The Latest Lamb Chop

 Photograph by David Prince

Chef John Sharpe had only heard rumors of churro lamb when he was served the unusual breed at a gathering of Navajo shepherds not long ago. “They cooked the lamb in a rather bland stew,” Sharpe said. “But I could tell something was different about the meat.” Soon after, he spent an afternoon in his restaurant, the Turquoise Room in Winslow, Arizona, grilling, roasting, and braising various cuts of churro. “After I tasted that,” Sharpe recalled, “I knew I had something quite extraordinary.”

In 1598, when the Spanish arrived in New Mexico, they had with them a long-haired sheep native to the Pyrenees. Churros, with their tough immune systems, quickly flourished in the Southwest’s arid heat. Before long, the Navajo were relying on them for both meat and wool. In the 1860s, however, in retaliation for Navajo raids, the U.S. Army slaughtered thousands of the tribe’s churros, and the breed was largely forgotten. By the late 1970s, fewer than 500 existed in the country. Today, in part through Sharpe’s efforts (“We are the only restaurant serving this rare breed on a daily basis,” he often says), the number of churros is again in the thousands – and rising.

Grilled Churro Chops with Roasted Pepper Salsa
Adapted from ‘La Posada’s Turquoise Room Cookbook,’ by John Sharpe

The Lamb
• 3 churro lamb chops per person
• 1/3 cup olive oil
• salt and pepper
Brush the lamb chops with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat for 3-5 minutes on each side.

The Salsa
• 2 medium summer squash, yellow and green
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• salt and pepper
• 1 red bell pepper
• 1 poblano chile
• 8 oz cooked appaloosa beans
• 1/4 cup chopped mint
• 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
• balsamic vinaigrette

Halve the squash lengthwise and season with half of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Score the skin of the pepper and the chile, and roll each in remaining olive oil. Heat grill to medium-high, and grill the squash for 2-3 minutes on each side. Grill the pepper and chile until the skins are black, and place them in a covered bowl for 10 minutes, to steam and loosen the skins. Peel and dice the pepper. Dice the chile. Cut the squash into 1-inch pieces. In a bowl, toss the pepper, chile, squash, beans, mint, and tomatoes with balsamic vinaigrette.