Unlike fruits and vegetables, one doesn’t often think of meats as having seasons, but I’ve always associated game with the fall, pork with winter, and lamb with the spring. And as it turns out, there is something to this. Lamb is generally at its most tender in May and June when the animal is still young. Italians generally don’t care for older lamb, preferring the very youngest specimens, preferably still suckling their mothers, which they call abbacchio. True suckling lamb is not available Stateside, as far as I know, but Roman recipes will work beautifully on the young (aka spring) lamb on offer here.
Romans make a wonderful anchovy-scented pan-roast lamb called abbacchio alla romana, and their method for grilling lamb chops called abbacchio a scottadito is world famous. But they also have a way with breaded lamb chops that is virtually Tuscan in its exquisite simplicity.
Serves 4-6 persons
- 8 rib lamb chops (see Notes)
- 3-4 eggs, beaten and seasoned with a pinch of salt
- Olive oil for frying
- Lemon wedges for garnish
You should trim the lamb chops of as much fat as you can, then flatten them with a meat pounder. (See Notes for details.)
I find it helps to line up your lamb chops, flour, egg and breadcrumbs in assembly line fashion, like so:
Holding them by their bone ‘handle’, pass each chop through the flour, egg and then the breadcrumbs. If you like a thicker crust, pass it through the egg and breadcrumb again.
Add olive oil to a skillet so it is about 1 cm (1/3 inch) deep, so that the oil can bubble up around the sides of the chops. They should not, however, ‘deep’ fry. Heat the oil until it is moderately hot and add the chops. Fry them gently until they are nice and golden brown on each side. Make sure the oil is only moderately hot, so they have time to cook inside.
As the chops are done, transfer them to a rack or a dish lined with paper towels. They are equally good served hot or at room temperature, sprinkled with best quality salt, with lemon wedges on the side.
Costolette d’abbacchio are always made with rib lamb chops. The chops are often “Frenched”, with is to say that the bone is trimmed of meat and fat so it can be used as a ‘handle’ when you eat them. For this dish, you also need to make sure that you trim off as much of the fat as you can from the rest of the cut. I usually leave the fat on when grilling or roasting lamb or any kind of meat, since it helps keep the meat moist and flavorful as it renders. For this dish, however, since the fat is not in direct contact with the heat source, it won’t render out. Trust me, it makes for less than pleasant eating—and I love my fat.
For whatever reason, lamb is an expensive meat, and no cut is more expensive than the rib chop. But I’ve found myself a hack: buy yourself a rack of lamb at one of those bulk supermarkets like Costco; they cost only $16 or so, pre-Frenched like this one:
This rack ships with a fair amount of fat on it, so you need to trim off the fat, as much as you can manage, like so:
And now, since a rack of lamb is nothing but a row of eight or so rib chops, you need only cut between the bones so you are left with eight lovely rib chops:
Take each chop, place it between two sheets of wax or parchment paper:
Flatten the chop with a meat pounder—or the bottom of a heavy skillet or the side of a cleaver—until your chop is about twice as wide as it was originally.
Now you’re ready to proceed with the recipe. The flattening is important, as thinner chops cook more quickly and you’ll avoid the problem of your breading browning before the inside of your chop is fully cooked. (Italians, by the way, generally don’t eat their lamb pink in the middle like the French do; they prefer it fully cooked through.)
Recipes vary in telling you how to bread the lamb chops. The above method is my favorite and, to my mind, the most straightforward. Ada Boni does not call for the flouring the chops before dipping them in the egg. Other recipes call for another dip in the egg (but not the breadcrumbs) before frying. Still others will have you let the chops rest in the egg for some while before breading.
Aside from preparing the chops, the recipe is sheer simplicity. And it is delicious just the way it is. But if you feel the need for something more elaborate, you can marinate your chops with a mixture of minced garlic and rosemary, salt and pepper, letting them sit for an hour or so before breading and frying.
Breaded lamb chops go very well with a simple green or mixed salad dressed in the Italian manner, or green beans (especially nice made in fricassee) or those Roman-style fried artichoke wedges we recently featured.