"Everything tastes better braaied!" Master the art of braaiing lamb and mutton with Jan Braai

Mzansi's braai guru shares his most annie-brand tips for braaied lamb chops in Fireworks

08 January 2019 - 13:37 By Jan Braai

Jan Braai is as passionate about braaing as he is knowledgeable.

His book Fireworks contains more than simply recipes – it is also a braai instruction manual.

The excerpt below contains two recipes for braaied lamb chops.

The recipes are accompanied with information about what to look for when buying lamb, tips on how best to prepare the meat and ideas for recipe variations:

In South Africa there are two types of sheep: those bred for meat – the most famous one is the Dorper, and those bred for meat and wool – of which the Merino is the best-known.

Roughly a third of the lamb meat we eat comes from the former type and the rest from the latter.

The type a specific farmer breeds depends on a number of factors, with geographical location the most important.

‘A’ grade meat from both types tastes great and is similar enough that we’re not going to discuss the differences.

Even though equal numbers of male and female lambs are born on a sheep farm, about two-thirds of all lamb meat that we eat comes from male lambs.

This is because significantly more females than males are kept for reproductive purposes.

Again, differences in taste and texture are negligible for the purposes of this book.

In summary, whether the lamb that you eat is from a Dorper or a Merino and whether it’s from a male or female makes very little difference.

But this is the important part:

Lamb meat comes from young animals. In the sheep grading system they are ‘A’ grade, and to achieve that grading they should not have real teeth yet.

As soon as they get two real teeth they are classified ‘AB’ and are no longer lambs. The meat from these older animals is known as mutton.

After ‘AB’ the next rating is ‘B’ and then ‘C’. These are all mutton.

According to the definition then, all lamb is ‘A’ grade as anything else is classified as mutton.

Lambs are usually slaughtered somewhere between 3 and 7 months of age, and the average carcass you see at the butcher weighs between 16 and 24 kilograms.

In general, the younger it is slaughtered, the less it weighs.

Those purple stamps that mark the grade on the carcass don’t use just one A on a lamb but rather a long vertical line of three As.

Some people mistakenly call this ‘triple A’ lamb but there is no such thing. This line of AAA marking simply means it is an A grade animal – in other words it is a lamb.

The only other rating refers to the covering of fat on the carcass.

A0 means that the meat contains no fat and A1 means that it has very little fat. Both will be quite dry on the braai.

A6 on the other hand means that the meat contains a lot of fat, some of which you will probably need to discard after paying meat prices for it.

When you buy lamb chops for the braai then, go for A2 or A3, as that is the best both in taste and value.

LAMB LOIN CHOPS

A lamb loin chop is one of the true highlights of braaing.  It is exactly like a T-bone steak, only cut from a lamb. It’s also the most expensive cut of lamb.

Keep the recipe and braaing simple so that you don’t overpower its natural taste.

Make sure you remove the meat from the fire in time, before it dries out.

WHAT YOU NEED (feeds 4)

12 lamb loin chops

2 cloves garlic

1 tot fresh rosemary (or thyme or oregano – see options discussion at end of recipe)

1 tot lemon juice (freshly squeezed)

2 tots olive oil

Coarse sea salt and black pepper

WHAT TO DO

1. Make one or two small cuts through the fat strip of each chop. This will keep the chops from bending as the fat strip cooks and contracts. It will also show your guests that you paid attention to detail during the preparation of their meal.

2. Chop or crush the garlic, pull the rosemary leaves off the stalk and squeeze the lemon juice. Combine this with the olive oil and toss the chops in it ensuring all sides of all the chops are coated with marinade.

3. Let the meat marinate for as long as it takes your fire to burn out and form coals. If you want to marinate the meat overnight do so but then only add the lemon juice once you light the fire.

4. Braai the chops over hot coals for 8–12 minutes until they reach that point between medium rare and medium where lamb tastes best. Lamb loin chops vary widely in size and the heat of your fire will also play a role in how long they take to braai. Remember the golden rule: if you think it’s ready, it probably is. Some exceptionally small lamb chops are ready after 6 minutes, so just use your common sense.

5. Grind the salt and pepper onto the chops while they are braaing. If you are lazy you can also do it before they go onto the braai, but doing it during the braai will cause someone to ask you what spices you are adding. You can then impress everybody listening in by saying that you’re only adding salt and pepper, as you like to keep it simple with lamb loin chops.

AND . . .

■ The one additional spice that is always good on lamb is crushed coriander. Buy some dried coriander seeds, crush them using your pestle and mortar and sprinkle on the chops before or during the braai.

■ Thicker lamb loin chops should be braaied with three sides of the meat facing the coals. These are the two‘normal’ sides as well as the strip of fat on the edge. Braai the two normal sides first and then line the chops up, balancing them to lean against each other so that their strips of fat face the coals and become crisp.

■ You can also put the chops side by side and put a skewer through them. Braai the fat edge first for a minute or three. Then remove the skewer and braai the flat sides of the chops.

■ I first started making this recipe using thyme but in South African braai culture it’s also quite popular to use rosemary in combination with olive oil and garlic on lamb. Then I learnt something else at the Greek wedding of Dan Nicholl and Dimitra Kouvelakis when a relative of the bride explained to me that I’ve got it all wrong and the only way to do this recipe is to use oregano. I suggest you try out all three options and decide which one you prefer. Just remember to go easy on the herbs and retain the natural flavour of the lamb.

BRAAIED TANDOORI LAMB CHOPS

A tandoor is a clay oven traditionally used in Eastern cooking, and tandoori refers to any food cooked in a tandoor oven. A fire of wood or coal is made inside the oven and the food is exposed to direct heat.

The smoke from the fire, and the smoke from the food juices and fat dripping onto the coals, all add to the flavour.

Very similar, you could say, to a braai! And as we all know, anything tastes better when it is braaied!

Masala is a blend of spices usually found in Indian cooking. A typical masala would include spices such as paprika, cloves, chilli, coriander, garlic, onion, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, mustard, turmeric and star anise, all in dried, powdered form.

WHAT YOU NEED (feeds 6)

16–20 lamb chops (lamb rib chops work well for this recipe)

500 ml plain yoghurt

2 tots tandoori masala or tikka masala (or whatever ‘special’ masala your local spice merchant suggests when you tell him you want to make tandoori lamb chops; otherwise, just buy normal masala at a supermarket)

1 tot lemon juice

1 tot chopped garlic and ginger (you can buy a pre-mix of this from some supermarkets – I wouldn’t use it but braaing should be fun, so if you’re in a rush or feeling lazy, go for it)

salt

WHAT TO DO

1. Trim excess fat off the chops but leave some on for flavour.

2. Make the marinade by mixing the yoghurt, masala, lemon juice and garlic and ginger together in a bowl. Use your recently washed hands or a spoon to toss the chops around in the marinade, ensuring all the chops are coated.

3. Leave them to marinate for a few hours or a day.

4. Braai over hot coals (but not too hot) for about 10–12 minutes until that point between medium rare and medium where lamb chops taste their best. Grind salt onto both sides of the chops while they are braaing.

AND . . . You can also make tandoori lamb sosaties. Use cubes of lamb from the leg or shoulder, marinate as above and skewer them just before braaing.

Extract provided by Bookstorm. 

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