04 August 2006

Combinations #5: Combinations Goes South

Andrew has asked me to host this round of the Combinations food and wine challenge, and given that I've lived in Memphis, Tennessee my entire life, I decided to come up with a Southern cuisine-inspired meal. This provides some unique challenges, as many of the ingredients that define your more traditional and delicious Southern meals are regional specialties that aren't necessarily available across the US, much less overseas. So I've attempted to come up with something that should be doable for everyone, and I've tried to include some alternate options in case you can't find something.

The meal: Grilled Mint Julep Lamb Chops with Slow Cooked Green Beans
Quantities are set to feed two, you should be able to adjust from there for larger groups

I wanted to put together a meal that shied away from the standard Southern stereotypes (everything fried, covered in gravy, etc., not that those things aren't delicious when cooked properly), while at the same time building on some of our strengths: the lamb dish is grilled, and the sauce is a sort of high-class BBQ sauce. The side dish is definitely traditional, but there's a chance you haven't had beans like this if you haven't visited the South.

Note:The day before cooking, take about a half cup/125mL of Bourbon (or Jack Daniels or whatever whisky/whiskey you have available and put it in a jar or separate bottle. Add in a small handful of torn fresh mint leaves, and allow to steep overnight. When you're ready to prepare the sauce, strain the Bourbon and discard the leaves.

Slow Cooked Green Beans
You'll want to start these at least an hour before you want to serve dinner
  • 1 quart/1 liter of fresh green beans, washed with the ends snapped off (frozen can be substituted, but fresh is always better)
  • 1 ham hock (a smoked pig ankle--substitute a large handful of diced salt pork, ham or lightly cooked bacon if necessary)
  • 1/2 diced onion
  • dash of sugar
Fill a pot about halfway with water and bring to a simmer. Add in your pork and onion, and then the beans and a dash of sugar. Allow to return to a light simmer, and then cover with a lid. (If you're leaving out the pork for health or religious reasons, you'll want to add in a little salt.) Allow to cook until the beans are tender. If you want crisper beans, this will be about 30 minutes. But if you want fuller flavor, cook on low heat for two or more hours. (This can be done in a crock pot.) If using a ham hock, about half an hour before serving, remove the hock, shred the meat, and return to the pot. To serve, use a slotted spoon or tongs and allow to drip thoroughly before serving on a plate. However, there's nothing wrong with serving them in a bowl with some of the residual liquid. It's quite tasty.

Grilled Mint Julep Lamb Chops
  • 1/2 cup/125mL Bourbon (see note above)
  • 1 small handful torn mint leaves (see note above)
  • 1/4 cup/60mL molasses (substitute sorghum or honey if necessary)
  • 1/2 cup/125mL Dijon mustard
  • 4 lamb loin chops (mine were about an inch/2.5cm thick)
  • salt and pepper
You can either grill these over coals or gas, or you can broil the chops in the oven in a roasting pan. Either method will work fine. Make the sauce first by combining the strained mint-infused Bourbon, the Dijon mustard, and your molasses in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until thoroughly combined. This can be left on the stove for half an hour or so at low heat in order to keep it smooth and liquid. For the lamb chops, salt and pepper all sides and grill until done to your desired doneness. Same thing for broiling--just make sure you don't burn them. I hate to be vague here, but it's going to depend a lot on the age of your lamb, the thickness of the chops, and the temperature of your heat source. Just try to cook the chops the way you like your steak and you should be fine. Allow to rest for ten minutes before serving. Top with some of the sauce, serve the beans on the side, and it wouldn't hurt to have some hot buttered rolls or cornbread to go with it.

Your entries are due on August 24. Just e-mail me with the word "Combinations" in the subject line and I'll include your various responses.

To clarify two of the ingredients, here's some photos. When I talk about green beans, I'm talking about these:


They may be longer, shorter, thicker, thinner, all depending on variety and local season. They may also be known as string beans, French beans, pole beans, filet beans, bush beans, snap beans... These are all slightly different, but most should work for this recipe. Just don't cook them as long if you're using thin, delicate beans.

And here's what a ham hock looks like:


If you've got a dog, this may look like something in the "smoked animal parts" section of your local pet store. However, these are pretty easy to get here in the South. This one cost me 75¢. Now, once again, don't go crazy trying to find these wherever you happen to be. Above I suggested using a handful of diced salt pork, ham or cooked bacon. There's got to be some sort of cured pork product available locally to you. If you've got a local butcher who sells ham, you can ask for one of the small end pieces, or you can even use the bones from something like a spiral sliced ham.

1 comment:

fredric koeppel said...

Ha! that's great... i can imagine the reaction of some of your yankee readers to the photo of a ham hock. The lamb chops sound terrific.