The other day the Big Guy was sent out for some chops to go with second helpings of the Jansson’s Frestelse. Instead, he came home with a beautiful French-trimmed rack of lamb. Of course, it was far too good to for the more rustic plans I had had for the chops.
I knew it would get a lovely herb crust, and be cooked medium rare, so that it was still juicy and melt-in-your-mouth tender. When I am thinking about a dish, I can often clearly visualise the food, including exact colours and shades. I get the best results when I have a really clear picture, and if I can get the dish to look as close to the mental picture as I can. I mentioned this to a friend once, and she seemed pretty surprised that my planning was so visual. I’m not sure if that is because it struck her as an odd method, or if it is because I am so linear in how I work in many other aspects of my life. For me it is natural, and obvious, since you eat with your eyes first. How do you develop a dish, or conceptualise it?
In my head, the crust of this dish was slightly darker than with breadcrumbs alone. I wanted something suitably autumnal, to go with the potatoes. I had initially thought to have chilli and coriander, but this differed significantly from my mental picture.
Then I realised that the colour was cumin. This brown, unassuming little seed would be fantastic in my crust, and it would be the right colour. So I settled upon cumin, rosemary and thyme for the autumnal flavour, and parsley for the greenness.
All good meat needs browning, because it loses so much flavour without the Maillard reaction to kick start the process, and add essential umami. Luckily, this also creates the perfect conditions to make a delicious gravy, or a sauce.
My vision was not of thick, plentiful gravy; instead, I made a fairly thin red wine sauce. I guess if it were served in a restaurant, they might call this a Jus. But it was just the Big Guy and me for dinner, so we didn’t need that level of formality.
I made a little too much of the crust, but that was fine, since you can sprinkle it on other dishes, and freezes well. I’m thinking I might top a stew with it, when next I make one. What do you think I should do with it?
Recipe: Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with a Red Wine Sauce
For the Lamb:
1 tsp cumin seeds
40 g fresh breadcrumbs
3-4 sprigs thyme, leaves only
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves only, roughly chopped
Small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
Oil to moisten
1 French-trimmed rack of lamb allowing three cutlets per person
A little oil for frying
Dijon or French mustard for brushing
For the Sauce:
Trimmings from the lamb rack
Trimmings from an onion and a carrot if you keep a stock drawer or half of each, sliced
Splash of red wine
1 tbsp elderberry or redcurrant jelly
100 ml of stock per person
Heat the oven to 220°C.
Toast the cumin in a dry frying pan until the scent fills the air above the cooker. Be careful not to burn it. Grind it to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar.
Make the crust. I used the end of an old piece of bread, and made fresh breadcrumbs by blitzing them in my food processor, until they were fine. I also often have breadcrumbs made this way in the freezer, because I won’t chuck something out if I can use it as an ingredient.
Once you have fine breadcrumbs, add the herbs and cumin and give it another quick blitz to blend it. Slowly add olive oil until the mixture comes together as a thick paste.
The lamb is likely to have a little fat and a sinew along one side. You can trim the fat, but leave a little around the bone, for flavour. The sinew must be removed, as this is tough. Don’t throw it away, It will help you make a tasty sauce later.
Put foil over the bones of the rack to prevent them from burning in the oven. Brown the meat in a hot frying pan with a little butter, to get the Maillard’s reactions going.
Once the lamb is browned on all sides, brush it with the mustard, giving an even coating. Put the breadcrumb crust in a shallow dish, and press the lamb into the breadcrumbs on all sides. Pat some breadcrumbs in, to ensure an even coating.
Put the meat into the hot oven for about 10 minutes if you want medium, turning once so that the crust browns on both sides. If you prefer your meat well done, then cook for up to 14 minutes, depending on the size. Once it is done to your liking, remove the meat from the oven, cover it in foil, and allow to rest for five minutes.
Make the sauce while the lamb is in the oven. In the same pan that you browned the meat in, brown the sinew and trimmings, with the onion and carrots. Don’t add any more oil to the pan. Once the vegetables have browned, but not burnt, deglaze the pan with the red wine. You really don’t need more than a splash. I do the Nigella trick of freezing any wine left in a bottle as ice cubes, and only used one, whereas I often use 3-4. Cook the wine out for a couple of minutes, then add the stock. Cook the sauce on a fairly high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the jelly, and cook until the jelly has dissolved.
Strain the sauce through a sieve. Remove the foil from the bones of the rack. Slice the rested meat into cutlets and serve with the sauce.