Grilled Tandoori Lamb Chops
By Wolfgang Puck
Indian-Style Lamb on the Grill
Less than 30 years ago, when I first started cooking in Southern California, many Americans hesitated at the sight of lamb on a menu. Maybe it was because the meat wasn't cooked at home as often as beef or pork; and when it was, the lamb was usually overdone, losing its wonderful juiciness and taking on a gamey flavor that also results from leaving it untrimmed of its strong-tasting fat.
Today, however, things have changed. Judging from the eagerness with which people order lamb at my restaurants, I sometimes feel as if it might even replace other red meats as the centerpiece of the American table.
Many popular ethnic cuisines deserve a lot of the credit for this transformation. Of course, Italian, Greek, North African, and Middle Eastern cooking all do wonderful things with lamb. But to me, the lamb recipes of the Indian kitchen really stand out, featuring wonderfully fragrant spices that harmonize beautifully with the meat's sweet, rich flavor.
My favorite Indian way of cooking lamb is in the style of tandoori, a cooking method named for the tandoor, a clay-lined oven or pit used to cook meat, poultry, or seafood that has been marinated in spiced yogurt. The tandoor's intense heat cooks the food quickly, leaving it deliciously charred on the outside and with a very moist interior, an effect similar to that of grilling.
In fact, a grill is ideal for creating Indian-style lamb that tastes very much like authentic tandoori. The trick is in the marinade.
I start with plain yogurt -- the whole-milk kind if you want an extra-rich flavor, although low-fat and nonfat yogurts also work fine. Then, for the fullest, most aromatic seasonings, I add spice mixtures that I prepare myself rather than taking them from a jar that's been sitting on a shelf. I add cumin and coriander seeds that I've first toasted by stirring them in a small, dry skillet over medium heat just until they're fragrant and slightly darkened in color, then cooled in a glass bowl and cracked with a meat mallet or in a spice mill. I also stir in a dose of Garam Masala, the popular Indian spice blend, which I also toast and grind myself; and a generous portion of a fresh seasoning blend I call "Green Aromatics," featuring the garlic, ginger, and scallions that enliven so much cooking on the Indian subcontinent.
All that's left for you to do is marinate lamb chops in the mixture overnight, infusing them with its medley of flavors while the acidity of the yogurt tenderizes the meat. The next day, cook the chops on your outdoor grill -- and join the growing numbers of people who realize that lamb is becoming their favorite meat.
Grilled Tandoori Lamb Chops Recipe
Serves 6 to 8
16 lamb chops, about 1 inch thick, well trimmed
2 cups plain yogurt
1/4 cup Green Aromatics (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons Garam Masala (recipe follows)
1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and cracked
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and cracked
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
Cilantro-Mint Chutney (recipe follows)
The night before, start marinating the chops. Arrange them in a single layer in a nonreactive pan.
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, blend together the yogurt, Green Aromatics, honey, Garam Masala, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and salt. Add the cilantro and process until smooth.
Pour the mixture over the chops and turn them to coat both sides. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat an outdoor or indoor grill.
Season the chops on both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Grill until done to your liking, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare.
Transfer the chops to a serving platter or individual plates and pass the Cilantro-Mint Chutney at the table.
Makes about 3/4 cup (185 ml)
1/2 cup chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup chopped scallions
Put the garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse the machine on and off until the ingredients are finely minced. With the machine running, drizzle the oil through the feed tube. Turn off the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the scallions and process until well blended.
Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Use within 2 to 3 days.
Makes about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
3 tablespoons cumin seeds
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
4 cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches long
1/4 cup small dried red chilies
1/2 tablespoon ground nutmeg
In a large saute pan, combine the peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and chilies. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, just until the spices have darkened slightly and are fragrant, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat. Stir in the nutmeg.
Transfer to a spice mill or a food processor fitted with the metal blade and grind or process to a fine powder. With a rubber spatula, press the mixture through a fine-meshed strainer into a bowl.
Let the strained mixture cool to room temperature. Transfer to an airtight jar and store at cool room temperature.
Makes about 1-2/3 cups
3/4 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Garam Masala (recipe above)
3 garlic cloves
2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
1-1/2 cups fresh mint leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Put the coconut milk, yogurt, honey, Garam Masala, and garlic in a blender or a processor fitted with the metal blade. Blend or process until smooth. Add the cilantro and mint and process until smooth. Pulse in salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until serving time.
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