The first time I cooked lamb at home was just a few years ago. For no real reason the meat had somewhat intimidated me. It has a reputation of being gamey and funky (which you either love or hate. Up until recently, my only encounters with lamb were heavily seasoned gyro meat smothered in tzatziki and tomatoes. No funk could penetrate those flavors), and something about the exposed bones and tiny amounts of meat on a rack of lamb made it seem too elaborate or fancy for a weeknight.
Once I actually took the time to read a recipe, I realized just how dead simple it is to cook a rack of lamb. I also realized it is the perfect main course for a dinner party.
In our neighborhood, a group of us do a seasonal Progressive Dinner. A Progressive Dinner, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is a dinner party spread out at different houses, with each house hosting a different course. We’ve only done three since its inception (One Summer, one Fall, One Spring), and each night has proven to be better, tastier, and more fun than the last.
This year, for our Spring dinner– I was assigned the main course. The main course in a progressive dinner is tricky–trickier than a normal dinner party–because it needs to be really low maintenance. You have to be ready to whip it together in a short amount of time, preparing before leaving the house for the start of the meal, and coming back shortly before it’s time for the main course to get it going again and ready to serve.
This year for the Spring meal, I decided to do rack of lamb as the main. The meat is seasonal, the presentation is great, the relish can be made hours ahead of time, and it’s so easy to make you can still put on a show when you’ve had a cocktail and two glasses of wine (and counting).
Obviously it also works great for a regular dinner party where you aren’t on the move to another house after finishing. The lamb can be seared and sit at room temperature for up to an hour before roasting in the oven. This gives you ample time to get your table set, clean your workspace, run the dishes if you can, slam a glass of wine, and get yourself ready. That way when your guests come you can relax and actually talk to them instead of fussing over the stove with a higher maintenance main course.
Roasted Rack of Lamb with Mint Relish
Directions below are for 1 rack of lamb, but this is easily multiplied. Count on each guest eating 3 chops. Serve with cous cous, greek salad, and a full bodied red wine.
Ingredients for Lamb
One rack of lamb, frenched*
Salt and Pepper
1Tb Flavorless Oil (Vegetable, Canola etc.)
Ingredients for Relish
1/4 C chopped fresh mint
1/8 C chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced and smashed to a paste
Salt & Pepper
*Your lamb should come somewhat frenched from the butcher/store, but it’s likely it will need some more trimming done at home. I’ve prepared a handy illustrated guide to doing so:
Once your lamb is ready to go, adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with heavy duty aluminum foil and place a wire rack in the pan.
Heat the oil in a 12 inch frying pan until just smoking. Lay the rack fat side down and sear for 4-5 minutes or until well browned. Turn the rack ribs-pointing-up and hold it with tongs to brown the bottom of the meat. Once you are happy with the browning (it will not brown much more in the oven), set it fat side up (so the ribs arch down) on the pan.
At this point you can set the meat aside for up to an hour while you prepare other parts of the dinner, clean up and get the dishes put away. I have even popped this in the fridge after an hour (as I needed more time, closer to 2 hours) and THEN roasted it and it was still great!
Pop the pan in the oven and roast at 425 for 10-12 minutes or until the lamb registered 125 degrees F on an instant read thermometer for medium rare.
While the lamb is roasting, prepare the relish (for party purposes, this could also be done a few hours ahead of time and kept out on the counter at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap). Simply combine all ingredients in a small bowl/jar, mix to combine, being sure to re-incorporate prior to serving.
Once the lamb is done, pull from the oven and tent with foil for 10 minutes. Using tongs, position the rack vertically and take a knife to chop between each rib to create a charming fancy looking little chop.
Serve with relish and your favorite Mediterranean inspired sides.