MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Rack of Lamb

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One of my oldest cookbooks is “Julia Child & More Company.” It was a sequel to “Julia Child & Co.,” and consists of thirteen complete meals to serve guests. I have made most everything in there many times over, except the leek and rabbit pie. (I just can’t bring myself to eat bunnies.) I picked it up tonight, wondering where I got it. Opening it, I saw on the flyleaf the simple inscription, “To my son, Nick. Love, Mom. 1980.” I smiled wistfully. I was post-undergrad, working in restaurants, and was seriously considering cooking school. The place to go then was the CIA – the Culinary Institute of America. Mom encouraged me to follow that dream. However, Dad told me to attend law school. Guess who won that one. I enrolled at Wayne State Law in 1981.

In the meantime, that cookbook has more food stains on it than the field of contestants in a no-hands pie eating contest. “Monkfish Tails en Pipérade,” where I learned Monkfish was called “the poor man’s lobster.” Classic cassoulet, laden with beans, lamb, goose, sausage, goose fat and bread crumbs. A towering “Gateau of Crepes, stuffed with vegetables, cheese and custard. The magnificent “Bombe aux Troix Chocolats,” a fudge cake bursting with mousse and topped with chocolate sauce.

Julia’s trademark is her conversational recipe instructions. Even in print her personality shines through. This is much like my mother’s handwritten recipes, with the difference being that Julia will give painstaking detail, where my mother essentially assumes you’ll figure it out (e.g. “Some, but not too much.”) Therefore in choosing a Julia Child recipe for you, I had to find one that won’t take up half the Legal News. I decided on her Roast Rack of Lamb, which is “only” a page and a half if you leave out the sauce instruction. I have successfully made this many times over, and even copied the illustration for my business cards for my fledgling catering company (cleverly named “Gourmet Catering”). I will try to condense it to the essentials, and the lamb truly is delicious enough without the sauce.

Roast Rack of Lamb
(serves six)
2 racks of lamb, fully trimmed
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2-3 TBS Dijon mustard
3-4 TBS light olive or peanut oil
1/2 cup plain white bread crumbs
3-4 TBS melted butter

1. Score the tops of the racks lightly with shallow crisscross knife slashes in the fat. Mash the garlic, salt, and thyme together, then beat in the mustard and oil. Paint this mixture over the tops and meaty ends of the racks.

2. Set racks meat side up on an oiled roasting pan, and fold a strip of foil over the rib ends to keep them from scorching. (You can prepare in advance to this point; cover and refrigerate.)

3. Preheat oven to 500° and set pan in upper middle level. Remove after 10 minutes and rapidly spread a coating of bread crumbs over the top of each rack, and baste with melted butter.

4. Turn thermometer down to 400° and roast for 15 minutes more, then begin checking. Lamb is rare at 125°; continue cooking if you like it more well done.

Julia suggests serving the racks with buttered carrots and “Tomatoes Moussakaise,” or tomato halves scooped out and baked with eggplant and even more lamb, because “there is not much meat on a rack of lamb.” And of course, the omitted sauce made with the lamb bones and seasoning, finished with chicken stock and a little flour. Oh, and I forgot to mention the gratin of potatoes and “Fresh Strawberries and Cream-filled Hazelnut Cornucopias” that round out the meal.

Sadly, Mom and Julia are no longer with us. Mom made sure I would always have Julia in my kitchen. Mom is always there too, and in my heart: “Lots, but never too much.”   
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Nick Roumel is a principal and trial lawyer with NachtLaw in Ann Arbor. He has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor.

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