My friend Eric recently blew through town on his way to the field for the Kerry campaign. We got a rare few days with him and in celebration of his presence I cooked a rack of lamb. Here’s my cooking diary from those days.
Buying the lamb
A single rack of hormone and antibiotic free rack of lamb with nine ribs is going to run you $14. For non-organic lamb you might see it for less. Assuming you’re civilized enough to provide a side dish to your guests, you can expect three ribs to feed one hungry person, and two ribs to feed women on diets, the rarely-seen non-obese child, and polite neighbors.
Trim your lamb
If you fail to trim the fat off the lamb, like those lazy butchers at Whole Foods in Dupont Circle, you’re going to have a lot of guests picking gristle and fat out of their teeth throughout dinner. Unless you’re having monkeys over for dinner, they won’t throw it at you, but merely try and discretely place it in a napkin.
In this photo, most of what you’re looking at is fat and gristle. The first thing you want to do is trim the large flap of fat off. Don’t be deceived by the illusion of a little meat inside the two flaps of fat, it’s not worth leaving in place. If you’re careful you can remove it with a sharp knife in one piece.
The slow part of this process involves trimming the fat off the bones all the way down to the meaty end. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to run a knife along the bone in one smooth motion. What you’re aiming for is a clean rib bone right until you get to the large meaty cylinder at the end.
Once the ribs are clean, check the main meaty cylinder. Does it have a layer of fat or gristle at either end? If so, trim it off.
Sarah says you can set the fat and excess meat aside to make soup stock, but that’s not my forte, so I can’t advise you on that. I freeze the leftover bones to give to my dogs as after-dinner treats and toss the excess fat into the trash. You can also start your own Fight Club franchise by rendering it into soap.
Prepare the rub
Fill a pan with breadcrumbs, preferably without MSG or anything sweet added. Add moderate amounts of paprika, chopped garlic, chopped fresh parsley, chopped fresh rosemary, and oregano. Mix together with the breadcrumbs. There are a little too many breadcrumbs in this example shown to be perfect but nobody will notice.
Note that when you read recipes online for this dish, they will suggest adding 1-3 cloves of garlic. This is usually a typo. Nothing good comes out of my kitchen without 6 or more cloves of garlic. Assume that any cookbook that says 1 clove of garlic is a typo for 5.
Mix the ingredients together with a fork.
Now comes the messy part. Get a piece of saran wrap ready. Get a good, flavorful mustard, such as true Dijon. Steven Raichlin the barbecue master (whose book you should buy) speaks the truth when he says that the quality of the mustard wil make or break this dish for you. Make sure you don’t get a honey dijon mustard, as the sweetness will not be good for the dish.
Coat one side of the rack of lamb in mustard evenly and then lay it in the bread crumb mixture, holding it by the clean bones. While holding a hunk of meat in your hands clutching the bones, resist the urge to offer the meat to Zeus. What has he done for you lately? Repeat with the other side of the lamb, then carefully wrap it in saran and place it in the fridge until cooking time.
When it’s time to cook make sure your grill is wiped down with olive oil to prevent sticking. Note that if your grill is dirty no amount of olive oil will save you. Brillo the grate if you have to. Your breadcrumb mixture will stick to the grate, but it will stick to the dirty parts of the grill grate much worse than clean ones.
Also the bones don’t handle heat well, so use this trick that Steve Raichlin teaches and slip a folded piece of aluminum foil underneath the bones while they’re on the grill. This will ensure that they don’t burn up during cooking.
Use a meat thermometer to tell when your lamb is done. The more I grill the more I have become dependant on a meat thermometer to tell me when my food is done as opposed to just eyeballing it. It’s a good investment.
I served the lamb and it received rave reviews. Because I had so little time with Eric, I made a duck the next day and it was so good it overshadowed the lamb. This should be a lesson to you all: space out your best dishes, so your customers don’t come to expect that insanely great culinary tretment every day.