Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Man Can Cook #4 - Making a Perfect Rack of Lamb

Many "food blogs" feature serious photography and insight from professionals. I'm neither a photographer nor professional chef. I'm just a guy who likes to cook and likes to share what I’ve learned with others. All of my food photos are simply taken with my iPhone using available light in my kitchen. So you are seeing exactly what comes out of my kitchen as opposed to lush, artfully composed pictures. The point is that I want to show you what you can do not what experienced pro's can do. Get in your kitchen and cook. It's better for you and for your family in terms of your health and time spent together.

Rack of lamb…The kind of thing you envision Mrs. Don Draper serving to her husband’s power-broker associates at a “just so” dinner party on MAD MEN. The kind of thing reserved for special occasions. The kind of thing you order at a pricey restaurant. Kind of a big deal right?

Hogwash! You can TOTALLY do this and have it come out just as good as any rack of lamb you’ve had at an expensive eatery. You don’t have to wait for a special occasion or fancy dinner party. It’s easy, not that expensive and pretty quick to prepare.

Rack of Lamb is pretty widely available already frenched at many better grocery outlets. I bought mine at Costco over the weekend at a darned reasonable price. Apologies to my friends at Dittmers meats in Mountain View....it was an act of convenience. "Frenching" the rack is the process of removing the small bits of meat from between the rib bones. If you can't find it already frenched, don't sweat it. Buy the darned thing anyway. The process is pretty darned simple. Here is a YouTube video of the great Alton Brown to demonstrate it for you.

There’s about a jillion different ways to season and marinade a Rack of Lamb out there. How you season it is up to you. This is about the process of creating a perfectly cooked piece of meat. If you can cook the meat right, you can fool around with various seasoning combinations to your hearts content and the end result will be cooked right and seasoned the way you wish. The theory here is that if you learn some random recipe you know how to cook one thing. If you learn a process you know how to cook hundreds of things.

So we start with this, a frenched rack of lamb, at room temp.

Get your oven going at 425 degrees and put a rack right in the middle. Next, you’ll use a sharp knife to score the fat cap in a crosshatch pattern and season liberally with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. I know it sounds silly, but spend a little money on kosher salt instead of granular, and please stop using the pre-ground pepper, you’ll notice the difference in flavor and you’ll actually use LESS salt which is better for you.

Let it sit there on the counter a while if it’s still cold. In the meantime, get a cast iron skillet and put it on your most powerful burner. Turn the fan hood on and get the pan up to a medium-high heat. You want the pan dry, don’t add oil. Toss the rack into the pan and sear all the surfaces like so.

Once you have all the surface seared pull the rack out of the pan and set it back on your cutting board. Reduce the heat under your skillet such that the skillet stays hot but the rendered lamb fat does not smoke/burn. The rack should look something like this.

I prefer not to marinade my lamb for two reasons. First, herbs and spices used in your marinade can easily burn when you sear the meat. Burned is not a good flavor. Second, I really want a light crust of seasoning on the outside and have the unique flavor of the meat take command of the dish. Marinade sometimes tends to overpower the flavor of the meat. This is just my opinion, but I recommend you not marinade for these reasons. Dig around and find a seasoning combination you like. I prefer to season as follows.

Finely chop a good handful of fresh rosemary leaves, thyme and garlic and mix with about 1/4c of quality olive oil. Herbs du Provance with olive oil and shallots is nice too. Spread the mixture over the entire surface of your rack and insert an oven safe thermometer or your ovens temp probe into the center of the thickest part of the meat.

Your skillet should still be pretty darned hot. Toss the rack back in the pan, bone side down, and pop it in the oven at the previously mentioned 425 degrees. Leave it in there for 12-15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Keep it in the oven until the internal temperature of the meat is 120-125 degrees for medium rare. If you like your lamb well done I don’t want to know you.

Remove the pan from the oven, remove the rack to a cutting board to rest. The internal temp will continue to rise a bit to around 130 degrees. Here’s mine fresh out of the oven.

After a 15min rest the internal temp was just a tick under 130 degrees and a perfect medium rare. MMMM meat lollipops! Awesome!

Kathy and I served the lamb with a 2000 David Bruce Pinot Noir, an oven roasted potato and she made an amazing creamed spinach which I’ll cover in a later post.

The entire process should take you no more than about 45min to prepare from start to finish. So on a Tuesday night you can have an elegant and really delicious meal that is easy, quick and reasonably priced.

1 comment:

  1. As a carnivore myself, I am holding a napkin under my chin to catch all the drool. Yum! I can almost smell those adult lollipops. (,~:
    Don't discount your photographic abilities. As good as any I've seen. Can't wait for the creamed spinach!