One of the greatest secrets to excellent food is the old and familiar adage, “keep it simple!” If you are really clever you will also have twigged that sometimes the ingredients of any dish can do the talking for you. A good quality, flavoursome piece of meat and the freshest vegetables you can find are often all you need to have them cheering in the aisles and marvelling at your culinary skills. The difficulty is that somewhere along the line simplicity was traded for the smoke and mirrors antics of the professional and celebrity chef. The idea that some things can never be reproduced in a domestic kitchen to any great degree of competency is, in my opinion, nonsense.
Now before I insult all my good friends in the industry, I don’t deny the talent, craft, skill and dedication of the professional, but it depends on an entirely different set of criteria to that of your average family cook. My thesis is that while Joe and Josephine Blogs will always marvel at the labour intensive ‘handmade, truffle filled, star shaped ravioli with a little butter and mushroom jus’ on their occasional visit to a restaurant, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the time at home means bland food hell. We eat every day!
What we sometimes need is a sense of adventure; a desire to try something new but not necessarily anything too complicated. For example at this time of year why not cook a rack of lamb? This is something that is often seen as only perfected by the professional. I disagree. The key to this is buying the best lamb you can get your hands on and then following the traditional rules of cooking it. With a little preparation, the meat itself and the oven do all the work! The same theory applies to the accompaniments. Two excellently chosen sides will trump quantity or variety any day.
So why are people so afraid of rack of lamb? I suppose it is considered quite a luxurious dish, probably stemming from the fact that it is the most tender part of the lamb and therefore considered quite exclusive. It also has quite a regal look about it and that’s why sometimes you see those little paper hats covering the ribs. Preparing the rack involves cleaning the fat of those ‘sticky out’ bones, (this technique is called ‘frenching’) however, if you go to a good butcher they will do that for you. I would suggest three to four cutlets per person.
Take your time when preparing the lamb. I like to coat it in a little oil mixture that I make using olive oil, chopped fresh rosemary, two garlic cloves (chopped) and a pinch of mustard powder. I lightly coat the rack with this mixture and then I heat some oil in an oven proof pan and sear the meat. Do not put the meat into the pan until it is good and hot and then be very careful not to let it burn. It will only take approximately 2 minutes on each side to sear. Do not leave it go past 3 minutes or you could be in trouble. Once it is seared, wipe any excess fat from the meat, cover the bone tips with a little tinfoil to stop them going black during cooking and put the meat, bone side down onto an oven proof dish ready for the preheated oven. You could, if you wanted to, roll the whole piece in breadcrumbs at this point, but that is optional.
Usually you are trying to achieve a nice brown colour on the outside with a little pink still in the centre of each cutlet. Have the oven preheated and then the general rule of thumb is 20 minutes for rare and 25 minutes for medium rare; the latter being my preference. Once again I make the comment about owning a meat thermometer. It is a foolproof way of checking if the meat is cooked through and no kitchen should be without one.
Like any meat it should be left to rest for 10 to 20 minutes before carving and if you want a real sense of theatre then do so at the table! This is not for the fainthearted and I prefer to cut and plate up out of sight, that way you can wipe away any drips before you present it to a guest.
At James Whelan Butchers we take particular pride in our naturally reared, wholesome Tipperary lamb with its deep red colour and remarkably sweet, grass fed taste. Prepare to wow your guests with this sophisticated roast that makes for beautiful presentation and is easy to carve, making it a perennial dinner party favourite. There are several spring lamb recipes and serving ideas on our website so do check that out also and don’t let anyone tell you that a perfect rack of lamb is only achievable in a restaurant. Try it out this weekend and see if home cooking a rack of lamb is not only delicious but tremendous value as well.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers