Prime Ribs of Lamb

A delectable rack of lamb is very easy to make. The bard part is getting the butcher to give it to me the way I like it: chine bone intact and rib unfrenched (unscraped). Some of the most flavorful and crispiest meat is around the bone. Ever since I was three years old, I have preferred the bones to the meat. I used to wonder how I would ever be able to get married and still sit at the table enjoying the bones. When I met Elliott, much to my relief, not only was he a fellow bone lover, he did a better job on his than I did on mine. In fact, bones became the barometer of family relations. Elliott’s children were not bone lovers, so whoever was most in favor at the moment got the bones discreetly passed over to his or her plate. To commemorate our mutual passion for bone nibbling, I always prepare rack of lamb for Valentine’s Day.

Rack of lamb is one of the most elegant and impressive meals you can serve, yet it is extraordinarily simple to prepare as long as you have the timing right. If you don’t feel comfortable with the “hand technique” (see below), an instant- read thermometer is all but infallible. I even made this recipe in the rustic setting of Wilbur Hot Springs in northern California last year. My cousin Joan and I were vacationing there for a weekend of hiking in the surrounding mountains, restorative sulfur baths and a good catch-up of our friendship. Wilbur is a place of spiritual quiet and beauty, with only kerosene lanterns as lights and a large communal kitchen with huge commercial ovens and spacious counters where people gather to prepare their individual dinners, respecting one another’s privacy while cooperatively sharing oven time and space.

Joan brought the lamb and a fine red wine from her home in Berkeley; I brought the Dijon mustard and home-seasoned bread crumbs from New York. I surreptitiously glanced around to see what others were cooking. The variety was staggering, reflecting the different personalities of the guests. Most of the menus, however, seemed to be stir fries with “healthy” sorts of ingredients. But all around us, noses started twitching as the seductive, mingling aromas of lamb, fresh rosemary and garlic reached them. When I quietly (so I thought) demonstrated to Joan how to tell the consistency of the meat’s doneness by using your own hand as a reference, suddenly people started to gather around. We suspected that it was probably the first rack of lamb to be cooked at Wilbur. But why not! The sweetest part was when, at table, I stood up to carve the rack, several people looked over and smiled longingly. I wanted to feed them all.

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Three hours before cooking, remove the rack of lamb to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to: 450°F. Baking time: 35 to 40 minutes
Internal temperature (middle): 135°F.
INGREDIENTS MEASURE WEIGHT
room temperature volume ounces/pounds grams/kilograms
1 rack of lamb* 8 or 9 ribs pounds 1 kilogram, 588 grams
3 medium cloves garlic 0.5 ounce 15 grams
salt ½ teaspoon
pepper, freshly ground, divided ¼ teaspoon
fresh bread crumbs ¾ cup 1 ounce 32 grams
fresh parsley, preferably flat-leafed, minced 2 tablespoons 8 grams
fresh rosemary leaves, minced‡ 2 teaspoons
Dijon mustard 3 tablespoons 2 ounces 54 grams

*I prefer to leave the chine bone intact and not to french the rib bones because this is some of my favorite eating. I do ask the butcher to trim most of the fat and to cut between the ribs at the base to facilitate carving.

†To make fresh bread crumbs, place bread in a food processor and process to fine crumbs.

‡or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary.

Method

At least 15 minutes before cooking, preheat the oven to 450°F.

Cut 1 piece of garlic in half and rub it all over the rack. Mince all 3 garlic cloves and set aside.

Sprinkle the rack with the salt and ⅛ teaspoon of the pepper and place it meat side down in a lightly oiled roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, rosemary and the remaining teaspoon pepper.

Turn the rack meat side up. Spread the upper meaty side of the roast with the mustard. Sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture, pressing to help it adhere. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes longer or until the crumbs are golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted toward the middle of the rack, but not touching the bone, registers 135°F. for medium rare, 140°F. for medium. If the bread crumbs look as if they are beginning to brown too much, tent the rack loosely with a piece of aluminum foil.

Allow the rack to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

I fell in love with this Victorian table ornament, which is a prized family heirloom of my dear friend Elizabeth Field, who loaned it to me.

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