Wednesday, August 5, 2009

finger food

I love lamb chops, but I almost never order them when I go out to eat.

This has nothing to do with the quality of the meat I've seen, or the skill of the chefs I've encountered. I've eaten at many restaurants where I'm sure the lamb chops were first-rate. But I spent three years of my early schooling life at an all-girls private Methodist school, the kind of place where the teachers would measure uniform skirts with a yardstick to make sure none of the students had been making forbidden alterations, and it had a permanent effect on my table manners. I can eat just about anything with a knife and fork, and I probably couldn't slurp my soup even if I tried.

Lamb chops leave me torn between table manners and the demands of good food. It's just not considered good manners to pick up lamb chops with your fingers in order to get at those tiny little bits of meat on the bone. You can be a surgeon with a knife and fork, and you still won't get them clean. Leaving those delectable little edges of crispy fat, however, might qualify as a crime against cuisine.

And so I stick to eating lamb chops in settings where I can use my fingers. It's worked out quite well: some of the best lamb I've ever had was eaten standing in the service kitchen of a hotel banquet room.* Preparing them myself comes a close second; there's nothing quite like being able to gnaw at the bones in a decidedly uncivilized fashion when I'm dining alone.

Just don't tell my old teachers, please.

(Warning: Bad photography ahead. I have discovered that my laptop has a camera function, but it's very, very basic.)

Abbacchio alla Scottadito

The Italians understand perfectly the idea of eating lamb chops with your fingers. "Scottadito" means "burned fingers." Strictly speaking, abbacchio refers only to suckling lamb; older lamb is agnello. Suckling lamb is the most tender, but older lamb works just fine.

(Serves one.)

Take a large sprig of fresh rosemary, strip off the leaves, and chop them up finely. Place them in a large, shallow bowl, and cover with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Crush a garlic clove with the back of a knife, and add it to the bowl. Place three or four lamb cutlets in the oil, and leave to marinate for an hour or two in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 250F.

Take a heavy-bottomed pan (cast iron is good) and place it over high heat. Pour in the oil you used to marinate the lamb, and let it get good and hot, almost smoking.

Season the lamb cutlets with a generous sprinkling of salt and fresh black pepper. Place them in the pan, and sear for a minute on each side. Transfer the cutlets to an ovenproof dish, and let them sit in the oven for ten minutes or so, or until just warmed through.

Serve with fried or oven-roasted rosemary potatoes, and a green salad to follow.

*I will tell the full story of the Mad Italian Chef soon, I promise. But the quick explanation is that the Mad Italian Chef organized a private dinner party for a very big bigwig, and he let me join the team of chefs in charge of plating each course. There were leftovers of the olive-crusted rack of lamb with Chianti mustard and black truffle polenta, and we made sure they didn't go to waste.


Lisa said...

My Sicilian-American mother made lamb chops frequently throughout my childhood, and we would always pick them up to gnaw at the bones, of course! Nothing better.

I don't remember exactly how she made them, but your recipe here sounds perfect. And when you suggested potatoes on the side, it made me think of the ones a friend told me her (Italian) grandma used to make: whole, tiny (3/4- to 1-inch diameter) potatoes from her garden, pan-fried in olive oil till crispy outside and "like mashed potatoes" inside. Heavens.

I think your photo is quite good, actually (does every portable machine now include a camera?).

Lucypher said...

Impeccable manners be damned.
As a male food lover, I have to tell you there is something sexy about seeing a woman eating and enjoying her food right off the bone. Lamb chops - yum!

adele said...

Lisa - Those potatoes sound *incredible*. If I come across any tiny potatoes at the farmer's market, I might give it a try. :)

My laptop has a built-in webcam, so the camera function works off that.

Lucypher - Hmm. Maybe Miss Manners needs to revise the finger food guide...

Anonymous said...

You mention the meaning of scottadito but not why it's applied; namely, the food looks so good you can't even wait for it to cool down before you dig in!


adele said...

Jake - Good point. Sorry about the omission!