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A rack of lamb is the rib section from the shoulder to the loin, and is just the lamb chops left in one piece. There are seven or eight bones in a rack of lamb, each with a small eye of meat attached; figure on two or three chops per person. A rack of lamb can weigh between one and two lbs (.5-1 kg), depending on the size of the lamb, so cooking times will vary. If cooked right, it's an impressive as well as luscious and tender cut of meat, well suited to special occasions, for it is expensive. Rack of lamb is usually seared before being roasted for a short time in a hot oven; the searing creates a crisp brown crust and melts away excess fat. I recommend searing, but if you choose not to, add an extra 5-8 minutes to the cooking time. And please, cook the lamb only to rare or medium-rare; the meat is optimum at this range, and I really don't want you to toughen it by going to medium or (heaven forbid!) well-done.

I've got directions here for a poorly butchered rack of lamb, which requries a considerable amount of trimming, but a good butcher will have done all this for you.

At the very least, the chine or backbone should already be removed, or deeply scored, to allow you to cut through it to separate the chops once cooked. (I've never actually seen one with the chine attached.) Unless you're a whizz with a cleaver, don't buy it with the chine on.

A good butcher will also remove the heavy blanket of fat covering the bones and meat. If you have to do this yourself, start at the heavier end of the rack and use a sharp knife to free a corner of the outer fat/meat layer, then just grab it and pull; it should come off in one piece. You'll need to do a bit more trimming to leave only a very thin layer of fat to protect the centre eye meat.

Frenching or exposing the ends of the rib bones is also advised to prevent the bones from burning during roasting. Again, a good butcher will do this; should you have to do it yourself, hold a sharp knife perpendicular to the the bone and make a long cut through the fat layer almost as far down as the eye of meat. Use the knife to peel and cut the fat away, exposing the bone, which should be as clean as you can make it. If this seems like too much work, try covering the bones with foil during cooking. But again, this may well be done already. My butcher, admittedly a gem, always has the racks Frenched and ready to cook.

Basic method:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C) while you brown the rack.
  • Season the lamb with salt and pepper and heat a large, heavy, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat without any oil. Add the lamb meat side down and sear well, without moving, about 4 minutes.
  • If you like, stand the rack up in the skillet and brown. If you're just cooking one rack, you'll have to hold it up with tongs, but if you're doing two you can lean them against each other. Skip this if it seems like too much work.
  • Transfer to the oven, bone side down, and bake for 12-20 minutes, depending on the size of the rack. The thickest part of the meat should register 125°F (52°C) (for rare) to 130°F (55°C) (for medium-rare) with an instant read thermometer; if you don't have one, don't worry, go by time.
  • Remove the lamb from the oven, tent with foil and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before carving into chops to serve.

Lively options:

  • Mint jelly is a traditional accompaniment, but I've got lots of ideas that are much more exciting.
  • Make a mixture of Dijon mustard, fresh rosemary, minced garlic, and lemon juice and coat the meat with this after searing but before baking. This is my favourite.
  • Marinate the meat for half an hour in lemon juice and oregano. Or in anything else that sounds good to you.
  • Add a spice rub to the meat instead of salt and pepper, refrigerate for an hour, and then bake without searing (it would smoke too much).
  • Make a pan sauce in the skillet while the meat is resting by pouring out all but 1 tblsp (15 ml) of the fat, sauteeing some shallots till soft, then adding 1/2 cup (120 ml) red wine and some minced fresh rosemary and boiling till reduced to a thick syrup, perhaps 5-7 minutes. If you like, swirl in a tablespoon or two of butter before serving.

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