It’s coming, in this hemisphere at least. Autumn. I just returned from Australia last week. Life was trembling on the branches. We ate rhubarb & freshly shelled peas. Even broad beans. I wandered in gardens, and arugula flowers bloomed. It was cold and gray. But the produce and shivering buds on the trees gave it away: spring. The last day there was sun. Such sun. Metaphysical sun. I cycled around the Sydney harbor & sucked oysters out of their shells in the park. But then I flew and flew away from spring and back to muscadines and gourds and picking tart, firm apples alone in the orchards of the Blue Ridge Mountains. To roasted meats and before I know it smoke, leaves aflame, and that particular razor blue of a clear, autumnal sky.
Leaving spring was hard. Leaving Australia was hard, harder than I could have ever imagined it being. I thank god for being too busy to cry (or too stubborn). I cried for a moment, just one, on the plane. And Rebekka, half asleep next to me, peered from out her eye mask and asked sweetly Are you ok? I did the thing, the thing where you pretend you aren’t crying and that was the end of it. I like to let sadness wash over me in one acute wave and then never think of it again. I find that if I let it pierce me, if only for a few seconds, it leaves. Lightness returns and good work consumes me again. Good work like finding something simple & lovely to do with fresh, local lamb from the butcher shop here in Chattanooga, Main St. Meats.
It’s strongly flavored meat, and I like to pair it with classic mint, the perfume of coriander seed, and anise scented fennel. Throw in a nice wine like this Blend 175, a Cabernet & Syrah blend by Bridlewood Estate Winery (I developed this recipe specifically to pair with this wine) for those who imbibe and you have a meal that’s easy enough for a weeknight but elegant enough for company. The meat is strong enough to stand up to the bold flavors, and the herbaceous notes & spice are organic with the grassy lamb and perfect for the time of year when the weather quietly begins to cool. It would make a great Thanksgiving alternative to The Turkey.
I’ve been thinking about meat a lot lately. I eat it infrequently, mostly saving it for company. But I like raw meat, the primal feeling I get when I’m handling it. The fleshiness. The sacrifice. I respect it. And I want every dish I create out of the life of an animal to do it justice. I always love a simple roast. It keeps me from fiddling with something when I have company. You just settle it in the oven after a screamingly hot sear for a brown crust. For the maillard reaction (which is not caramelization—that’s sugar—and is a very interesting phenomena.) It’s not unlike love, really, the maillard reaction. Though most things aren’t unlike love in the end.
When amino acids and sugar come together in a hot, dry place a thing happens that we all like very much. Browning. Bread crust, seared meat, roasted coffee, jammy onions. This is the alchemy of the savory. The more alkaline the food, the more it browns. Hence why baking soda (bicarbonate) promotes browning in baked goods. The point is you want this. It’s good. Humans have cultivated it in the culinary arts long before we could ever name it. It’s a fundamental craving. And that’s why searing meat before roasting is never a step to skip. It builds deep flavor, complexity. It makes your meat robust.
To get a good sear, dry your meat. The drier the better. Use a hot pan. A very hot pan. A little bit of oil, one with a high smoking point. I usually go for grapeseed oil. Don’t crowd the pan. You want a sear, not a steam. Too much meat gets steamy. No good. Then the hard part: don’t touch it. Give it a few minutes. When it’s ready, it should release easily. Flip, repeat. That’s when you’re ready to throw your meat into the low & slow, the roasting & braising & what have you. I like to roast my lamb low. I find it results in the most tender, juicy meat, and given that a rack is quite small, it doesn’t take too long.
A few things:
As I have mentioned, in the coming year I’m creating more than recipes and dinners. I’m creating experiences. Workshops, suppers, retreats, and gatherings of all sorts are in the works everywhere from Japan to Australia to Portugal as well as here at home in the States. They’re intended to be immersive experiences that engage all five senses, teach you the skills to bring your creative vision to life, and leave you rejuvenated & inspired on every level. Food, travel, and the creative process will be the heart of each. If you’d like to be on the mailing list to be notified of upcoming events simply fill out the contact form and let me know you’re interested. If you’re interested in any of the retreats abroad I just mentioned, make sure to let me know which one! Contact form can be found in the menu bar at the top of the page.
coriander, fennel, & mint marinated rack of lamb + mint chimichurri
This serves two as an entree or four as a small plate. With additional sides, it could serve four as an entree depending on how meat hungry your crowd is.
- 1 (eight-bone) rack of lamb
- 2 small fennel bulbs, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup new potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
- kosher salt
- olive oil
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 4 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice of about one and a half lemons)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves, packed
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper (can substitute black pepper)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground fennel seed (can use a spice grinder or mortar & pestle)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground coriander seed
- pinch of ground cloves
- 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, packed
- 1/2 cup fennel fronds, packed
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, packed
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Combine the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to thoroughly combine. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the mixture and set aside in a small bowl.
- Place the whole rack of lamb in a large resealable plastic bag, and pour the marinade you haven't set aside over it, tossing and rubbing to make sure the lamb is evenly and well coated. Roll the bag closed to get the air out and seal the lamb in with the marinade.
- Place the bag in the refrigerator and marinate at the very least two hours and preferably overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 275°F. Toss the fennel and baby potatoes with one tablespoon of the remaining marinade and arrange them in the bottom of a baking dish just big enough to fit the lamb along with the vegetables.
- Meanwhile, heat a skillet over high heat on the stove. Remove the lamb from marinade, wiping off excess & drying the meat. Coat the bottom of a skillet big enough to fit the lamb easily with a thin coating of grapeseed oil and sprinkle the lamb with kosher salt.
- When the skillet is searingly hot, brown the lamb on all sides using tongs when necessary. It should only take about a minute or two for each side to have a deep, golden brown crust. The goal is to get a nice, flavorful crust without cooking the lamb internally which is why it's essential that your skillet be very hot.
- As soon as it's brown, remove the lamb from the skillet and place over the potatoes and fennel in the baking dish (I use, unsurprisingly, a cast iron skillet for this.)
- Drizzle the seared lamb with the remaining reserved two tablespoons of marinade, and roast about 25-35 min or until lamb reached internal temp of 120°-125°F on a meat thermometer for medium-rare.
- While the lamb roasts, make the chimichurri. Mince the parsley, fennel and mint.
- In a medium bowl, combine the herbs with the garlic, salt, lemon juice, honey and red pepper. Stir to combine well until the salt is dissolved. Drizzle in the olive oil and stir. It will keep for several days covered in the fridge, and is excellent on pretty much any and all roasted or grilled meats and veggies.
- Remove the lamb from the oven, and let it rest loosely covered in foil for 15 minutes (it continues to cook while it rests). Once the lamb has rested, remove it to a carving board and slice it between the bones. Serve it atop the roasted veggies with Mint Fennel Chimichurri.