Room for Seconds

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Lamb isn't really a popular meat in the U.S., but it really should be. I had never tried it until about 2 years ago, and since then I've been totally hooked. Like venison, the flavor is a little richer than the beef/poultry/pork most Americans are used to, and so it benefits from more straightforward cooking methods where our usual choices often require special treatment to become truly unforgettable meals. The price is relatively high, due to the fact that most of the best-quality meat has to be shipped in from New Zealand. At the lower end, lamb racks (a cut from the mid-rib area) cost about $15/pound and in most places it's even pricier than that. To put it in perspective, that's about the cost of beef tenderloin (also known as filet mignon); although even that can be gotten for around $10/pound if you buy a T-bone (AKA Porterhouse) steak, which is the filet mignon and New York strip separated by, you guessed it, a bone in the shape of a T. I lucked out and found a place that actually sells lamb racks for $15/pound. The rack usually weighs in right around a pound so that's $15 per rack. One rack, consisting of 8 ribs and the attached meat pretty easily feeds 3 people, maybe 4 if you have a good amount of sides and one of you is a light eater. I'm usually cooking for 4-5 people, 3 of whom can put away half a rack without a second thought, so I usually go for two. That equals out to $6-$7.50 per person for the main dish, plus the spices but I don't count those because I don't even know how to calculate how much those cost per dish and it's negligible anyway. Point is, it's still not a bad deal even if it is more expensive than a lot of other things one could make. Cheaper than eating out (not counting fast food), anyway.

The rack is often the only cut of lamb available anywhere other than a butcher shop, where, if you're lucky you can get a whole lamb and, if you're Really lucky, it'll still have the head. Meat from the back of the head/neck is insanely delicious and if you ever have a chance to try it (if you know anyone who properly celebrates Greek Easter, try and get an invite), you definitely should.


Other things to know about lamb: Most of what you'll find has undergone a process called "Frenching". What this means is that the thinner layer of meat that would be around the bones sticking out has been removed. It's a relatively negligible amount of meat, although honestly if I could find a rack that hasn't been Frenched I'd definitely go for it because I'll go for more lamb meat over the ability to hold the piece by the bone and nibble the rest any day. Also, if you find lamb racks from America you'll notice they're a bit bigger than the New Zealand racks. This is because they're killed later in life, when they're more sheep than lamb (maybe I'm just an idiot, but I didn't realize they're the same animal, just at different ages, until I looked it up not too long ago), and so they're bigger but the meat is a little tougher.

Oh, and if you do get that invite to Greek Easter; prepare for the fact that a skinned lamb on a spit looks a lot like a running Greyhound, and the accompanying realization that you'd eat a dog in a heartbeat. Maybe not YOUR dog, but a dog you don't know who lived a happy life and died of natural causes early enough to still have some tender meat on 'em. It's fuckin weird, I know, but it happened to me and I've seen it happen to a few other people too.


As for the rice, there are infinite ways to prepare it but over the years I've come to really favor Japanese-style sticky rice. This is usually achieved by adding an extra quarter-cup or so of water per 3-4 cups of rice, so I figured that adding another quarter-cup on top of that would just enhance the effect. The fact that I came to this reasoning after overdoing the water and saying "fuck it, I don't feel like pouring some out and then adding some and doing that whole thing to get it right" shouldn't make too much of a difference. Point is: for people like me who have salty/umami in place of sweet in the "CANDYYYYYY" part of their brains, this dish is pretty fuckin close to a perfect pairing.


2 lamb racks
1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of "zesty" seasoning mix (I use Kroger salt free blend, which has dried onion, black pepper, parsley, celery seed, basil, bay, marjoram, oregano, savory, thyme, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, mustard, rosemary, dried garlic, dried carrot, dried orange peel, dried tomato, and lemon juice powder)
1/2 teaspoon or so of olive oil
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
4 cups of jasmine rice
4.5 cups of water
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup?)
twice as much soy sauce as lemon juice (should be about 1/2 cup, but judge based on how much you actually get out of the lemon)



If you have a rice cooker, start prepping the rice first and let it sit on the "keep warm" setting until you're ready to eat. If not, I'll explain later how to cook the rice in a pot. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Combine the spices and the olive oil in a bowl and stir to form a rough "paste". Score the fat on the back side of the lamb racks in an X pattern, with the lines about 1/2-inch apart. Rub the spice paste all over the top, end and bottom of the meat. Don't do the sides, just the parts that will be seared on the stove top. Heat the vegetable oil in a pan on the stove until it just barely starts smoking. Cast iron is the better way to go here because you can move the pan right into the oven without dirtying an extra dish. Arrange the racks in the pan so that one is fat-side down in the just to the right middle of the pan, with the ribs pointing towards the edge of the pan, and the other rack with the other side down so that the ribs are on top of the meat of the first rack. Sear for about 3 minutes until you have a good crust on the sides touching the pan. Using tongs, sear the ends of both racks, standing them up back to back to support each other and pressing down so they stand on their own, for about a minute and a half. Then go back to the first configuration but with the racks reversed so that the one that was on top now has its fat side down and vice versa, and sear for about 3 minutes. Basically you're looking for a good blackening all over both pieces except on the ends.


Once this is achieved, put the pan in the oven (or put the racks in a roasting pan in the oven) for 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. This results in a pretty perfect medium cooked rack. When the lamb goes into the oven, put the rice in a pot and run cold faucet water over it, swish it around a bit, and then dump out as much water as you can without losing any rice. Do this 4-5 times, or until the water comes out clear. If, after the fifth swish, the water still isn't clear, just move on. This step is to wash off starch and any residual dirt that may be on the rice grains but a) if you're buying bagged rice, there won't be much/any dirt on it anyway, and b) it's not imperative that you get all the starch off it. Once this is done, drain out all the rinsing water and combine the rice and cooking water in the pot, bring it up to a boil, and then simmer it with the lid on until the water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes or so. You'll want to stir it once or twice so the rice on the bottom doesn't get burned. When the lamb is done, rest it on a plate with foil covering the whole thing for 15 minutes, and then cut the individual chops along the bone. Towards the end of the bone, you might hit some resistance caused by the bone turning in a direction you can't really see, so turn the knife until you can cut all the way through. Juice is gonna leak out of the chops no matter what you do, so right before you serve, rub both sides of each chop in the juice that's accumulated on the plate. Combine the lemon juice and soy sauce in a bowl and drizzle it over each serving of rice so that about half of the serving has sauce on it. Enjoy.

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