Once upon a time, I was a vegetarian (see above photo: oh, how far we’ve come). Though I didn’t miss the meat as much as you might expect, I had occasional (stabbing, ravenous) guilty-pleasure cravings. Every vegetarian misses bacon, but I carried serious lust in my heart for (arugula? Tempeh? Blenheim apricots?) crispy Buffalo-style chicken wings, drenched in Frank’s spicy hot sauce and dunked in blue cheese dressing. Oh, yes. (I make my own wings a few times a year for whatever Big Game is on. Add cold mugs of beer and celery sticks, and grateful sports fans will lob marriage proposals at you.)
Aside from the bacon and frat boy fare, I missed my mother’s rack of lamb. I missed it terribly. The fine-grained meat, rosy and pink. Those dainty little rib bones and the robust, grainy herb crust. I thought about it every time I wanted to host a special dinner, how a roasted rack looks so elegant, so ta-daa on a table set for Easter or a small dinner party. How each bite holds the tang of mustard, the distinctive flavor of lamb and a creamy bit of fat in perfect balance. But then, when I eventually added meat into my cooking rotation, I never attempted to make it myself. Seemed complicated. Restaurant-tricky.
The reality? It’s incredibly straightforward and simple. Not tricky at all! We can have a gorgeous rack of lamb for dinner whenever we want! The only thing you’ll need (besides an oven and money to purchase said rack of lamb) is a meat thermometer, and this chart:
As for that delicious crust, my mother’s secret turned out to be half a jar of grainy Dijon mustard (she and I both like the Maille brand). That’s it. I threw in some rosemary and minced shallots for good measure, which you can adjust or leave out as you like.
Roasted Rack of Lamb
adapted from the Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly, 1998
- 7-8 rib rack of lamb, about 1-1/4 lb, Frenched and trimmed
- salt and pepper
- 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
Season lamb with salt and pepper and bring to room temperature, about an hour. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prepare mustard-herb rub (recipe follows). In a medium skillet, heat the oil until shimmery-hot over medium-high heat. Sear the rack, fat side down, until browned, about 2 minutes. With tongs, hold the rack upright to sear the top and then the sides of the rack. Let the meat rest for 2 minutes while you spread the mustard-rosemary mixture on the fat side of the rack.
Transfer to a foil-lined sheet pan (or if your skillet’s oven-proof, wipe down with a paper towel) and roast in the oven for about 20-25 minutes (assuming you’re aiming for medium rare). Remove the roast when its internal temperature (stick the thermometer into the meatiest part of the lamb, avoiding the bones, from the sides and the middle and take an average) is about 5 degrees cooler than your desired final temperature; the temp will continue to rise 5-10 degrees, referred to as “carryover cooking”. Let the meat rest, loosely covered with foil, for 5-7 minutes before carving between the ribs and serving. Serves 2-3 chops per person.
Mustard Herb Rub for Lamb
makes enough for one rack
- 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
- 2 Tbsp shallots, minced
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 C whole-grain Dijon mustard (such as Maille)
Mix ingredients together in a small bowl.