Keeping Lamb in Mint Condition
Whether served in a Greek gyro with lots of tzatziki sauce, or grilled to perfection in chop form, lamb is one meat that knows how to make a statement. That’s why we’re taking the time this week to talk about the full and robust flavors that flow from this prized item.
For a long time now, I’ve been dying to know why lamb always is paired with mint. Sure, the two ingredients make a beautiful couple — with the light, refreshing qualities of mint perfectly balancing out the hearty slab’s richness — but doesn’t the combination seem odd?
Well, there may not be a clear-cut answer, but it’s certain that opposites attract for a reason. Some say ages ago, mint jelly was traditionally served with mutton ( the meat of an older sheep), which has a much gamier flavor than the lamb we’re used to today. As a result, the mint helped to neutralize the flavors. Even though subtle, delicious lamb is now commonplace, the custom has carried on, and nowadays, minty freshness still serves as an ideal complement to lamb’s bold characteristics.
Let’s take a bite of this time-honored tradition at some of Honolulu’s most esteemed establishments. We have all the dishes you absolutely need to try right here in Ono, You Know.
RUTH’S CHRIS STEAK HOUSE
Hawaii’s patrons are used to ordering divine USDA Prime pieces of beef at renowned Ruth’s Chris Steak House, but the menu also offers up everything from exquisite lamb, veal and pork to chicken and fish — all cooked to perfection.
For a traditional take on Lamb Chops ($48), nothing beats this version. Sourced from farm-raised New Zealand lambs, the meat is first marinated overnight in garlic-filled olive oil, then broiled at 1,800 degrees to sear it, seal in the juices and provide amazing caramelization. The dish is finished with demi butter and fresh mint julienne, as well as the tried-and-true accompaniment of mint jelly.
“Most lambs can be gamy, but this one has a very mild flavor,” explains executive chef Eser Domingo. “I like the unique flavor of the lamb.” The chef adds that the seasonings are kept simple to allow the true flavors of the meat to shine through. “You’re in a steak house, so you want to taste the uniqueness of the meat and nothing else.”
Domingo suggests pairing these stunning chops with mashed potatoes, creamed spinach or recently introduced roasted crimini mushrooms. “Any side goes great with our lamb,” he says.
Enjoy the dish nightly at the Waterfront Plaza or Waikiki Beach Walk locations.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House
500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu
Loveable lamb has been enjoyed for centuries, rendering it as true a classic as any. Restaurant Epic on Nuuanu Avenue specializes in bringing classics like this one to light, with fun island twists along the way.
According to general manager David Chang, the eatery’s Lamb Chops ($27) have become a signature item over the years, combining a mixture of old-school preparations and Asian-inspired details that you won’t see replicated anywhere else.
Lamb Chops bring the wow factor with a hugely delicious roasted macadamia nut crusting made from panko and, of course, fresh mint. The layers of complexity build with a flavorful red wine reduction sauce, accentuated with everything from tart yet sweet blueberries to kaffir lime and ginger.
“The ginger blends well with the lamb. It actually tones down the lamb’s gaminess, and the kaffir lime and lemon grass kick in with the flavor of the vanilla bean,” describes Chang.
The dish is first prepared in an open-flame broiler, then finished off in the oven. Seeing as it has been such a popular item at Epic, Chang is considering putting another lamb item on the menu — perhaps with some spiciness this time, he says. We’ll have to keep an eye out for that one!
1131 Nuuanu Ave., Chinatown