Here’s something a little different for St. Paddy’s Day: a winter-to-spring lamb salad with a bright green vinaigrette.
It’s finally getting to that sigh-of-relief point in the year when salads start to seem viable again. Not the light-and-crunchy summer kind of salad, but something a little sturdier, with a good thick dressing. I went to the farmer’s market for the first time in a while on Sunday, and found a gorgeous mix of baby rainbow chard and dinosaur kale and some prickly leaves I couldn’t identify. I’d recently watched a Nigella Express clip about lamb salad, and the combination of warm meat and just-wilted winter greens seemed mighty appealing. (I suspect this would work just as nicely with arugula or spinach or watercress, or in fact any mix of good fresh salad greens.)
The lamb itself was simple. Salt, pepper, hot pan, sear. I tried to do a mustard-crust thing on the chops, but it didn’t turn out well, so I’m going to declare it unnecessary. I’m also not the most competent meat cook, so I ended up pulling the lamb from the pan while it was too raw and having to re-cook it later. That’s a mistake I don’t recommend making. What I do recommend, though, is letting the meat sit in a loose foil packet for a few minutes when it comes out of the pan, to let the juices re-settle throughout the meat. It makes for a much more succulent final product.
For the dressing, I used a recipe I picked up in an online comment forum: a blended basil vinaigrette, thick and tangy and appealingly pesto-like. I’ve made this dressing before, as a pasta sauce, but it was especially welcome against the gamy-sweet lamb and crunchy greens. I used a mix of basil and mint here, but it could easily be done with just basil or just mint. It’s a little more involved than your average vinaigrette: first you blanch the herbs to lock in their bright green color, then blend them with garlic and shallot and vinegar, before streaming in just enough oil to make a thick paste. You could add an egg yolk too, for a richer and more unctuous dressing, almost like a thin Hollandaise. With egg or without, though, this vinaigrette stands on its own: it’s the perfect texture for pasta, and would also make a stellar sauce for simply cooked chicken or fish. Make it for this salad, and then make it again. It will reward you.
Oh, and of course, we ate our salad with Irish soda bread. I am nothing if not consistent.
Basil-Mint Vinaigrette (makes about 3/4 cup)
Adapted from a comment on The Kitchn
1 large bunch of basil (about 4 oz)
1 medium bunch of mint (about 4 oz)
1 small shallot, roughly chopped
1 fat garlic clove, peeled
2 tbsp white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 egg yolk (optional)
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or as needed
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and prepare a large bowl of ice water. Hold the basil by the stems, and dunk the leaves in the boiling water for about 10 seconds. Remove the basil from the boiling water and submerge it in the ice water to halt the cooking. Repeat this process with the mint.
Gently squeeze the excess water from the basil and mint into a bowl, then tear the leaves away from the stems and put them in a blender. Add shallot, garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and about 1 tbsp of the water you squeezed from the herbs. Puree until the mixture is smooth; if needed, add more water, 1 tbsp at a time. Add egg yolk (if using) and puree again until smooth.
Remove the plastic insert from the blender lid. With the blender running, slowly drizzle the olive oil through the opening, a few drops at a time. Once about half the oil is incorporated, pour in the rest in a thin, steady stream. The finished vinaigrette should be thick and deep green. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Seared Lamb Salad (serves 4)
Inspired by Nigella Express
1 lb lamb loins or loin chops
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp vegetable oil, peanut oil, or other neutral cooking oil
1/2 cup basil-mint vinaigrette (recipe above)
1/2 lb (8 oz) salad greens, washed and thoroughly dried
Chopped basil and/or mint leaves, for garnish
Heat oil in a heavy skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Season the lamb with salt and pepper, then sear it on both sides until it’s medium-rare. Remove the lamb from the pan, wrap it loosely in aluminum foil, and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, distribute the salad greens evenly among plates or bowls.
Once the lamb has rested, slice it against the grain (if using loin chops, cut the meat away from the bones before slicing). Distribute the lamb slices evenly over the salad plates, and drizzle the dressing over the top. Garnish with chopped herbs, and serve immediately.