On the Lamb with a Bottle of Wine, or Four

This recipe was supposed to run last Wednesday. . . but like all good controllers I nodded off at the keyboard.  No, I didn’t.  Not really.  Just kidding, so please don’t call CNN.  What really happened is that I got sidetracked by that two-part series on JPEG vs raw.  My apologies on that.

The great things about this recipe are:

  • It’ll make you look like a gourmet chef even if you can’t boil water.
  • It’s so tasty your guests will keep asking for a return visit.  Indeed, I have at least three couple who keep hinting so much you’d think this was the only thing I know how to cook.
  • It goes with a multitude of side dishes, but I like to serve it with my sun-dried tomato polenta (sauteed until crisp on the outside) and marinated grilled asparagus.
  • It pairs well with myriad red wines (more on that later).
  • It’s so simple to make that even a husband can do it.


  • 1 rack of lamb—frenched (I get mine already prepped from Costco)—per four people when served during a multicourse meal, otherwise you may need more per person
  • 2 tbs. good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Really, really good Dijon mustard (I use Amora almost exclusively, but you’ll probably have to order it online)
  • ½ to ¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (finely processed, but not too finely; leave some texture)

Step 1.  Brush the rack of lamb with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper at least one hour before serving.  Let the seasoned lamb sit out to get up to room temperature.

Step 2. Preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C).  Heat a large, cast iron skillet to moderately hot, almost smoking.

Step 3. Place the rack of lamb into the heated skillet, searing both ends and all sides for two minutes each.  You’ll have to do the curved, fatty side in at least two or three stages to follow that curve.  The lamb will be nicely browned on all sides when you’ve accomplished this.  Set the lamb on a rack over a roasting pan and allow it to cool.

Step 4. Rub a thin coat of mustard over the lamb, covering all areas accept along the inside curves following the bone and the bones themselves.  That mustard is your tasty “glue.”  Dip the lamb into the walnut or pecan crumbs, coating evenly.  Keep this nut coating on the thin side, as you don’t want the nuts to overpower the delicate flavor of the lamb.  Place the lamb, fatty side up, back onto that rack over the roasting pan.  This recipe can be done up to this point before your guests arrive, allowing you to save the last, finishing step until just before you’re ready to serve the main course.

Step 5.  You’ve served the salad.  You’ve served the soup.  You’re serving the appetizer.  Place the roasting pan with the lamb into the oven.  Let the lamb roast for fifteen minutes.  Remove the lamb from the oven and place it onto a carving board, then loosely tent the lamb with heavy duty foil.  Let it rest for five to ten minutes.  Take your incredibly sharp chef’s knife and slice away the individual chops.  If you did this correctly, they should all be on the medium rare side.  If you prefer your lamb rare, reduce the oven time to twelve minutes.  Serve two chops per person along with your chosen sides.

Word of warning:  There’s not much in this world that’s worse than overcooked lamb.  Overcooking lamb is the primary reason many people turn their noses up at lamb today—that’s the way their mothers did it and they never got over it.  Overcooking causes lamb to give off a pungent, almost sickly sweet smell that ‘s a real turnoff, and the taste gets really gamey, and not in a good way.  But rare to medium rare?  Absolute heaven.    Oh . . . and mint jelly?  Don’t need it.  That’s what your mother used to try to hide the fact that she ruined the lamb by overcooking the heck out of it.

Wine pairings:  You’ll recall that I wanted to post this recipe because it pairs well with a lot of red wines.  Over the course of this blog’s history, I’ve done entries on Bordeaux-styles, Châteauneuf-du-Papes and GSMs, Zinfandels,  and Malbecs, and this rack of lamb recipe will go well with any of these choices.  Indeed, what I would like you to do is to hold a wine tasting dinner using this as your main course, but to do it right will require four couples and at least two racks of lamb because you’re going to go through four bottles of wine among the eight of you.

Here’s how to do your tasting:  Place four wine glasses at each place setting along with a glass of water to cleanse the palate between tastings.  Serve a different wine in each glass from the above list of four wines, keeping the order the same from left to right at each setting.  Do not let your guests know which glass holds which wine.  Over the lamb course, have your guests try out the different reds and let them see how each compliments the protein in the lamb in different and distinctive ways, and conversely how the lamb affects the taste of the wines.  After the main course, compare notes as to what scents and flavors your guests detected in the wines, and ask them to describe how that particular combination enhanced the flavor of the meat.  Finally, before desert, reveal which wine was in which glass and let your guests announce their personal favorites.

The proper way to sample wine:  This is going to sound like pure pretentious snobbery, but there’s a method to the madness.  Each wine glass should be filled to less than halfway.  The first thing you want to do is to compare the colors of the different wines.  While you’re doing this, also check that the wine clarity.  Tilt the glass and take a look at how the wine gradually changes color as the sample thins toward the edge of the glass (doing this with a white napkin in the background is best).  Checking for color is a clue to the varietal (grape) and how long it’s been aged.  Looking along the edge of the wine in a tilted glass is another aging clue, with a dark, almost brick-like reddish color extending all the way to the edge being a sign of longer aging.  Now, swirl the wine and hold the glass to the light.  Watch for the “legs” that form along the side of the glass.  This gives hints to how much “body” the wine has—the more pronounced the legs, the more concentrated “feel” the wine will impart in the mouth.  Swirl the wine again, but this time stick your nose well below the rim of the glass and inhale deeply.  What scents do you detect?  Don’t mention what you think people want to hear, or what you’ve heard others say.  Just close your eyes and concentrate, then blurt out the first things that come to your mind.  You’ll be surprised at what you might come up with, and you’ll be shocked at how many may agree with your assessment.  Swirl and take another deep sniff, this time concentrating on even fainter scents and impressions.

After this second sniff it’s time to take your first sip—but savor it.  Let it coat the entire mouth.  Chew it.  You heard right.  Get those teeth moving and actually chew the wine.  If your teeth feel as if you’re running pearls across them or otherwise impart a rough sensation, the wine has a lot of tannins—perfect to go with the proteins in red meats.  Swallow and inhale deeply through the mouth.  Do the tastes and sensations linger well after?  Then the wine has a long finish.  But one taste is not quite enough, which is why you should have at least two sips’ worth in your glass.  Repeat the tasting with a second sip to see if the flavors and sensations are consistent, or if they changed because your senses were “shocked” by the initial sampling.  At this point you should have a complete understanding of the wine being tasted.

Between wines:  Make sure thoroughly rinse your mouth with water before going to the next wine, or the different characters and flavors will interfere with your assessment.

Now, get back to that lamb and discover how each wine works in a different way to enhance the flavor, and how the lamb itself changes your impressions of the wine with which it is being paired at the moment.

I hope you find these wine blogs and recipes fun and informative, as I very much enjoy writing them.  If you have a particular favorite wine about which you would like to know more, please leave a comment and—if I’m familiar with that particular style or varietal—we’ll see about getting a blog out on it.

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