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grilled lamb steaks - greek style - with trimmings

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 31 July 2010 at 08:35

we're coming out of county fair season here in north-central montana, and with that comes 4-h auctions of animal raised by members. the local groceries buy a lot of this and then offer it in their meat cases.

 
i chanced to see a selection of lamb steaks that i could afford at the time, so i sneaked (snuck?) some into the cart when mrs. tas wasn't looking. at 5.59$/lb, i almost died over the price, but decided what the hell, it might be a while before i get the chance again as lamb is something not commonly found in the grocery stores here. 

anyway, they are packaged as "shoulder blade chops" and are about 3/4 of an inch thick; between 7 and 8 oz. each. they of course have some bone, marbling etc. in them, so i got four of them - two for each of us.

when i think of lamb, i think of greece....who doesn't?
 
 
so i want to do these in a greek style. part of the problem is that right now we've really got to watch our budget, so i needed to come up with something that was inexpensive and made use of what i have around here. since this is the exact concept behind some of the best rustic, peasant food one can find, i figured that the possibilities and the prospects looked good. RIVET has much more experience with lamb than i have, so i brought my ideas to him and we forged out a plan:

it didn't take long to settle on a cooking method; after briefly discussing the idea of braising or pan-frying the chops, we elected to go with grilling them in order to really bring out the potential of the lamb and the seasonings. this way, we can keep the flavours and the juices inside the lamb, where they belong.

seasonings are going to be pretty simple; but let's face it, simple is the source of the best flavours as a minimalist approach allows the essence of the meat to be highlighted. the plan is to simply give them a brushing of olive oil, then sprinkle a little sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper, then grill until medium. if i had fresh oregano, i would sprinkle that on at the end of grilling, but since all i have is dried, i will sprinkle it on before grilling.

the question came up over whether to grill them over direct or indirect heat, and in the end it was decided that a great way to go would be to sear them quickly on direct for about 45 secs or so per side, then slide them indirect for the rest of the cooking, until they were medium. at 3/4 of an inch thickness, this should take about 2 minutes per side.

while grilling the lamb, i will take a lemon and quarter it, then put the lemons over the direct heat just until the they get sear marks on them (the inside lemony part). i'll serve them as a garnish and we can squeeze the delicious warmed juice over the lamb as well as the planned side dishes.

speaking of side dishes, it didn't take too much imagination to come up with a greek-style salad consisting of cucumbers, tomato, thinly-sliced red onion and a little lettuce. i would love to make a little tzatziki to go with it, but given our current budget, that's not going to work - instead, john provided a great-looking house mediterranean dressing that looks like it will fit the bill perfectly, and i have all ingredients here at home. i know he won't mind my sharing the recipe:
 

Quote 1 TBSP lemon juice
1 TSP sugar
1/2 TSP salt
1/4 TSP black pepper
1 TSP crushed dried oregano
1/2 TSP crushed dried basil
2 TBSP water
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
2/3 cup olive oil

mix well in an old jar (mason, mayo, mustard whatever as long as it has a tight fitting lid) or olive oil bottle, vinegar bottle or whatever, some place you can shake this up well and not splatter it all over the wall and ceiling. If you dont have them, use a large bowl and wisk the ingredients well and spoon immediately over the veggies or salad, because it separates quickly.

john also provided the inspiration for another side dish, which is simple yet completely greek: rice with chopped mushrooms and olives. if time becomes an issue, i will simply make some pilaf from rice-a-roni, but i would really rather try some of the rice that john sent for this project.

finally, what greek meal would be complete without pita bread? once again, if i must, i will buy some, but i would rather make some. beer-b-que has a great, tried-and-true pita recipe. i will have to substitute white flour rather than whole wheat, using the tweaks that john adopted when he did the same, but that should be no problem. either way, the pita is going to be boosted with a great kick: i'll put little olive oil in a flat saucer with a little sea salt and cracked black pepper, then, tear up a leaf or two of fresh basil from my herb garden so we can dip torn pieces of pita in the oil. 

i think between the two of us we've come up with an excellent plan for a nice greek dinner here. it's a little after 0830 right now and mrs. tas gets home from work at around 1500, so i'd better get started. right now, she's got the camera at work (we went to a concert the other night and she took the camera to work so her co-workers could see the sexy joe nichols, i guess Ermm) but i might be able to get a few cooking and plated pix into this thread!
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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 July 2010 at 09:15
alright, i've unpackaged the chops and have brushed them lightly with olive oil then sprinkled them with dried oregano and cracked black pepper. i decided not to apply the salt until just before grilling, since the salt would probably draw out all the juices. i covered them with saran wrap and they are sitting in the fridge, soaking up the olive, pepper and oregano flavours.
 
one thing i got to wondering is - which salt to use? i'll be grilling voer gas, so there won't be any charcoal or wood flavour, so i ahve a couple of options. i ahve some mediterranean sea salt, or i ahve some applewood smoked salt that john sent to me. either would be good, i am sure, but i am thinking the smoked salt might kick it up just a notch. at the same time, i don't want to sacrifice the quality of the final product or get very far away from greece, so maybe not?
 
any opinons?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 July 2010 at 09:46
Hey Ron, good plan here you finalized! I'd definitely go with the applewood smoked salt, but go easy with it it is "salty" and sprinkle that on just before you serve, not before grilling. This is a "finishing" salt. You're gonna love that home made pita bread, it beats store bought by a mile! go ahead and get the kids involved, they will love the process and how it turns out. Heck, tell 'em my dads, bakery story while you are at it Wink
 
Keep us posted, I'm drooling over here!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 July 2010 at 09:50
hey, john - thanks for the advice regarding the salt. i will definitely apply after grilling. i'll probably use the smoked on mine and some non-smoked mediterannean sea salt on the ones that will be served to mrs. tas.
 
i just finished making the salad dressing according to the recipe above, using turbinado sugar, dried herbs, freshly-cracked black pepper and fine spanish sea salt. not having balsamic vinegar, i used red wine vinegar, which is very common in greek cooking. i also added some lemon zest (no use letting all that freshness and flavour going to waste while squeezing a lemon!).
 
~!WOW!~ this stuff is exactly as advertised. it's a very warm day here with a slight breeze coming through the windows, and when i taste this, i can ALMOST close my eyes and put myself on a terrace overlooking the santorini coastline and the agean sea....
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 July 2010 at 12:03
alrighty - it is noon here and i've got the pita bread dough prepared and just set it to rise. i used the method described above and it looks like it's going to be pretty good. i ended up addng almost a cup of flour in order to make it so it wasn't sticky, but no worries, i am sure.
 
went to the store to pick up aq couple more lemons and a red onion. saw some "black" seedless grapes on sale there, and they looked so good and reminded me so much of dionysus, i grabbed some! they should make a great final accent to this dinner along with the grilled lamb steaks, greek salad, mushroom-olive rice and pita bread.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 July 2010 at 12:11
Allright! Good to go, Ron, sounds like you have a really nice surprise for Mrs Tas when she comes home~ good for you. Super nice picture of the town (above)......wish I were there instead of cutting the grass!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote jdonly1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 July 2010 at 16:34
Mmmm Love lamb
any one want someBig smile we put 7 in the cool room yesterday and have another 3 or 4 to do todayWink
The 5 light ones are a mates and the two heavier ones are ours


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kiwi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 August 2010 at 02:04
sure mate, send em over :)
kai time!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 August 2010 at 03:33
I'm drooling just thinking about it JD
Go ahead...play with your food!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 August 2010 at 10:50

hey, guys - sorry for the late write-up on this but it's been incredibly busy around here. to make a long story short: complete success! entirely from scratch, i put together a meal that i believe would be pretty familiar in nearly any greek household. it may not have been perfect, but it was very well-executed from start to finish in my book.

because mrs. tas had the camera at work, i wasn't able to get any "prep" pictures, which is just as well; however, here are a couple of "plated shots." please excuse the OLD table that is all marked up and had been used not long before to roll out pitas!

 
for the main star of the meal, we've got the lamb shoulder chops/steaks. i am not at all familiar with cooking and eating lamb, but these turned out very well, i think. it started with a simple, light  brushing of extra virgin olive oil  followed by a sprinkling of dried oregano and cracked black pepper, then they were covered and placed back into the fridge for most of the day. when the time came to grill them, i tossed them onto direct heat and seared them on each side for a minute, then put them on indirect heat to finish grilling on either side for a few. as they came off, i lightly salted them (applewood-smoked sea salt for me, fine mediterranean sea salt for mes. tas) and set them on a bed of wonderful, long-grained basmati rice (more on that in a moment). the grilled lemon wedges, when squeezed over the lamb (cooked to a very good and tender state somewhere between medium and medium well), added the final, perfect touch. all flavours went very well together and i couldn't imagine a better way to cook lamb.

the rice, VERY nice! the asian basmati rice was a joy to cook, and easy as can be. just brought some water to a boil with a little sea salt, oregano, butter and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. normally the water-to-rice ratio is 3 cups water to 1 cup of rice, but because i was adding fresh, chopped mushrooms and sliced black olives (both of which contain quite a bit of moisture), i used four-and-a-half cups of water (rather than six) for the two cups of rice i was preparing. it worked perfectly and a little over 20 minutes later i had rice the likes of which i had never known before. a bit of fluffing and it was ready to go, complete with the beginnings of a flavourful spanish "costra" on the bottom! i am not normally a fan of setting meat on a "bed" of rice, pasta or potatoes, but in this case it worked very well as the succulent juices from the lamb (and the grilled lemon wedges) ran down into the rice, mixing with the flavours there and turning it all into a good slice of heaven.

the next feature was the homemade pita bread using beer-b-q's recipe (link above). i used all white flour and as with the rice, the results were as good as can be! i strongly recommend making your own pitas - they work! the ones here were not quite browned as nicely as i would have preferred, but i was being extra careful in baking them as i wanted to be sure they would be soft and pliable and not crack or break. the taste was amazing and when dipped into the extra vrigrin olive oil they were even better. the oil was supplemented with a sprinkle of sea salt and a few grindings of black pepper - also, i chopped a few leaves of basil from my herb garden and tossed them in. all flavours were present and accounted for - and could not have been better!

the greek salad also turned out well and was simple as could be. simply sliced cucumber, vine-ripened tomato wedges and very thin slices of red onion, dressed with rivet's mediterranean dressing above. while making the dressing, i discovered a nearly-empty bottle of rice wine vinegar and thought that it had the perfect shape to use for this dressing, so i emptied it out and refilled it with the dressing. with the trickle-stopper in place for the bottle, it worked like a charm! a vigorous shake and the dressing went very well over the salad. my only disappointment was that in tossing the salad, i managed to gut some of my tomato wedges in spite of my efforts to be gentle. also, due to no garden vegetables being ready yet, my reliance on store-bought veggies was disappointing - but in the end, no worries, it was all good!

to add a touch of sweetness to the meal, i found some very nice, dark grapes at our local grocery and bought some both as a garnish and as a kind of dessert. these juicy, lucious grapes made a perfect end to a very nice meal. to drink, mrs. tas had lemonade, while i had some sun-brewed tea (we were out of "regular" tea bags, so i used light green tea). very refreshing and a nice highlight to our big fat greek feast.

 
results were very positive. the kids (who grilled beef steaks) liked the pitas and the rice; mrs. tas liked the meal over-all, but being unaccustomed with some of the unfamiliar flavours and the lamb probably would have preferred a salt-n-peppered sirloin over a lamb steak. no worries, she did say every thing was good ~ so i count it all as a grand success and a great meal! for myself, i could not have been happier and really enjoyed the trip to greece. all things considered, this was a top-class meal that really wasn't expensive at all, and i have absolutely no complaints!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 August 2010 at 11:32
Outstanding news, Ron! Glad to hear that all went well and your pics certainly demonstrate that. Very tasty indeed! Clap
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 August 2010 at 11:45
thanks, john - i would guess that just about anyone could take the basic meal outlined above and tweak it to their situation or preference and have a greek feast any time!
 
jd - i would love to get my hands on some of that - if i could, i would offer a couple of nice, fat montana deer in exchange ~ Thumbs Up
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 August 2010 at 12:45

Εξαιρετική ιδέα! Ελληνική γιορτές είναι πάντα ευπρόσδεκτη

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 August 2010 at 13:37
Clap 
Go ahead...play with your food!
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mate they look greatThumbs Up
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Exploreralpha Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 August 2010 at 22:36
Awesome looking meal Ron, the Mrs doesn't care for lamb for personal reasons, I happen to like it, every time my parents made lamb chops when I was a kid was a great meal.

Aaron

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 August 2010 at 07:20
aaron,  melissa and i had never really had lamb before (except burger) - i don't think it will ever be her favourite, but i must say that lamb and greek flavours seem uniquely suited for each other!
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