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Lamb Chops Deserve a Good Grilling : Barbecuing: This cut seems to be made for the grill. Serve chops with assertive, robust sauces featuring garlic, rosemary, mint, herb vinegar, peppers and ginger.

June 20, 1991|FAYE LEVY | Levy is the author of the three-volume "Fresh From France" series, published by E.P. Dutton, and of "Sensational Pasta," published by HP Books

Grilling is the best-loved technique for cooking meat in Middle Eastern countries. This makes perfect sense, since the region's most common meat is lamb. And lamb seems to be designed for the barbecue as it is tender, tasty and rich.

Lamb chops in particular benefit from grilling and are the easiest cut of all to grill. They do not need a marinade because they are naturally tender and flavorful. Unlike many other meats, even some other cuts of lamb, lamb chops do not become overly dry on the barbecue. Grilling enhances their qualities. The surface gets a pleasant and attractive brown crust, the interior remains moist and succulent, and much of the fat melts and drips away.

In Mediterranean countries, the chops are just sprinkled with a few seasonings and brushed lightly with oil to prevent sticking. Some cooks use only salt and pepper. Others add a little cumin, a favorite in the Middle East. To the salt-pepper-cumin blend, North Africans might add cayenne pepper or paprika, while cooks in Yemen add turmeric. In Turkey, lamb chops are seasoned instead with thyme, onion juice (squeezed from grated onions) and olive oil.

Choose rib or loin chops for grilling, but not shoulder shops, which require longer cooking and are better braised. If you like the meat pink, select rather thick chops (at least 1 1/2 inches) so the inside does not overcook before the exterior is seared. To ensure best-quality lamb, buy it from a good butcher and choose chops that are relatively small, which indicates the animal was young.

Heating the coals for grilling takes at least half an hour. They should be glowing and just covered with gray ash before you begin to grill the meat. It's a good idea to sprinkle any flavorings over the meat while the coals are heating, so the seasonings penetrate the meat better. During grilling, use tongs to turn the lamb; piercing the meat with a fork makes it lose some of its juices.

A quicker way to grill lamb when you don't have time to heat coals (that gives better results than the broiler) is to use a ridged, stove-top grill-pan. The ridges elevate the meat, thus enabling it to cook in dry heat and also mark the meat with an attractive line pattern. The non-stick versions are also easier to clean than the broiler.

There is no point in preparing a delicate sauce to serve with grilled lamb chops as the smoky-flavored meat would overwhelm it. An assertive accompaniment, whether it is a sauce, salsa, chutney or a zesty vegetable dish, can complement their flavor. Best are those featuring such robust flavorings as garlic, rosemary, mint, herb vinegar, peppers and ginger. Mushrooms and green peppers grilled at the same time as the meat make an easy, delicious side dish. Be sure to serve rice or good-quality pita bread, as they are a perfect foil for the lamb's rich meat.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH PEAS AND GINGER

1 pound sugar snap peas, 1/2 pound Chinese pea pods or 2 1/2 pounds fresh green peas (2 1/2 cups shelled)

8 loin or rib lamb chops, about 1 1/2 inches thick, excess fat trimmed

1 tablespoon oil

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons butter or additional oil

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated ginger root

1/4 cup canned water chestnuts, rinsed, drained and halved crosswise

1/2 cup canned straw mushrooms, rinsed and drained

1/4 teaspoon sugar

Prepare charcoal grill with rack 4 to 6 inches above coals or have ready stove-top ridged grill.

Pull off ends of sugar snap and Chinese peas with strings. Cook both peas in large pan in boiling salted water until just tender: about 3 minutes for sugar snap peas, 1 minute for Chinese peas, 4 minutes for fresh green peas. Rinse with cold water and drain well.

Lightly rub chops with oil on both sides and season to taste with salt and pepper. Grill chops above glowing coals or on heated stove-top grill until done to taste. For medium-rare, allow about 7 minutes per side on charcoal grill, or 5 or 6 minutes per side on stove-top grill. Check for doneness.

Heat butter in medium saucepan. Add ginger root, chestnuts and mushrooms. Cook about 1 minute over low heat. Add peas and sugar, season to taste with salt and pepper and cook until heated through, about 1/2 minute. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve alongside lamb. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Frozen peas can be substituted for fresh: Use 10 or 16 ounces sugar snap peas, 8 or 10 ounces Chinese pea pods, or 2 1/2 cups frozen green peas. Cook according to package directions.

SPICY GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH EASY SALSA

12 loin or rib lamb chops, about 1 1/2 inches thick

1 tablespoon oil

Dash salt

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon black pepper or cayenne pepper

Middle Eastern Salsa

Trim excess fat from chops. Brush both sides with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Mix cumin, turmeric and pepper and sprinkle on both sides of lamb. Let stand while coals are heating.

Prepare charcoal grill with rack 4 to 6 inches above coals or have ready stove-top ridged grill.

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