Lamb is typically set aside for special occasions. This holds true especially for a rack of lamb — one of the pricier cuts. But rack of lamb is noted for its terrific flavor and for being versatile and easy to prepare.
If you bought rack of lamb for a dinner and find yourself stumped at what to do with it, rack of lamb taste best with a sear. And so, this pan-seared lamb recipe is just for you. With a few simple steps, minus the marinating time, you will have a nicely seasoned and crusted rack from oven to table in under an hour.
But before you get started, here are some tips on buying, preparing and cooking your rack of lamb.
WHAT SHOULD YOU BUY?
Rack of lamb that’s already packaged may already have the bones “Frenched” — meaning the meat and fat are cut away in-between the bones. This makes the final presentation nicer and it’s easier to cut into individual pieces. Most butchers will do this for you, but it’s easy to do yourself. Don’t worry if you don’t do this, the end result will still look terrific.
The prepackaged rack of lamb typically has eight bones and weights about 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 pounds — which is plenty to serve two people. Prices vary, but expect to pay more than $15 per pound and upwards to $25.
HOW SHOULD YOU COOK RACK OF LAMB?
You can broil it, grill it or oven roast it whole or individual chops. Once cut into chops (sometimes they are called lollipops) they can be served as appetizers or as a main dish.
For a main dish, allow 3-4 chops per serving along with a vegetable and starch side.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR COOKING?
In this recipe the lamb rack is cut in half so it fits into a skillet — unless you have a large enough ovenproof skillet to hold it.
The lamb is also marinated for 2 hours and up to overnight. If you want to keep it simple, you can also season with a good amount of kosher salt and pepper.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO COOK?
Sear fatty-side down first for a few minutes until browned. Turn and sear the meat “eye” edge until it’s browned.
Turn again so it’s fatty-side up and transfer to the oven to finish cooking.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU COOK IT?
Medium-rare is how I like them. Don’t risk ruining the lamb or any other meat for that matter. Buy and use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature.
Look for about 125-130 degrees as a final internal temperate of the center of the meat. The outer edges will be done more, but the center should be medium-rare. Take it out the pan at about 120 degrees. Tent it foil and let it rest a good 10 minutes — the temperature will continue to rise.
While the lamb rests, you can make an optional sauce with the pan juices.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO SERVE RACK OF LAMB?
What’s to like about rack lamb is that it makes for a beautiful presentation. You can present the whole rack on a platter with the bones facing upwards or cut the rack into individual chops. Arrange a few sprigs of fresh herbs and it’s picture-perfect.
WHAT CAN YOU SERVE IT WITH?
This recipe is served with a mint parsley pesto. But almost any pesto will do and it’s also optional. Most pestos are packed with flavor and a small amount can go a long way. You will probably have leftover and that’s OK too, because it freezes well. Place it in individual ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, pop out the cubes and store in a freezer bag.
RACK OF LAMB WITH PESTO
Serves: 2 to 3 / Preparation time: 25 minutes / Total time: 1 hour (plus marinating time)
1 rack of lamb, Frenched if desired (about 11/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons shallots, minced
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
1 large clove garlic, peeled, then minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons walnuts or pine nuts, toasted
2 large fresh garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil canola oil
1/3 cup white wine, optional
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, optional
Cut the rack of lamb in half so you have two pieces with four bones each.
Place both in a plastic bag. Whisk together all the marinade ingredients and pour over the lamb. Seal bag. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Make the pesto. Place the mint and parsley leaves, walnut or pine nuts, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor. Pulse to mince the mixture. Add the Parmesan and pulse again. With the processor on, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. If the mixture is too thick you can thin with a little water or more oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Remove the lamb and the pesto from the refrigerator and let stand for 1 hour before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the lamb from the marinade and brush off any garlic and herbs — they will burn in the pan and in the oven — and pat the lamb dry with paper towels.
In a large oven-proof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add both lamb pieces, fat-side down. Brown the lamb for about 5 minutes. Turn over and transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook about 15 to 20 minutes or until the lamb registers 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer for medium-rare. Or cook it to your desired temperature.
Carefully remove from the oven, transfer the lamb to platter, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes. While the lamb rests, it will continue to cook and the internal temperature will rise.
If desired, you can make a pan sauce. Using the same skillet, add the wine and cook over medium heat. Bring to a boil while scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and heat 1 minute. Strain sauce.
To serve: Arrange the lamb on a platter and drizzle with some pan sauce and a few spoonfuls of pesto. Or cut lamb into individual chops and serve.
From and tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
542 calories (55 percent from fat), 33 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 1 g carbohydrates, 57 g protein, 561 mg sodium, 188 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber.