Passed down from chef Michael Velardi’s mom, this perfect grilled lamb recipe has long been a well-kept secret—until now
More often than you might think, a culinary pro’s secret weapon comes from the O.G. executive chef: Mom. Case in point: Texas chef Michael Velardi and his killer five-ingredient lamb marinade. The longtime chef of the Pappas Bros. steak house trifecta in Dallas and Houston has served a version of his mom’s lamb chops at the Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning Pappas flagship in Houston’s Galleria since its opening in 1995. Double-rib lamb chops are smothered in a perfectly proportioned mix of garlic, rosemary, olive oil, and black and red pepper, then left to marinate for a few hours before hitting the grill.
Growing up in Southern California, Velardi always looked forward to spring grilling season, and with it, the charry crust, juicy interior and haunting smokiness of his mom’s lamb chops. Decades later, in the mid-1990s, when he and Pappas co-owners Chris and Harris Pappas were developing the steak house menu, his mom’s recipe was “the first thing that came to my mind, and that’s what we use [now],” he says.
Velardi’s mother was a Calabrian immigrant and an avid home cook, and she taught her son well. But now that he’s the one running the show, he’s put his own stamp on the recipe. One tweak is the use of Greek olive oil—
not just a nod to the Pappas family roots, but a stylistic decision. “Usually, the Greek olive oils are nice and smooth; they’re very floral,” he describes, adding that they fit perfectly into the flavor profile he goes for at Pappas, which leans sweet, particularly in the meat department. The resulting marinade is herbaceous and almost honeyed.
For years, as with the restaurant’s famously secret beef dry-aging recipe, carnivores could only guess at what makes the Pappas Bros. lamb chops special, but Velardi has now been kind enough to share the recipe exclusively with Wine Spectator.
It’s about as simple as they come. But to elevate your lamb dish to near restaurant quality, Velardi suggests having the meat butchered to order. Pappas Bros. walks the walk in this regard; it has always boasted an in-house butchering program. The less time that passes between when meat is cut and when it’s cooked, the better; contact with the air oxidizes, or ages, almost any ingredient, dulling the flavor and texture—and this is particularly true of items like raw meat.
Though we can’t all buy primal cuts and carve them up in our own kitchen, resist the urge to simply scoop up the packaged lamb in the grocery display case and head for the checkout. Instead, it’s worth the effort to seek out a good butcher. Velardi suggests buying domestic lamb if possible, and asking for frenched, double-rib lamb chops with about a quarter-inch fat cap.
Once your lamb is on the grill (or in a pan), Velardi reminds us to cook the sides of the chops, which are double the usual thickness. Searing them will make the chops cook faster and deepen the overall flavor.
Cook the meat to your preferred doneness; Velardi likes his lamb medium-rare, in the 140° F to 145° F range. “That’s the sweet spot for me,” he says.
Grilled Lamb Chops with Garlic and Rosemary
Recipe courtesy of Michael Velardi and tested by Wine Spectator’s Julie Harans.
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus 4–6 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish
1 tablespoon freshly ground coarse black pepper, plus more
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/3 cup olive oil
Two to three racks of lamb, 1 3/4 to 2 pounds each, frenched and cut into double chops (preferably Colorado or other domestic lamb)
1 teaspoon chopped parsley, for garnish
Greek olive oil, for finishing
1. Place garlic, chopped rosemary, 1 tablespoon black pepper, red pepper flakes and 1/3 cup olive oil in a mixing bowl. Whisk to combine.
2. Rub marinade all over chops to coat. Place in an airtight container, cover and transfer to refrigerator. Marinate 6 to 8 hours.
3. Prepare a grill for high heat, preferably over oak charcoal or another mild wood charcoal (or for indoor cooking, see alternative, below). Transfer lamb to a cutting board and blot off any excess marinade. Season both sides liberally with salt and pepper. If desired, wrap the lamb bones in foil to prevent them from burning.
4. Grill chops, flipping every 2 to 3 minutes, until golden-brown on both sides. An instant-read thermometer inserted into a chop should register 145° F for medium-rare, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest 5 minutes.
5. Place two chops on each serving plate. Top with chopped parsley and rosemary sprigs, and drizzle with Greek olive oil. Serves 4–6.
Alternative: For indoor cooking, set a cast-iron pan over high heat. Transfer lamb to a cutting board (no need to blot off excess marinade). Season both sides liberally with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, add half of the chops; you should hear a loud sizzle. Sear each side until golden-brown, 1 or 2 minutes per side, then turn heat down to medium and cook, flipping every 2 to 3 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into a chop registers 145° F for medium-rare, 10 to 12 minutes more. Transfer lamb to a cutting board and tent with foil. Repeat with the remaining chops, and let second batch rest 5 minutes before serving, as per step 5.