Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Finger-Lickin' Good

Lamb. What images does that word conjure? Fuzzy little ones kicking up their heels in a meadow? Rosy roasts for Easter dinner? A tough, stringy mess served with a neon green mint goo? I didn't really eat lamb growing up. We had some family friends who really enjoyed it, and always accompanied it with mint jelly. I recall thinking something along the lines of, "Whatever you have to put that green goo on, I am NOT eating." Some years later, as a college student, I went out to dinner with family, and my uncle raved about the rack of lamb at the restaurant we were going to. I decided to try it, as he is a trustworthy man, and I was presented with a lovely plate of frenched rack of lamb; rosy, juicy, with a savory crust and no trace of a gamey smell. It was an eye-opening dinner, and I have enjoyed rack of lamb many times since. Eventually I decided to try my hand at making it myself, especially after I found out that Hubband had not had the pleasure of trying it. I have made it several times, always with happy results. I hope to graduate to a leg of lamb attempt sometime this year. 
For now, this is my go-to rack recipe. We ate this Monday night paired with a spicy V. Sattui Zinfandel. The wine went beautifully with the lamb, and really picked up the earthiness of the wild mushroom barsotto beneath it. The lima beans had a dash of red chili flake added, again picking up the wine flavors. I finished it off with a drizzle of 25-year-old balsamic vinegar, the last of a bottle that my sister gave to me for my birthday two years ago. (Sounds like a long time to hold onto vinegar, but this is a powerful elixir. A few drops will do!) The vinegar also paired wonderfully with the Zin. All in all, a dinner that made up for it being a Monday. 

Rack of Lamb with Shallot-Thyme Crust
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large shallots, chopped
Pinch salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (not the 25 year old!)
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1 rack of lamb, frenched and trimmed of as much fat as possible
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons dijon mustard

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and take out a small roasting pan. 
In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then saute the chopped shallots with salt and pepper until they are aromatic and golden brown. Turn the heat down to medium low and carefully add the balsamic vinegar. It will boil pretty rapidly and the liquid will evaporate. Don't let the pan go completely dry. Remove the pan from the heat stir in the breadcrumbs and the thyme leaves. Place the breadcrumb mixture in a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the same medium pan (as long as your rack fits into it) and heat the vegetable oil while you sprinkle some salt and pepper over all sides of the rack of lamb. Sear the rack of lamb on all sides until brown, then remove from the heat. Transfer the rack, rib side down, to the roasting pan, and spread the dijon all over the meat. Press on an even coating of the crumb mixture. Roast lamb 25-30 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers about 120 degrees at center. Let the rack rest 5-10 minutes before slicing. 

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