with something cozy, like polenta, mashed potatoes, or smothered cabbage or cauliflower. In summer, a tossed green salad is all you need. Either rib chops or loin chops are suited for this recipe, though my choice is the loin chop, which offers portions of both the loin and the tenderloin muscles (like a T-bone steak). You could use lamb shoulder chops, too, but they'd need nearly twice as much time to cook covered. They wouldn't be as amazingly tender as loin or rib chops, but they would be delicious (and cost a lot less). With any kind of chop, a heavy cast-iron pan is perfect here, because of its steady heat-retaining qualities, but it must be well seasoned, so the meaty caramelization is not lost on the pan bottom.

ingredients
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 bone-in lamb loin chops, about 1 1/2 inches thick
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 lemon, juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 cup black olives, pitted
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste

directions


Pour the olive oil into the cast-iron skillet, and set over medium-low flame to heat slowly. Salt the chops lightly all over, using 1/2 teaspoon salt in all. Spread the flour on a plate, dredge the chops on both sides, and shake off excess flour.

When the pan and oil are hot, lay in the chops-they should all fit snugly in one layer. Let them cook gently for 3 minutes or longer, until lightly browned on the first side, then flip them over and brown the second side gradually. As they cook, drop the crushed garlic cloves in the spaces between them, to sizzle and caramelize in the pan bottom-turn the cloves as they darken (and don't let them burn). Turn the chops again a couple of times, giving both sides another 2 or 3 minutes of browning, until well browned all over-about 10 minutes in all.

Pour the lemon juice and 1/2 cup water into the pan, around the chops, and sprinkle the remaining salt over them. When the liquid is bubbling, drop the olives in between the chops, and shake the pan to distribute them in the hot pan. Sprinkle the oregano and peperoncino over the olives, then cover the pan.

Adjust the heat to keep the juices bubbling gently and slowly concentrating. Cook, covered, turning the chops a couple of times, until the pan juices have thickened and adhere to the meat like a moist glaze-about 10 minutes or longer, depending on thickness.

Remove the pan from the heat, and let the chops rest for a couple of minutes, taking in the moisture. Serve right from the skillet, with the olives and pan juices spooned over the chops.