Why It Works
- The lamb gets layers of flavor from two different sources: an earthy spice mixture, and a fresh, tangy herb blend.
- A quick sear over direct heat browns the lamb, then low, controlled indirect heat cooks it to perfection.
Holidays call for a little splurging. And when it comes to Easter, lamb is an obvious, splurge-worthy choice. I usually end up going with the leg, but after years of holiday leg of lamb recipes, I decided I owed myself a treat and picked up a rack of lamb instead. The question was, what flavors could I use to make it as delicious as possible?
After creating recipes for merguez sausage and chermoula, I've become enamored with North African flavors. They're simultaneously earthy and spicy, fresh and acidic. It's an instantly recognizable combination, and one that can both stand up to and enhance the strong flavor of lamb.
I ended up taking a two-step approach to layering those flavors. First, I made a dry spice rub by combining earthy spices—paprika, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon—with hot ones, like black pepper and cayenne. I applied it liberally to a frenched rack of lamb. With that side of the equation taken care of, I moved on to my fresh ingredients.
To capture some brightness, I made a pesto-like blend of cilantro, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. But rather than slathering it over the chops right away, I decided to wait until the lamb was partially cooked. It's a method I've used in the past. I started off by searing the meat and sealing in the rub over high heat, and then added my moist ingredients later on to avoid burning them to a crisp.
Having invested in a high-quality, expensive piece of meat, I wanted to make sure to grill it perfectly. And when it comes to lamb, that means cooking it slowly and uniformly over even, indirect heat.
But first, I wanted to get a nice sear on it, so I decided to start with a blast of intense, direct heat. Luckily, a rack of lamb comes with a generous layer of fat over the meat, which acts as insulation, making it possible to sear the outside of the rack while barely cooking the inside.
That layer of fat can often be a problem, because when you put fat over the coals, it renders, drips down, and causes flare-ups. In some cases, those flare-ups can ruin meat—especially thinner cuts—by burning it to death. But because I wanted to brown the lamb as quickly as possible, they actually helped quite a bit: as those narrow towers of intense flames rose from the coals and kissed the meat, the outside seared incredibly quickly. I managed to get an aromatic, burnished crust well before the internal temperature of the meat was able to rise.
Once it was seared, I moved the lamb to a cutting board to apply the herb mixture. I needed some "glue" to get it to stick to the meat, so I rubbed the lamb first with a thin layer of Dijon mustard, then pressed the herb mixture into that.
I returned the lamb to the grill, this time over indirect heat and with the bones as far from the fire as possible to prevent them from charring (if you want them to be a pristine white, you can also wrap them in tin foil). Then I covered the grill and cooked the lamb slowly until it reached a rosy medium-rare—the meat should register 130°F (54°C) on an instant-read thermometer. I wouldn't bring a rack of lamb past medium-rare; anything higher and the meat will begin to toughen and the flavorful juices will be lost.
Special Day, Special Lamb
The required 10- to 15-minute rest was an exercise in extreme restraint, but the wait was well worth it.
The meat came out incredibly tender and juicy, with an amazingly rich and smooth flavor. I must say, the earthy spice crust balanced perfectly with the bright, fresh parsley and cilantro mixture. It certainly felt like I was eating something special, a dish reserved for those moments when a little excess is what's called for. The Moroccan flavor may be a departure from your standard holiday lamb, but it's one that works especially well and certainly won't disappoint if you're looking to change things up this Easter.
April 11, 2014
For the Herb Mixture:
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice from about 2 lemons
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic, about 3 medium cloves
For the Spice Rub and Lamb:
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 Frenched 7-10 rib racks of lamb, trimmed of all but a thin layer of fat, about 1 1/2-2 pounds each
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
For the Herb Mixture: Combine cilantro, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic in a medium bowl. Set aside.
For the Spice Rub: Combine paprika, salt, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cinnamon, and cayenne in a small bowl. Season racks of lamb all over with spice mixture.
Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place racks of lamb over hot side of the grill, fat side down, and cook until well browned, 3-5 minutes. Transfer lamb to a cutting board.
Brush a thin layer of mustard over the fat side of each rack of lamb. Carefully press the herb and lemon mixture into the mustard on each rack, distributing it evenly.
Return racks to grill, fat side up, close to, but not directly over, the coals. Continue to cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 130°F (54°C) when inserted into the side of the rack, 15 to 25 minutes. Remove from grill and let rest uncovered for 10 minutes. Slice between ribs into chops and serve immediately.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 40g||52%|
|Saturated Fat 19g||93%|
|Total Carbohydrate 5g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||6%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 14mg||69%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|