Grilled lamb cutlets

In 1975 my cooking career was launched at the Old Compton Wine Bar on the street of that name. ‘Launched’ is perhaps the wrong word, kick-started more like, in that the chef left and I volunteered to have a go. The very next day I was cooking 80 lunches armed with a copy of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking and a self-confidence that can only be viewed as foolhardy. Most of the cooking there was done on a gas char-grill, principally steaks, pork chops and lamb cutlets. The last of these was the salient point in my first ever review. A small section in The Times Diary made several pleasant comments about the wines, the quality of the bread and cheeses, but observed that ‘the only cooking we noticed was by a young man, who was preparing lamb chops by the simple expedient of setting fire to them on the grill’. I have refined my technique a little since then, and they remain one of my favourites.

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Ingredients

  • 12 lamb cutlets, cut from the best end (ask your butcher to French trim them)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1 sprig rosemary, leaves separated from stalks
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Method

Undoubtedly the best method of grilling lamb is over a wood fire: 18 million Australians all can’t be wrong. Second best is on a gas-fired barbecue. Third is in a ridged grill pan, and last is with a normal radiant, overhead grill.

An hour before serving, take the cutlets out of the fridge. Trim off any excess fat and rub them with a cut clove of garlic on both faces. Place in a tray and scatter with the rosemary, season generously and moisten lightly with some olive oil. Turn the meat and repeat on the other side. Whatever method of grilling you have chosen, the cooking time is the same, about 5 minutes a side for medium rare, 8 for a light pink and 10 for well done.

When cooking on a barbecue, make sure that the flames have died away and the wood or charcoal is reduced to glowing embers. Once the remaining fat starts to melt, the flames will start soon enough. A small amount of pyrotechnic display is permissible, but incineration is not. Splashing a small amount of water on the fire should do the trick, or move the cutlets to a cooler part of the grill.

On a gas barbecue, the heat should be intense; adjust the speed of cooking by raising or lowering the grill as needed.

Preheat a ridged grill pan over a high heat until smoking, place the chops in without overcrowding, and turn the heat down to medium. Do not move the cutlets until ready to turn. When they are turned, you may increase the heat again. Meat cooked in these pans has a much nicer appearance on the first side to be grilled, so serve them that side up.

Cooking under a radiant grill has absolutely no glamour about it at all– no wood smoke in your eyes, no taste of paraffin on the meat from the firelighters used, no burnt fingers, hardly grilling at all. It does produce an effective and neat result though, if the appearance leaves a bit to be desired. Preheat the grill on maximum for 5 minutes before grilling. Adjust the height of your grill pan if the cooking seems to be going too fast or slow.

Serving

Grilled lamb goes well with all the salads suggested in the recipe for poached salmon. Serve mint sauce if you insist, the same for redcurrant jelly, and I’m quite partial to a bit of English mustard.

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