Along with the smiling faces of daffodils and amethyst and indigo clusters of hyacinth, lamb is a harbinger of spring. It is also the traditional meal for Passover and Easter feasts. Racks of interlocking rib bones and the jewel of a formal gathering, the crown roast of lamb, are both worthy of serving during any celebration. A treasured Brit protein source and an important part of the Australian economy, Americans have a bit to learn about these wooly baby sheep from their friends across the pond and Down Under. Americans on average eat a mere pound of lamb per year per person, while the average Aussie consumes nearly twenty pounds. Healthier and more sustainably raised than beef, learning to prepare lamb should be a goal of every carnivorous home chef. Lamb is one of the few nearly completely grass-fed animals available from a local farmer's market shepherd in nearly all regions of the United States. While a bit of salt, pepper and olive oil is all that is needed for a weeknight preparation ready in minutes, the effort required to make this fragrant, juicy recipe yields a tender, buttery meat dressed to impress even the most sophisticated palate.
Ingredients4 racks of lamb (6 or 7 ribs each, about 1 1/2 pounds each fully trimmed and tied) 4 large garlic cloves 1 teaspoon sea salt 4 tablespoons dijon mustard 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 cup day old bread, 1/8" cubes (crusts cut off) from a Pullman style white loaf 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
- Wrap each of the exposed rib bones in aluminum foil to keep from burning. Place each rack fat side up on a cutting board and lightly score the fat in one direction and then the other so that it looks crosshatched (do not cut all the way through to the flesh).
- In the bowl of a food processor add the garlic, salt, mustard, rosemary and lemon juice. Whir until combined. Slowly drizzle the olive oil through the tube until the mixture has the consistency of a creamy mayonnaise.
- Use a pastry brush to evenly spread the mustard sauce over the fatty tops and sides of the lamb racks. For the best finished flavor, be certain the sauce goes into the cross hatched fat.
- Place the racks of lamb, fat side up, on a wire rack set inside of a half sheet baking tray and place on the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes to sear the lamb's exterior. Remove the lamb from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.
- Spread the bread cubes over the seared fat and drizzle the bread with butter. Return to the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 125 degrees F. (rare, but the meat will continue to cook when removed from the oven).
- Let the meat stand, tented with aluminum foil, for 15 minutes before carving and serving.
American raised lamb racks tend to be bigger and milder in flavor due to a grain "finishing" diet. Much of lamb's grassy flavor is in the fat cap--always leave a bit of fat so that the meat does not dry out, but trim to adjust the taste to your liking. Dijon mustard quality varies. Maille Dijon Mustard, produced since 1747, is always a good choice. Grey Poupon lacks depth of heat, but may be used if all that is available. Request that the butcher leave an even layer of fat across the back for presentation and even cooking. The mustard coated racks may be covered and refrigerated the day before cooking. The lamb may be served hot, or at room temperature. Lamb is best eaten cooked to medium rare.