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Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops

Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops with Rice and Gravy.

Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops with Rice and Gravy.

Fairly regularly, my grocery store has lamb shoulder chops on sale for around $5 per lb. Personally, I love a good medium-rare lamb chop. Mint jelly? Okay, but not necessary. Shoulder chops, though, aren’t the nice meat lollipop that the regular chops are, and probably not as tender. That is likely the reason why most of the recipes I see for the shoulder chops call for braising.

Braising is basically browning meat, deglazing the pan with some kind of liquid, adding some additional liquid to come about halfway up the meat, covering and simmering on “low” for usually a couple of hours. Maybe longer, depending on the size and cut of meat. This works best with cuts that have some bone, cartilage, and/or fat and that tend to be tougher cuts, like beef chuck roast or pork butt. You wouldn’t want to braise something that is already tender, like a filet mignon or ribeye. Also, additional herbs, spices and vegetables are often added to compliment meats with a stronger flavor profile. Milder flavors would be overpowered.

The lamb shoulder chops that I started with were about 1-1/2 lbs total; three chops, fairly thin. I salted and peppered them, while a tablespoon of olive oil heated over medium-high heat in a deep skillet that has a cover (for use later).

Browning lamb shoulder chops.

Browning lamb shoulder chops.

I browned the meat on both sides and then removed it from the pan. The temperature was a little hot, so I moved the pan off heat and added a few crushed and peeled garlic cloves. After a minute or so, I added a broken up stalk of celery and a handful of little carrots and returned the pan to the heat again.

Some garlic cloves and veggies for flavor.

Some garlic cloves and veggies for flavor.

After the veggies had browned a little, I deglazed the pan with about 3/4 of a 12 oz bottle of homemade hard apple cider. (You could use regular apple cider, a commercial hard cider, apple juice, or dry white wine. Added a teapsoon of beef base (or 1 beef bouillon cube).

A bottle of hard cider and some beef base.

A bottle of hard cider and some beef base.

Next, I tossed in a sprig of rosemary, a few sprigs of parsley, and about 6 or 8 juniper berries. I love juniper berries in braised meat dishes, but if you don’t have any, you don’t need to make a special trip to the store for them. It’s okay to skip them.

The next step is to add enough water to make sure the liquid comes about halfway up the sides of the meat, but don’t cover it. Bring the liquid to a good simmer and lower the heat to just maintain a light simmer.

Liquid brought to good level; let the simmer begin!

Liquid brought to good level; let the simmer begin!

Cook until the meat is “fall off the bone” tender…depending on the thickness of the cut, an hour or so, more or less. Mine were pretty tender in an hour. I turned the chops in the liquid after about half an hour. If you were doing these in a Crock Pot, I would do the browning through deglazing on the stove and the put everything into the Crock Pot on a high setting for 2 to 3 hours.

After a little less than an hour.

After a little less than an hour.

After cooking the meat, I removed it from the liquid. I kept the carrots and celery, because I like them, but you can discard them, if you prefer.

Remove meat from the liquid.

Remove meat from the liquid.

They could also be blended back into the liquid after straining and removing the fat, to help thicken the gravy. So, I strained the liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove small solids, herbs, etc.

Refrigerate to solidify the fat.

Refrigerate to solidify the fat.

Strain the liquid.

Strain the liquid.

The liquid went into the refrigerator for a couple of hours, to chill. The fat will turn solid and can be easily lifted from the surface.

Remove the fat.

Remove the fat.

Okay…after a couple of hours in the fridge, I was ready to bring things back together for dinner. First, I decided to add the carrots and celery back to the gravy, so I put those in a small pot.

Adding gravy back to the veggies.

Adding gravy back to the veggies.

The gravy had congealed, so I microwaved it for one minute, to make it pourable. I added that to the veggies and used the immersion blender to combine it all, until smooth.

Blending the gravy to make it smooth.

Blending the gravy to make it smooth.

Then I added a couple of teaspoons of cornstarch to about a cup of cold water, while the gravy heated on the stove. When the gravy began to simmer, I added the cornstarch slurry.

Making a cornstarch slurry.

Making a cornstarch slurry.

After that thickened a bit, I added the meat to the gravy. Next, I added enough water to the gravy, so that I could simmer all of the meat in it.

Simmering the slightly thickened gravy and the meat together to heat through.

Simmering the slightly thickened gravy and the meat together to heat through.

Once  it was all simmering, I moved it to a burner on “low”, to maintain a slow simmer. I set a timer for 15 minutes to give the meat time to heat through and the gravy time to complete any additional thickening. Served with rice (See top photo). One note: watch for small bones! I had a few that were easily spotted, but I did have one fragment that was about the size of a grain of rice. This was, however, delicious! Enjoy!

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