Shiso-Marinated Lamb Chops with Orange Curry Gastrique
Once again it's time for the Paper Chef competition. I love this event because every month it challenges me to deal with a new combination of ingredients...and sometimes, like this month, to get better acquainted with a great ingredient that I knew about but hadn't yet appreciated fully.
Fish sauce! Wow! It's like liquid anchovies!
Okay, I got a little ahead of myself.
Paper Chef is a web event which is celebrating its first anniversary this month. In the food blogging world, a one year anniversary means it's long of tooth and gray of hair! This is stature, in spades! Invented by Owen, of Tomatilla! (who is also the publisher of Digital Dish), this event challenges food bloggers all over the world to come up with a dish using four assigned ingredients in a space of 72 hours.
The Paper Chef hosts (and judges) this month -- since they won last month -- are the phenomenal, incredible duo of Mrs. D and Chopper Dave at Belly-Timber. Ever creative, this dynamic duo has assigned us to a devilishly challenging set of ingredients: basil, fish sauce, oranges and lamb. (See this post for a summary of the loosey-goosey rules, and see Owen's post for a history of the event.)
Now, as I was saying: fish sauce. I have had a bottle of this stuff around forever (it had turned the color of coffee so I dumped it and bought a new one) but I never really appreciated what it can do. Wow! (Okay, I said that before. I knew that...)
Anyway, fish sauce, basil, oranges, lamb. A tough set of ingredients. Especially since at this time of the year when basil's a hard get in this part of the world. I had a ton of it all summer, but two weeks ago, with the first frost bearing down on us, I harvested all of it and made six containers of pesto for the freezer. Nothing like summery meal of pesto and Ugly Ripe tomato caprese salad (with a few leaves of $3.99 an ounce imported basil) when the January Northeaster's howling and the lights are flickering! Even my go-to produce market, was out of basil today, as was the supermarket.
All the better for me, as it turned out, because when I stopped in at the Asian market to pick up the fish sauce I was able to score a container of fresh shiso (Japanese basil). If you've ever been to Japan you would recognize this as the quintessential taste of Japan: basil, but intensified and twisted just a bit, it has a role in virtually every meal you eat in Japan. It has a purple tinge and purple stems and an unforgetable flavor: basil but...different.
I was having difficulty with the orange component of this challenge, but then I remembered an interesting snack I picked up a couple of weeks ago at a local specialty market: roasted cashews with a curry-citrus flavor. The label told me that they had been tossed in orange oil, turmeric, cumin, and salt. I thought: organge zest, turmeric, cumin, fish sauce. Okay, it's a concept, and it works with lamb.
Anyway, to cut a long story short: my offering for PC 12 is: lamb loin chops, marinated in fish sauce and shiso, flavored with an orange-curry gastrique. Believe me, this worked! I served it with curried basmati rice with toasted almonds and some spinach with garlic, onions and hot peppers (subjects of future posts), both of which were also flavored with fish sauce. This was an amazing meal! I thank you, and my guests thank you, Chopper Dave and Ms. D, for leading me to this new world of fish sauce, oranges, basil and lamb!
Two racks lamb loin chops, Frenched (about 2-1/4 lb)
4 T olive oil
2 T fish sauce
4 T shiso (Japanese basil) minced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
Juice and zest of 1-1/2 navel oranges (reserve some zest for garnish)
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 small dried red chiles
fish sauce to taste
1/3 C sugar
2 T balsamic vinegar
Mix the marinade ingredients and place in a plastic bag with the lamb racks. Marinate for 1 - 4 hours, turning every half hour.
To make gastrique, sauté onions in a small amount of olive oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 8 minutes. Increase heat to high, add the turmeric and stir vigorously for 30 seconds, 'til the color deepens. Reduce heat to medium, add orange juice, zest, coriander, cumin, chiles, sugar and vinegar and simmer for 15 minutes. Purée and add fish sauce to taste (don't be timid with the fish sauce: the idea is to counteract the sweetness of the orange juice and bring out the curry flavors, so a significant amount of fish sauce is needed). Depending on your preference, you may want to add some hot sauce or ground cayenne if you like more heat -- I'm fairly conservative in that direction.
Grill or broil, 4" from heat, the lamb chops, 4 minutes on one side, two on the other, for rare meat. Immediately turn the racks a few times in the gastrique to coat, then cut into individual chops and spoon additional gastrique over them. Garnish with reserved zest and shiso sprigs.