Cranberry-Brined Lamb Chops with Braised Kale
12-18 lamb loin chops (depending on the size of your chops and the appetites of your guests, you’ll want 2-3 chops per adult)
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
For the brine:
6 cups water, divided
3 cups cranberry juice – NOT cranberry juice cocktail, but something that’s 100% juice. (You may be hard-pressed to find one that contains ONLY cranberry juice; in that case, look for a juice product that has no added sugar and has as few varieties of fruit juice in it as possible. The one we chose for this was labeled 100% Cranberry Juice, but its label revealed that it contained cranberry AND grape juices.)
¾ cup kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tsp. peppercorns, crushed
2 tsp. ground mustard
For the kale:
1 cup diced yellow onion
6 cups tender-leaf kale, washed, stemmed, and sliced thinly
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
½ cup pitted, chopped nicoise olives (you could also use kalamata if you’d prefer)
For the pan sauce:
2 tablespoons honey
4 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 cup cranberry juice
In a large pot over high heat, combine 3 cups of water, 3 cups cranberry juice, kosher salt, garlic, rosemary, peppercorns, and ground mustard. Bring to a boil; stir to dissolve salt. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the remaining 3 cups of cold water to cool the brine, and allow to cool completely. (You may use ice rather than cold water if you’re in a hurry.) Reserve 1/4 cup of the brine for later use. Submerge the lamb chops in the brine and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
Remove the lamb chops from the brine and pat dry thoroughly. Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Place 6 lamb chops in the skillet, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Allow the chops to cook until they’ve developed a deep golden crust, about 3-4 minutes; turn them and repeat on the second side. Remove the chops from the pan, add more oil as necessary, and repeat the process with the remaining lamb chops, removing them to a plate as well.
Carefully pour off any excess fat from the pan until just a tablespoon remains. Add the reserved 1/4 cup of brine and the cup of cranberry juice to the pan. Use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the skillet. Add the honey and Dijon mustard; whisk vigorously to dissolve. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the lamb chops back into the pan and let them cook for 4 additional minutes in the sauce. (Note: This method will yield very medium-rare chops; if you like yours done a bit more, you’ll want to add an extra minute or two of cooking time.)
While the lamb is browning, heat a second skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the chopped onion. Saute the onion until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the kale, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat with the oil. Add the red wine vinegar to the pan, cover, and wilt the kale, shaking the pan and stirring occasionally, until bright green and very tender (about 4 minutes). Transfer the kale to a bowl and toss with the chopped nicoise olives.
To serve, make a bed of the kale and olive mixture either on individual plates or on a large platter; top with the lamb chops, and pour the sauce over the top.