Eric Akis: Rack of lamb makes great supper

Eric Akis

A bounty of herbs in my garden, ripening fruit on my blackberry bush and a beautifully frenched rack of Vancouver Island lamb I bought at a butcher shop inspired today’s recipe.

I sometimes call rack of lamb the “prime rib” of lamb, because it’s a premium, tender, succulent cut that’s also taken from the upper-rib section of the animal. Rack of lamb, of course, is much smaller than prime rib. A full eight-rib rack, when halved, will yield two nice portions. It can be pricey, but for a once-in-a-while treat I always find its worth the cost, especially when it’s good, local lamb.

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On that note, the rack of lamb I bought came from Slater’s Meats (slatersmeats.com) in Oak Bay. Geoff, one of the owners/ butchers, said they obtained it from Parry Bay Sheep Farm (parrybaysheepfarm.com) in Metchosin.

Other butcher shops around the Island also sell local lamb. You can buy direct from some farms, such as Parry Bay.

To find other farms selling lamb in the Greater Victoria area, go to islandfarmfresh.com and search “lamb.”

Slater’s Meats does a fine job at “frenching” lamb racks. As noted in a past article, it’s a process in which the butcher removes the chine, which connects the backbone and the ribs. Removing the chine makes it easy for one to cut the lamb between the rib bones.

After the chine is removed, a sharp knife is used to expose the upper portion of the ribs by removing the fat and sinew on them. The flap of loose fat and fatty flesh above the lean meat of the rack is also removed.

When properly frenched, the upper part of the ribs will be very clean and only a fairly thin layer of fat will be left on the meat. If the rack of lamb does not look like that, it has not been properly frenched. Which, in turn, means you’ll be paying for more fat and sinew than you should be if the seller has labelled it “frenched” rack of lamb.

To prepare the lamb for roasting, I first seared it in hot oil on the meat side until a rich brown. I then turned it meat side up and brushed the lamb with Dijon mustard. The next step was to sprinkle the lamb with salt, pepper and a mix of chopped fresh herbs from my garden, which included rosemary, oregano and mint. Into the oven the lamb went and when roasted, it had a lovely herb/ mustard crust and rosy pink middle.

I served the lamb with an updated version of Cumberland sauce. It’s a classic English-style sauce made with such things as citrus juice, port and redcurrant jelly.

My twist on this sauce was to blend fresh blackberries into it, creating a deeply coloured, tangy, sweet sauce that nicely complemented the rich taste of the lamb.

Summer Herb-and-Mustard-crusted Rack of Lamb

This succulent, tender lamb, is seared, brushed with mustard, seasonally flavoured with a mix of fresh herbs, then roasted to your desired doneness. It makes a splendid summer supper for two. Serve it with boiled or steamed miniature potatoes and green beans, and blackberry Cumberland sauce.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: Depends on desired doneness (see method)

Makes: Two servings

3 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs (I used a mixture of rosemary, oregano and mint)

• coarsely ground black pepper and flaked or coarse sea salt, to taste

1 (8-rib, about 675 to 725 gram) rack of lamb

1 Tbsp olive oil

4 tsp Dijon mustard

• blackberry Cumberland sauce, to taste (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 400 F with rack in middle. Combine the herbs, pepper and salt in a bowl. Cut the lamb, widthwise, into two, four-rib racks.

Pour the oil into an ovenproof skillet set over medium-high. When oil is hot, set in the lamb, flesh side down, and sear it on that side until a rich brown colour, about four to five minutes.

Remove skillet from the heat and drain away the excess oil/fat in the pan. Turn the lamb flesh side up. Brush the top of the lamb with the mustard. Now sprinkle and press on the herb mixture.

Roast the lamb 21 to 24 minutes for rare; 24 to 27 minutes for medium-rare; and 29 to 30 minutes for medium (see Note). Transfer the lamb to a plate, cover loosely with foil and let rest five minutes.

The lamb is now ready to plate and serve with some of the blackberry Cumberland sauce.

Note: Because rack of lamb can vary in thickness, the most concise way to check it for doneness is to use an instant-read meat thermometer. When one is inserted through the side of the lamb, for rare meat, the centre of it should be 120 F to 125 F. For medium-rare it should be 125 F to 130 F, and for medium 140 F. Remember that the lamb will continue to cook once out of the oven and allowed to rest.

Blackberry Cumberland Sauce

This strained version of tangy and sweet Cumberland sauce is infused with the taste of fresh, in-season blackberries. Spoon some of it alongside the rack of lamb once plated. Reserve the leftover sauce in a tight-sealing jar and save for another time. It will keep a week or more in the refrigerator. It could also be frozen. Beyond lamb, you could also serve this sauce with hot or cold ham, paté, game, meat pies and sausage rolls.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: seven minutes

Makes: 1 1/3 cup

3/4 cup fresh blackberries

1/2 cup red current jelly (see Note)

1/3 cup blackberry-style port or regular port

1/2 tsp grated orange zest

2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp orange juice

1/2 tsp grated lemon zest

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp chopped fresh ginger, or pinch or 2 dried

2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbsp cold water

Place all ingredients in a small pot and set over medium, medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the jelly is melted and the blackberries have softened, about five minutes.

Remove pot from the heat and purée the mixture in the pot with an immersion (hand) blender. You could also purée it in a food processor or blender.

Set a fine sieve over a bowl. Pour the mixture in the pot into it. Now firmly whisk and push and strain the mixture through the sieve into the bowl. Serve the sauce warm with the rack of lamb. The sauce could also be served cold.

Note: Redcurrant jelly is sold in most supermarkets. I used Bonne Maman brand.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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