Lamb shoulder chops are an oft-overlooked dinner option that I think should be on your table more often. Rib chops are too dainty (“Lollipops? No”). Saddle chops (those mini T-bones), too expensive. Shoulder chops, however, are cheaper and more flavorful than beef steaks. They take strong flavors well, and they cook up quickly: a perfect weeknight meat.
Lately, I’ve settled into a routine using a marinade for lamb powered by two lemons’ worth of zest, garlic, crushed red chile flakes and anchovies, which I was
inspired to try after reading Cal Peternell’s “Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta,” in which he replaces salt with anchovies in many of his recipes.
I serve the chops (or steaks, both are the same thing) with simple egg noodles dressed in a lemon-and-white wine vinaigrette and a TON of chopped mint both for herbal freshness and because, however cliche, I can’t have lamb without it. The noodles, mottled with strands of pink onions, provide a refreshing foil for the intense lamb steaks.
Lamb chops come in three main cuts. Any cut of meat from the lamb shoulder can be called a “shoulder chop” and there are three distinct variants, all cut from the same piece, which is called a square-cut shoulder:
• Arm or round bone chops/steaks: Usually only two per shoulder, these are cut from the side of the shoulder where the front leg used to be attached, so there’s a circular bone piece in each.
• Blade chops/steaks: The side of the shoulder where the ribs, or “rack of lamb,” were severed will give you five to six steaks that include the irregularly shaped blade bone and a bit of the pricey tenderloin, along with mostly striated muscle and fat that is especially flavorful, but for half the price.
• Crosscut shoulder chops/steaks: The remainder of the shoulder is cut into steaks that incorporate the interconnected joints of the shoulder underneath the collarbone; you can get three to four of these cuts.
All three cuts are ideal for grilling or pan-searing over high heat to quickly brown the outside and keep the insides medium-rare; cooked any further, the meat will get tough. Shoulder “blade” chops or steaks are my personal favorite of the shoulder cuts, both for size and texture/variety of meat, but you can use any of the types available at your grocery store or butcher shop.
LAMB SHOULDER CHOPS WITH MINTY NOODLES
1 2-ounce tin olive oil-packed anchovies
2 almond-size garlic cloves
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
3 doorknob-size lemons
4 8-10-ounce lamb shoulder steaks or chops
¼ medium red onion, very thinly sliced (½ cup)
3 tablespoons white wine
1½ pounds extra-wide egg noodles (the type you’d get for chicken noodle soup)
2 cups lightly packed mint leaves
To marinate the lamb, lift the anchovies from the tin and place them on a cutting board with the garlic. Pour the oil from the tin into a large bowl (you should get about 1 tablespoon). Roughly chop the anchovies and garlic together, then sprinkle them with a pinch of salt. Continue chopping and mashing the anchovies and garlic with the salt until they form a uniform paste. Scrape the paste into the bowl with the anchovy oil. Add the 1 tablespoon olive oil and the chile flakes, and season with black pepper. Finely grate the zest from 2 lemons and stir it into the anchovy-garlic paste; reserve the zested lemons.
Place the lamb in a bowl or a zip-top plastic bag and scrape the paste on top. Toss the steaks with the paste until evenly coated, or close the bag and massage the paste all over the steaks. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
While the steaks marinate, squeeze ¼ cup juice from the 2 zested lemons and pour into a small bowl. Add the onions and toss to coat. Place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill the onions while they pickle, about 15 minutes. Remove the lamb from the refrigerator to take the chill off them before cooking.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Remove the bowl of onions from the fridge, drain off and pour the chilled, pink lemon juice into a large bowl; return the onions to the fridge. Add the remaining ¼ cup olive oil and the wine, and whisk to make a vinaigrette. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook until al dente, 3-4 minutes. Drain the noodles, then transfer to the bowl with the vinaigrette and toss to coat them well. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside a ¼ cup mint leaves, then place the rest on a cutting board and roughly chop. Add the chopped mint to the noodles and toss to combine.
Set up a charcoal grill for direct heat or heat a gas grill on high. (Alternatively, heat a large skillet or grill pan over high heat.) Remove the steaks from the bag or bowl and cook undisturbed for 4 minutes. Flip the steaks and cook for another 3-4 minutes for medium-rare doneness. Remove from the heat and transfer to a platter. Loosely tent the platter with foil and let the steaks rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, transfer the noodles to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup mint leaves and the chilled pickled onions. Cut the lemons into wedges and serve on the side.