Friday, August 20, 2010

Lamb Ribs with Lemon-Mint Gremolata

Last November, a chef friend and I split the cost of a pasture-raised lamb from a local slaughterhouse. Over the course of four intense, productive, occasionally injurious hours, he patiently taught me how to break down the carcass. There I was, a baker, learning how to butcher. There were Band-Aids around 3 of my fingers, scraps of flesh stuck to my T-shirt, and for once, I didn't go home smelling like chocolate and candied almonds. Naturally, I was completely smitten.

At the end of the afternoon, I took my butcher-paper-wrapped parcels home and deposited them in the freezer, and let me tell you . . . I would not have felt richer or more accomplished if there'd been gold bars in those parcels.

Even so . . . I'd never cooked lamb before in my life, I was the only member of my family who enjoyed eating it, and I now had half an animal in my freezer. So I did what I always do when I find myself in unfamiliar territory. I caffeinated myself and started researching.

Over the months that followed, I made my way tentatively through the various cuts, getting bolder and more confident with each success. Armed with sheaves of recipe notes, I braised shanks and made long-simmering stews, reduced glace de viande to rubbery cubes and pan-seared gorgeous little loin chops, and finally, now nearly at the end of my precious parcels, I was ready to confront the ribs.

I thawed them, unwrapped and inspected them. I hadn't cleaned these before packaging and freezing them, way back in the fall. I knew more about fabricating lamb now than I did then, so I set about trimming away all but a protective layer of fat, the connective tissue, and the glands that, left behind, can contribute the strong gaminess that many find objectionable in lamb. (You can see one of these small nodes roughly in the center of the picture below.)
Finally, I had my rack of lamb ready to go. But now what? As with all the other cuts, so foreign and initially intimidating to me, I went to my friend for advice. I'd never cooked any sort of ribs before, let alone this oddly shaped little lamb rack. Did one grill or oven-roast lamb ribs? And was it really necessary to parboil? "It depends," he said, "on whether you want them to suck." 

Not wanting my ribs to suck, I listened carefully and took his advice ~ slow-braising, then oven roasting. For the seasonings, I went to this recipe, which offered something a bit unique. Yes, of course, there's rosemary. But it's the addition of caraway seeds that makes magic here. Don't omit them, no matter how much you may be tempted to. There's alchemy in this combination ~ believe it!

My beautiful ribs required no sauce at all. They were meltingly tender under an herbed crust that had just the right balance of crisp and tender. I ran out to my kitchen garden to pick some herbs and made a quick gremolata with fresh mint, flat-leaf parsley, lemon zest, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper, which I sprinkled overtop. The majority of these ribs never made it to a plate; my family ~ my formerly lamb-eschewing family ~ ate them right off the cutting board, licking fingers and sighing with happiness.
I am tempted to get a whole lamb all by myself this fall. One rack of ribs ~ one set of chops, shanks, etc. ~ is just not enough.
Many thanks to Justin ~ for teaching me so much . . . how to butcher a lamb, kill a lobster, and filet a tile fish. (But not how to make pâte feuilletée.)
And to Griffin, my tattoo model. (No vegetarians were forced to consume animal products in the making of this blog post.)
Lamb Rib

3 comments:

  1. I don't believe I've ever had lamb ribs before. They look delicious.

    It's really great that you were able to get a local pasture-raised lamb, too!

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  2. One of the things I love the most about visiting great blogs like yours is I get to not only see food I've never seen prepared before, but you get to read about how they taste. Love it..... & now I'm hungry .... again :) If you wont mind I'd love to guide Foodista readers to your post. Just add the foodista widget to the end of this post so it will appear in the Foodista pages and it's all set, Thanks!

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  3. thats so awesome that you get lamb in your CSA! These look and sound delish!

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