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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easter Best for Busy Cooks

When it comes to Easter lunch, lamb gets the starring role on most menus. Many cooks opt for a roasted leg, but this year I will be short on time, so quickly prepared chops will get my attention. If you’re as overbooked as I am, the following recipe is the answer. Grilled rib chops topped with pats of delectable mint butter served with spring asparagus make a glorious yet easy entrĂ©e. Most of the work can be done ahead with only about10 minutes of grilling and a quick assembly needed at serving time.

A day ahead, prepare the scrumptious butter scented with fresh chopped mint and lemon.
A short time before, marinate the chops in a simple mix of olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. The asparagus can be blanched early in the day, reheated and then seasoned with some of the mint butter at the last minute.

This lamb dish makes a striking presentation, for it looks like it takes far more effort and time than what is required. Add some crusty roasted potatoes or buttered couscous to complete the meal, and you’re all set. A single recipes serves 4, but you can double or triple it if you are expecting a crowd.

Lamb Chops with Asparagus and Mint Butter

Mint Butter
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint plus 4 mint sprigs for garnish
2 teaspoons chopped chives
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Lamb and Asparagus
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the grill
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and pressed in a garlic press or finely minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 rib lamb chops, each about 3 to 4 ounces and 3/4 inch thick
1 1/2 pounds medium asparagus spears, tough ends cut off and discarded

For the mint butter: In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the butter, mint, chives, lemon zest and juice, and salt. (The butter can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)

For the lamb: Whisk together the olive oil, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a shallow nonreactive pan. Add the lamb chops, turning to coat well. Marinate  at room temperature, turning occasionally, for 45 minutes. (If you want to marinate the lamb longer, cover and refrigerate it for up to 3 hours. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before cooking.)

For the asparagus, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the asparagus and 2 teaspoons salt and cook until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain in a colander under cold running water to set the color. Pat dry and return the spears to the saucepan. (Asparagus can be prepared 3 hours ahead; leave at cool room temperature.)

To grill chops, oil the grill rack lightly and place it about 5 inches from heat source.  When grill is ready, grill chops for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until just rosy pink when pierced with a sharp knife. Time can vary depending on intensity of heat and thickness of meat. Remove to a large plate and cover loosely with foil. (Alternatively, cook the chops on a stovetop grill pan set over medium high heat. Cooking time should be about the same.)

To finish the asparagus, add half of the mint butter to the saucepan and place it over medium high heat. Cook, stirring gently, until the butter melts and spears are warm, 2 to 3 minutes. If needed, season with more salt.

Arrange some asparagus on each of 4 dinner plates and top with 2 lamb chops. Top each chop with a pat of some of the remaining mint butter, and garnish with a mint sprig. Serves 4.

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