Lamb... Lovely, Lovely Lamb
"I've prepared this rack of lamb for you, Cheoff... what will you do with it?"
When your favourite, trusted local butcher gives you that sort of problem it's time to rise to the challenge.
Blitzing breadcrumbs, chopped chives and salt and pepper in a food processor gave me a good handful of herb crust for the surface of the rack.
My oven was already on at 180 degrees. I decided to trim the very thin skin from the fat layer. It's fairly unnecessary but that's how I roll. The fat was scored in a criss-cross pattern. The herb crumb was ready but is used later.
The meat is seared in a hot pan with a little rapeseed oil, fat side down first. After five minutes, turn and brown the other side. Attend to the ends with a little careful manoeuvring - those bones help here. Remove the meat but leave all the fats and sticky brown bits in the pan. I wanted two distinct treatments here. One of the racks was spread with a generous tablespoon of English mustard.
Turning the mustard-coated meat onto the crumbs left their imprint. The plain and treated meats then go into the heated oven for 15 minutes. An extra five minutes will give you more well done rather than the 'pink' which I prefer.
Removed from the oven, the meat was wrapped in foil and left to rest. The slices were cut at least ten minutes later when all had relaxed and tenderised.
Back to that pan! Put it on the heat again and sprinkle in a couple of tablespoons of plain flour. Stir that around until it takes on a bit of colour and then de-glaze with a glass of white wine, stirring all the time. Add chicken stock until you have a light but slightly thicker gravy. Do use port, red wine or spoonfuls of redcurrant jelly if you wish. My fruity element would come from something else on the plate. Reduce the gravy if it isn't as thick as you like and strain if necessary.
Baby potatoes were boiled and drained, seasoned and crushed at the last minute. I'd prepared some courgettes, broad beans, leeks and carrots earlier by cooking them only long enough to begin to soften. They were plunged into cold water and drained until needed. When the gravy was prepared I put the vegetables in a pan with a tablespoon each of water and butter. They were heated just enough for eating but not so much to cook them further.
The lamb was unwrapped and carved into portions... time to plate up! I got a little precious with this one and drew a diagram which I am prepared to share with you. The crayon work was added after the meal.
This dish gave an ideal opportunity to bring out my Nettle & Mint Sauce. It didn't quite hold its emulsified circular shape long enough for the photo shoot... must work on that! The main thing is that, even though I got a bit distracted with prissy presentation, the food tasted pretty amazing.
The Damson Jelly used is actually the very wonderful Diana Henry's Damson Cheese recipe. I make this every year around September when damsons are ready. Terrific with cheeses, it stores well and was a great fruity addition to this meal.
Of course, second helpings were so messy that you won't be seeing any photos!
It's always great to have some leftovers. I'm gradually becoming more of a fan of cold lamb and it went down very well as a lunchtime snack two days later.
I was pleased with the look of the meal but, as ever, proof was in the eating. Giving the vegetables a simple, light touch left the meat as the rightful centrepiece. Going from the field to the plate with collaboration from an excellent butcher and a very enthusiastic cook, this lamb offered a rich reward of flavour.
Cooking this for a loved one would make it even more special - but this sort of meal probably needs your attention during a fairly undisturbed afternoon. How you cope with the compliments after eating is entirely up to you!
I admit to a bit of guilt over the cutlet frills below. Butcher, Graham, donated them specially and all I can show him is a photo proving I did nothing with them. Sorry, Graham... but I will dare to show my face again. I'd be nuts to pass up the prospect of more great produce!
I'm rounding off with a spot more confessional. Those neat damson jelly cylinders (and various elements which I add to other plates) are cut using a guilt-laden acquisition. Many years ago in a student job at a local essence factory I came across a box of cork borers. They were surreptitiously removed and taken home at the end of one day... I believe the local constabulary might well have described this as a bit of nicking :/
Beautifully engineered, they are a rather naughty addition to my kitchen tools. The factory site is now a housing estate - so I comfort myself and fend off self-recrimination with the thought that I have preserved a historical artefact for posterity!