Bernice’s lamb chops

Bernice’s lamb chops

This is one of those recipes that you’ll probably either love or hate. Personally, I love it! It is the meal I would choose when I finally snap in Telkom one day, wipe out the lot of them, and have to pick something to eat before they eventually flip the switch and fry me. It is a quintessential part of some of my earliest food memories. Monday night was not only Knight Rider night (back before he became The Hoff and crushing on him was no longer cool), but it was also the night my brother and I stayed with my dad and Bernice, our nanny, made her famous chops and chips. Bernice might not have been the creator of the dish, but it is a testament to how important she was in our lives that we chose to name this dish after her, despite her tendency to chase us around the house with a wet rag when she was displeased about something. And now, more than twenty years later, my dad still makes it for us whenever we go and visit there. So I’m quite aware that the love I feel for this particular dish is heavily influenced by the memories it evokes and is not based solely on its gastronomic merit. I do, however, still believe it is simply delicious in the truest sense of the word. All the flavour comes from just two ingredients – lamb and onions. But don’t let the simplicity of the components fool you – preparing this dish requires patience and a good, uninterrupted, 2 hour chunk out of your day. It is best served with the type of shoestring fries that are so crispy that trying to impale them on a fork results in little bits of golden potato flying across the room and hitting the wall with a satisfyingly crunchy thunk. This necessitates really getting your hands in there to pull the chops apart bite by bite, scoop up a few chips and shove the whole lot in your mouth with your fingers, which is just messily wonderful! I would also strongly recommend having it with a good tomato sauce. I don’t believe in dousing meals in condiments that could potentially detract from the flavour, but in this instance the tangy sweetness of the tomatoes contrasts beautifully with the salty sweetness of the caramelised onions.

Bernice's chops & chips

Serves 4


5 large onions, sliced

1 kg lamb chops – loin is best, but any cut will do

salt and ground white pepper

3T canola or sunflower oil

2T butter

1) Place a heavy based pan (big enough to fit all the chops in a single layer) on medium heat and add the oil and butter.

2) Add the onions and a bit of salt and pepper and fry slowly. Slowly now. Don’t let it brown too quickly. Once the onions are translucent, push them aside in the pan and add the chops. Season and brown the chops on both sides and stir the whole lot around the pan every few minutes.

3) That’s pretty much it. But pour yourself a glass of wine, because you’re going to be here for a while. Now you just continue doing this for the next ninety minutes or so. As the onions and meat catch on the bottom of the pan, scrape those lovely caramelised bits off with a wooden spoon and keep incorporating them back into the onions. If you need to, add a tablespoon or two of water to deglaze the pan as you go, but keep it fairly dry. The closer to the end you get, the more it will catch and the more you’ll need to stir it. Season and don’t be shy with the salt.

What you’ll eventually be left with is a gorgeously glossy caramelised compote to go with the tender lamb chops that will taste even better if you leave the whole lot in the fridge for a day so that the flavours can develop. If it’s a little too fatty for your taste, just tilt the pan to the side and scoop off any excess fat. (Sorry Dad, I didn’t really mean that!)

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