When I learned to cook, the first meat I tackled – even before ground beef – was lamb. In fact, the first full “gourmet” meal I cooked was for my then future wife and to this day we call it, “The Seduction Dinner.”
Treat your lamb right and you will be rewarded with outstanding taste, tenderness and an unforgettable meal. You’ll find lamb in so many different cuisines of the world that the variety of meals you can make is almost endless.
Going into this discussion, you should know that lamb – either baby lamb or spring lamb – is less than five months old; the former between six and eight weeks old and the latter from three to five months old. Any lamb older than a year is called mutton and I don’t think mutton makes for a very good meal.
Meat color should be your guide to buying lamb – it should be pale pink to pinkish red. Better meat departments in supermarkets sell it as steaks, chops, roasts or ground.
Rack of lamb is my favorite and you’ll find that many stores today sell rack of (baby) lamb in Cryovac packaging. But here’s something else you should know about these packages. Most of them say that the rack has been “frenched,” meaning the bones have been stripped of fat, sinew and other connective tissue. But I’ve found that the machines that process these racks leave plenty of fat and connective tissue on the bones. To make the best possible presentation, the rib bones should be completely cleaned – a technique that does take a little time and tenacity.
Rack of lamb is perfectly cooked when it is medium rare and the best way to achieve that is to sear it first in a smoking hot pan, encrust it (we’ll get to that later) and then roast it in a very hot (450° to 500º F.) oven. But if you’ve frenched the bones correctly, they will burn unless properly protected by wrapping them with aluminum foil.
Here’s my recipe for Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with Provençal Compote:
1 8-rib rack of lamb, bones frenched
½ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup mayonnaise
¾ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
2 small shallots, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 Tbsp. olive oil (not extra virgin)
4 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
¼ cup black olives, chopped
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped
1 tsp. Herbs de Provence
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely minced
½ tsp. sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Sauté shallots and garlic in olive oil until they just begin to color, then add the breadcrumbs and rosemary. Continue moving the breadcrumbs around the pan so they don’t burn. When they become golden brown remove them from the pan to a plate.
Preheat the oven to 450. Salt and pepper the rack and sear it in a very hot pan until the meat has a nice crust. Remove the meat from the pan and let it cool slightly so that you can handle it. Mix the Dijon and mayonnaise and then “paint” the rack on all sides with a pastry brush. Then dredge the rack in the toasted breadcrumbs.
Cover the bones with aluminum foil and replace the meat in the searing pan, meat side down. Roast in the oven for 12 to 14 minutes for perfect medium rare rack of lamb.
Mix the tomatoes, garlic, olives, parsley, Herbs de Provence, shallot and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. To slice the rack into chops, use a carving knife or chef’s knife and carve along the bone. Serve the compote alongside the rack of lamb.
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