By Paul Suplee, MBA, CEC, PC-3
The Christmas pajamas are on their way, finally.
Yes, it is starting to feel like Christmas, at least a little. I can’t believe that it is just over a week from now. I guess I had better start shopping.
With the drop in temperature (after warm days that followed cold days that followed even warmer days – welcome to Maryland), I stare out my back window at the trees that have lost all their leaves.
With a somewhat moderate winter thus far, it still feels like November to me and that Thanksgiving has yet to occur.
But I know that such is not the case. Thanksgiving has come and gone, 2020 is almost over, and 2021 is just staring at us licking his chops. Lord only knows what next year has in store for us.
So what do I do? I get ready to roast some lamb chops; that rich and buttery meat that I never cared for as a kid.
It wasn’t until I worked at Michel Richard’s Citronelle that I gained an understanding and appreciation for properly cooked lamb.
Up to that point, we would have leg of lamb at Easter as a family and I couldn’t stand it. In fact, I loathed Easter dinner because of it.
But the rack of lamb is a different thing altogether. It is incredibly flavorful with a tender bite and great fat if you handle it correctly.
Served with a red wine that you would serve with a steak (Malbec, Cabernet, Shiraz et al), few things can rival its deliciousness.
One great trick that I learned at a food show a few years back is frenching the bones of the rack (removing any excess meat, sinew and fat) with twine.
It is a very handy technique and does a great job. Plus, it saves your time and energy, and you don’t have to scrape the bones with your knife, relieving yourself from that noise.
Yes, that noise; I know you know what I’m talking about. It is akin to running fingernails down the chalkboard. Just writing that gives me the willies.
Another favorite cut of mine is the neighboring lamb loin. An incredibly tender, bone-free alternative, you can cook it similarly.
At Blue Moon, we would coat the loin with ras al hanout, sear it in a hot pan with some clarified butter.
After a few minutes, we would turn it, remove the pan from the flame and let it rest for about 10 minutes. The result was always a perfect medium rare beauty.
But I digress. Back to the rack.
Lamb racks come in many different sizes and qualities. American lamb tends to be huge (insert “Merka!” here), while the wee lambs of New Zealand have a wonderful flavor in smaller packages.
Since the price is fairly high, get to know which one you like the best. It will save you time and frustration in the long run.
Either way, if you get the chance to work with lamb chops or loin of lamb, do it as these are classic additions to your ever-expanding repertoire.
As you look at the recipe, you should note that nothing in it is difficult. In fact, it is overly simple as long as you follow some simple suggestions.
When you are cleaning the rack, remove any sinew and silverskin (without damaging the loin meat itself) and trim it neatly.
I like to leave a squared off patch of fat, maybe about ¼” deep on the back of the rack, as it adds tremendous flavor.
It will take you some time to properly trim the rack, but don’t get frustrated. Do yourself a favor and look up “Frenching a lamb loin with twine” and you will run across some great, simple tutorials.
And as we enter the cold months of 2020, herb-roasted lamb will be there to warm us up.
Roasted Rack of Lamb
1 rack of lamb, frenched
½ c. bread crumbs, plain
½ c. good quality parmesan cheese
4 Tbsp. fresh broadleaf parsley leaves
1 tsp. thyme
½ tsp. rosemary
Olive oil, as needed
Dijon mustard, as needed
Salt and pepper, as needed
1 lemon wedge
•If the rack has fat on it, clean it, ensuring to leave a nice, squared-off piece on the back of the rack. Fat is flavor, and we don’t want to lose any of that.
•Score the fat in a criss-cross manner and set aside.
•In a blender or food processor, combine the bread crumbs, cheese and herbs. Pulse until smooth and bring it all together with just a touch of olive oil.
•Season the rack with salt and pepper.
•Sear or grill the rack in a hot pan with oil or clarified butter to get a nice crust on it; don’t simply bake it. Treat it like a steak.
•After your crust has developed (and your kitchen smells delicious), remove and place on a plate.
•Brush the rack with mustard, and coat with the bread crumb concoction.
•Place in a 450F oven until the internal temperature is 125F and remove from the oven and let it rest for at least 15 minutes.
•While the rack is resting, squeeze the lemon wedge over the entire rack. This is a lively addition to this incredibly rich dish.
•Slice and serve with a good, starchy side and some roasted vegetables.
—Paul Suplee is a Professor of Culinary Arts
at Wor-Wic Community College and owner of boxcar40.
Visit him at www.boxcar40.com.