Food Alone: Lamb Chops and the Return of the Hibachi

Another lamb led to slaughter lies in myriad pieces in my freezer. I have another 35 lbs or so of lamb to consume over the coming autumnal months. But slow-grilling season is quickly passing. There’s no way in hell that I will keep a grill going for 4 hours in my driveway while the temperature drops around me. The only solution that came to mind was a hibachi.

To tell the truth, I can’t remember to which decade hibachis– those small cast-iron grills — belong. I’ve been racking my brain, but the only thing I can be sure of is that their popularity predated the 80s. I’d love some input here. Somewhere in my past, hibachis became the rage. When? Why have they gone out of favor?

My enthusiasm for grilling has outlasted the season. When pondering my choices, the image of hibachis came to mind. I found one readily available on amazon.com for $25. I ordered it. It has arrived and tonight I put it to use. The results were very encouraging. A(n?) hibachi is very good for solitaires and couples. After tonight’s initial test, however, I see that there is a lot to learn. I grilled two lamb chops. They came out well. But let me start that story in its proper setting…

What I did:

To inaugurate the hibachi, I decided to make a dinner of two lamb chops and roasted eggplant.I have installed my new hibachi on a pizza stone set upon a wooden tray table that I can position anywhere I please on my deck.

I made a half-assed marinade of olive oil, a sprinkling of sherry vinegar, minced garlic, Malden salt, and ground pepper. I also put a big handful of wine oak-barrel wood chips in a bowl of water to soak. Wouldn’t the oak compliment the lamb?

Fortunately, my charcoal chimney just fits within the hibachi. I used hardwood charcoal to begin a fire on the coal grate while I prepared the sliced eggplant indoors to roast in my oven. The main question for me was how much charcoal would I need. I filled the chimney 2/3’s of the way up with charcoal. When the coals were bright red and shooting up flames, I slipped on my garden gloves and gingerly poured the coals evenly along the grate. Then I let them burn for a few minutes.

Just before positioning in place the two grill grates, I strewed some sodden oak chips on the coals to begin the smoke. Then I put the grates into position into the lowest slot. The amount of coal in relation to the distance of the lowest grate setting seemed right. Plenty of smoke, plenty of heat. I cooked the chops for 2 minutes per side. Only one instance of a flare-up caused me to reposition the chops.

As for timing, to cook the eggplant in the oven, after pre-heating the oven to 425, I sliced it into 1/2-inch rounds, slathered them with olive oil, pimentón, and a touch of ground cumin on a foil-lined baking sheet, and tucked them into the oven. Then I reduced the temperature to 375 and let them cook for about 20 minutes.

I put the chops on the hibachi too soon. I should have waited until the eggplant had roasted for 5 or more minutes. When I removed them from the grill, I put them in a pan under foil until the eggplant was ready. They were medium rare when I sat down to eat, but I would have preferred them just a touch pinker.

Timing apart, it was a good meal. It’s a simple, enjoyable meal to make for one or two people. The hibachi made me very optimistic. I have at least another 30 chops to go before this poor lamb has finished its course on this planet. Bring back the Hibachi!

What I Have to Think About Next Time:

Cliché though it may be, timing is everything. It’s clear to me that the hibachi is best suited for quick direct grilling. But I think, with practice, I may be able to do slightly slower grills with chicken and fish. That will require paying attention to the amount of coal. No cover and no way to easily introduce extra coals. But a higher mound of coal and inserting the grill grates in the second or third slots above may make it easier.

I think there’s a lot of potential here for slower grillings that don’t require covers. For one person, the hibachi is ideal. Disposal of coals the morning after may be a pain, but I am very happy with the first results of this experiment.

Steve Raichlen’s Cape Town Lamb — Slow-Grilled

From The Barbecue! Bible, pp. 203-05.

The evenings are already darker than they were at the end of August. I will have to find better lighting for the photos I’ll be taking this fall.

Since I’m leaving for France on Monday, I thought I’d slow-grill one more time. Five friends shared the preparation load. I was in charge of the leg of lamb and a lacinato kale-radicchio-ricotta salata salad. Sherry produced a delicious chickpea and ginger salad from a recipe that appeared in the NYTs last week. Rosamaria brought a lovely fruit tart. And Marilyn and John brought good wine.

The ingredients in Raichlen’s recipe worried me a little. Would it be too sweet? Too hot? I needn’t have worried. The super hot mustard cooled down by the end of the grilling — although John got a big charge of horseradish from the sauce. The sweetness did not become cloying. The meat came out tender and succulent.

So, here goes:

Serves 12

Advance Preparation

3 to 8 hours for marinating the meat

For the lamb:

1 bone-in leg of lamb (6 to 8 lbs), trimmed of any papery skin

6 cloves of garlic, cut into thin slivers

6 thin slices peeled fresh ginger, cut into thin slivers

For the glaze:

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3 Tbls Dijon mustard

2 Tbls hot Chinese-style mustard, or 1 Tbls dry mustard

3 Tbls fresh lemon juice

3 Tbls vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbls minced peeled fresh ginger

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Prepare the lamb: Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, make slits about an inch deep all over the surface of the lamb. Insert a sliver each of garlic and ginger into each slit. Place the lamb in a nonreactive roasting pan and set aside while you prepare the glaze.

2. Make the glaze: Combine the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, Dijon and Chinese-style mustards, lemon juice, oil, and minced garlic and ginger in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook the glaze until thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Remove the glaze from the heat and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Pour half of the cooled glaze over the lamb in the roasting pan, brushing to coat it on all sides. Cover and let marinate, in the refrigerator, for 3 to 8 hours (the long the better). Refrigerate the remaining glaze, covered.

4. Set up the grill for indirect grilling, place a large drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to medium.

5. When ready to cook, place the lamb on the hot grate over the drip pan and cover the grill. Cook the lamb until done to taste, 2 to 2 1/2 hours; when done to medium, an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the leg (but not touching the bone) will register 160 F. Start brushing the lamb with the remaining glaze during the last 45 minutes of grilling; brushing it two or three times. If using a charcoal grill, you’ll need to add 10 to 12 fresh coals to each side every hour.

6. Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and brush it one last time with glaze, then let rest for 10 minutes before carving. While the lamb rests, heat any remaining glaze to serve as a sauce with the lamb.

How this recipe played out:

The leg of lamb I had weighted 4.5 lbs.

When Raichlen recommends cutting off thin membranes on ribs and papery skins legs of lamb, like he does here (“trimmed of papery skin”), you’re thinking to yourself, “oh, it can’t really make that much of a difference.” I’ve learned that it pays to heed his advice. I’m not sure what it achieves, but I suspect that it helps dissolve the connective tissues that holds meat together and to the bone.

I followed the directions for the glaze exactly and it worked well. But I marinated the lamb overnight, far longer than 8 hours.

I began with about 8-10 coals on each side of the drip pan, put on the lid and waited to see how high the temperature on my oven thermometer sitting on the grate climbed before taking out or adding to them.

When I put the drip pan between hot coals, I filled it halfway with water, a step that I first tried in the ribs recipe here. Did it help keep the meat moist? Probably. In any event, it didn’t hinder the cooking process.

As I did in other slow-grill experiments, I put a pizza stone on the ground near the Weber grill and placed a chimney starter on it. I filled it halfway with coals, lit it, and used those to supplement the hot coals in the grill. Be careful about what is around it. You don’t want your grass to catch fire, naturally.

The one serious problem I had involved my meat thermometer. I realized that it was broken. I intend to buy an instant-read thermometer when I get back from my trip, because it is essential. You cannot go wrong if you watch the temperature. The directions call for a temperature of 160 for medium. If I had had one last night, I would have taken the meat off the grill at 145 or 150 and let it rise under foil.

I kept the heat inside the covered grill hovering between 300 and 350. The lamb stayed on the grill just under 2 hours. The meat was a little more than medium rare. I would have liked it a touch pinker, but I seemed to be the only one who had that wish.

It’s a good recipe.

Coming Soon… Slow-grilled Leg of Lamb, Bordeaux, Paula Wolfert, Sophia Loren and pizza

For the months of September and October, my goals cannot be described as other than modest. I intend to grill a bone-in leg of lamb slowly over coals. That will be next weekend’s posting. And then I fly off to London for one night and then to Bordeaux, France, for 11 days of working in the archives and hunting up affordable places to eat. Blogging from Bordeaux will be easy. Finding affordable places to eat in the land of the euro will present me with a challenge. But I’ve been there before and so have a head-start. Two or three nights in London on the way home will give me an opportunity to find new culinary jewels. When I return home at the end of September, right around the time the evenings grow cool, I know I will be in the mood to explore Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwestern France, a book that does not suit hot weather but is sure to please in the fall. During the same month, I plan to give Sophia Loren’s cookbooks a chance. Her two books look old-fashioned. But do they contain untried treasures? We’ll see. Finally, after whining just a little about Robert Masullo’s pizza dough — which, I hasten to add, was excellent on the second try — I’m going to work on pizza dough and toppings this fall.

So, there’s lot to look forward to. At least, there is from my point of view.