Lamb is a wonderful meat that lends itself to many beautiful dishes, but a common theme across all of them is to keep it simple so that the delicious, gamey flavor of lamb can shine through. With the spring season comes the new lamb season, and so I have prepared a number of lamb dishes. Today’s dinner: an herbed rack of lamb with a sauce composed of a port reduction and dried figs.
This was simply delicious. The ideal way to eat lamb is medium rare so that it is juicy, tender, and just bursting with a distinct flavor. One of my favorite preparations of rack of lamb is herb encrusted, but one thing that never quite sat right with me was the bread-crumby texture of the herb crust–it always bothered me, because when you go to eat it or cut the rack, so much of it crumbles off and is lost! So I tried to apply some of the same flavors and ideas, but just not the full on, classical herb crust. So after browning the rack, I pressed it in some diced herbs so that it would still have those herby, earthy flavors clinging to it, but in a lighter way. I then roasted the rack and prepared a sauce from the juices, port, and dried figs for a really rich sauce. All combined, this was a delight to eat and almost shockingly quick and easy to prepare. The only disappointing part of this dish was that I couldn’t get my hands on a whole rack of lamb. However, since I had my heart set on a rack of lamb for dinner, I had to buy it already partially chopped (e.g. in 2 or 3 rib chunks), but if you have the option, you should most definitely get a whole rack. But hey, you make do and adjust to what’s available, right?
- 8-10 rib rack of lamb
- olive oil
- few sprigs of thyme
- 1-2 sprigs rosemary
- handful of basil leaves
- 8 dried mission figs
- 1/2 cup port
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
First, for both appearances and for helping the fat to render out, score the fatty side of the rack with diamonds, cutting only deep enough to puncture the fat but not the flesh. This will give your final plating extra sexy points, and why would you ever opt to have fewer sexy points? Also, preheat the oven to 400°F.
Now, lightly coat the rack with olive oil (since it is an awkward shape to deal with in the pan, oiling it up front is easier), rub with salt and pepper to taste, and brown it (fatty side first) in a hot, lightly oiled pan for roughly 2-5 minutes. Do you best to brown all sides, but the inner side obviously might pose a challenge, so don’t go nuts trying to make that work if you can’t. Once you’re done browning, finish the rack by standing it up in the pan so that it is standing vertically. Aside from browning the bottom, this will also allow any stray juices to run into the pan (this is good) and it will let things cool off a bit for your handling. Let this stand for a minute or two.
When done browning, assuming it is cool enough to handle (be careful!), grab the rack and press it (fatty side down) into the diced herbs. Given the oiliness, a good amount of the herb mixture should stick right the to the lamb perfectly. If there are leftover herbs, feel free to press them on the backside or where ever, but don’t worry about it.
At this point, set the lamb in the oven. I chose to lay the rack in a roasting pan (on a rack with my side of potatoes underneath), but if you’d rather use a pan (e.g. cast iron), do whatever works for you. Whatever the case, set a timer for 10 minutes–this cut of lamb cooks quickly and you do not want to risk overcooking it. Medium-rare is most definitely the way to go.
While the lamb is roasting, its sauce-making time. If the lamb is in a roasting pan, your stovetop already has the perfect pan ready for the job–use the one you browned the lamb in! It has the juices, the brown bits, and the heat all ready to go.
Given the short amount of time you have, obviously, the sauce is pretty simple to put together. Add the diced figs, port, stock, and balsamic to the pan, heat to a boil, and reduce on medium/medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes until it achieves a desirable consistency. Check in on the lamb periodically to ensure it doesn’t overcook.
When the lamb is done, take it out of the oven, carve the rack so as to separate each rib, and fan it out on your place, drizzling some sauce and figs as you see fit. I served with some small potatoes of some indeterminate name. 😉