Birthday Lamb

Today is Mrs. Likko’s birthday. And for her birthday I shall come home, put a gin and tonic in her, and take her to our backyard paradise where she will sit comfortably and be waited upon by her husband, who shall promise to not talk about the frustrations of his work day, nor to blog, all night long, the better to give her all my attention. I shall have prepared one of her favorite meals: lamb chops.

If you want to replicate what I’m serving the love of my life on her birthday, here’s how I’m doing it:

  • Eight lamb chops, about 1½” thick each
  • One small scallion shallot,* minced
  • Four large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Twenty or so leaves of fresh rosemary
  • A goodly amount of coarse-ground black pepper
  • Some salt
  • 6 strands of saffron
  • A dash of ground savory
  • A pinch of oregano
  • One basil leaf
  • Two dashes of cayenne pepper
  • One ounce of red wine
  • One ounce of soy sauce

Vacuum-seal all ingredients in food-safe plastic and immerse in water at 128° F for four and a half hours. Pat dry. Brush lightly with olive oil, then brown with handheld blowtorch. Mint sauce optional; Mrs. Likko eschews it so I’ll forego the trouble of making it.

Protip for the home sous vide cook: liquid ingredients like wine and soy sauce will make a tight vacuum seal much more difficult to attain; you can work around this by freezing your liquids in an ice cube tray until they are solid. Keep them in the freezer until you are ready to use them because most cooking liquids like wine and soy sauce have a much lower melting point than water so they’ll begin to melt immediately upon exposure to room temperature air. But it’s way easier sealing up a cube of soy sauce than a liquid ounce of it.

Lamb cooks much more quickly than beef in the sous vide; the long-seeming duration of the cooking is to preserve the rareness of the lamb and still satisfy the demands of food safety. Experienced sous vide cooks will know that at this temperature, I’ll have satisfied, but only just, the time and temperature demands to pasteurize the meat so as to avoid the risk of contamination. This is for my wife; the last thing I want is to make her sick. You should feel the same way about the special someone you’re preparing this meal for, too.

On to the rest of the meal. Mrs. Likko is actually not so big on starches, so there will be no potatoes or rice or probably even bread with her dinner. If you’re going to serve a starch with your lamb, I suggest a rice pilaf or couscous, with some olive oil, salt, and chopped parsley and mint. As all you cooks out there know, by adding a starch, you can stretch your meat out to a larger number of people affordably; you can feed four people instead of two with these eight lamb chops if you serve them up a ramekin of couscous alongside the meat.

But back to dinner tonight at Casa Likko. Instead of a starch, I’ll make a pan of Brussels sprouts, seared in garlic-chive butter, steamed until soft, and then dressed with a grating of Parmesan cheese; this is just about her favorite vegetable. Dessert will involve some chocolatey indulgence I have not yet concocted as I write this and schedule it in the blog’s queue, said indulgence to be served with a glass of red wine because, you know, chocolate and red wine.

Happy birthday, my darling; I love you. As for the rest of the Readers, yeah, you’re okay, too. Enjoy the lamb!

* Did I really type “scallion” when I meant “shallot”? My bad.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. Sounds fantastic, Burt. Never in our 45 years together, have we prepared a dish with such complex and creative steps. But, that’s why I love your blog.

    So, I’m thinking of giving the lamb chops a try. The “food-safe plastic”– is that a plastic bag or some sort of a hard-sided container especially intended for this cooking method? Wouldn’t it be difficult to keep it immersed in the water since any air in the container would make it float? Also, how do you maintain 128 F? I would think that the water would get to 212 F pretty fast. I’m just asking.

    Wishing a very happy birthday to Mrs. L.

    • Food-safe plastic is sold along with a Seal-A-Meal or a similar home-model vaccum sealer. You want a reasonably thick (5 mil or thicker) plastic that won’t leach into the food when it is warmed. A ziploc baggie will not do. If you’re willing to drop some coin, a chamber vacuum is best; this is another popular and more affordable version of what amounts to the same tool.

      Putting water in a pot on a stovetop will indeed result in the water eventually reaching 212F, which will overcook your meat. Short-term immersion in hot water is either boiling or poaching depending on the amount of contact you allow the food to have with the boiling water. But I’m not talking about either technique.

      The water is maintained at the precise temperature through the technology of a sous vide water oven or another, more advanced device called an immersion circulator. These are mid-range level food service tools used by caterers and better-than-Olive-Garden level restaurants. You can buy a sous vide water oven suitable for home use from a variety of sources including Costco, Williams-Sonoma, or direct from the manufacturer. Amazon has it listed for just over $400 but you can find it cheaper than that if you do a little shopping. You can also construct the equivalent of a sous vide water oven from a crock pot if you have some mid-range electronic equipment and the know-how to rewire stuff.

      The seemingly magic result of the sous vide technique is that every milimeter of the meat, no matter how thick, is cooked to the exact temperature you like. Better yet, the meat becomes exceedingly tender. Mrs. Likko likes her lamb rare, so I’m using a very cool temperature.

      In all cases, before undertaking to cook sous vide, read at minimum the food safety portions of Douglas Baldwin’s A Practical Guide To Sous Vide Cooking so that you understand the technique and can execute it without risk of undercooking your food.

      It may seem daunting at first, but the technique is easy to grasp and easy to execute. Once you make the investment in the vacuum sealer and the water oven, you won’t need and probably won’t want to cook your protiens any other way again. It also does a nice job with potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables. Green veggies don’t turn out so well. Many people swear by scrambled eggs made French-style in the sous vide, and you can hard- or soft-cook eggs with precision to get them exactly the way you like them. As you gain practice, you can execute marvellous custards and cremes for dessert in there too.

      I invite you to learn and try the technique — if you do, I promise you won’t be sorry with the results. Good luck!

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