First of all – MANY apologies for the break in blogs. I’ve been checking out some new cooking techniques and spent a good bit of time doing charity work – fundraising for the Steven Scher Memorial Scholarship for Aspiring Restaurateurs. We had an amazing event at the Bowery Hotel in NYC on July 13, and raised roughly $100,000 for the scholarship. So, I was taken away a little from my blogs here – and I apologize – but for this recipe, I think (hope), you’ll find that it was worth the wait!
One of the best dishes I made from the Top Chef Cookbook in the past months was Dale’s Colorado Rack of Lamb. It was Easter weekend and I was craving lamb. I opened up my trusted Top Chef Cookbook, and found Dale’s Colorado Rack of Lamb. I took some small liberties with this recipe – for example, the lamb was from New Zealand, not Colorado, and I used double chops instead of a rack, but other than that, I followed the recipe, and this was an amazing dish.
The recipe called for a marinade of a bunch of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 10 fresh thyme sprigs and 10 cloves of garlic. Instead of finely chopping all of that by hand, I ripped the leaves off the parsley and the thyme and put that in the mini-prep food processor along with 18 cloves of garlic (I misread the recipe, but in the end it didn’t matter. This recipe can handle garlic.) A few pulses on “chop” and my marinade was just about made.
Then I crushed a tablespoon of whole peppercorns with a mallet in between sheets of parchment paper. I added the crushed peppercorns to my parsley mixture, and the marinade was done.
Then I took the four double rib lamb chops, rubbed the herb marinade all over them, and put them in a plastic bag (being sure to get all the air out of the bag). The recipe called for marinating overnight. I did the marinade in the a.m., and let it marinate for a total of about 7 or 8 hours.
Preparing the Sauce Vert:
The Sauce Vert (green sauce) is also easily made in the mini-prep.
First I made the anchovy paste. I took about 14 anchovy fillets and put them in the mini-prep and pulsed for a good two minutes on “grind.”
Then I transferred the anchovy paste to a separate bowl.
I ripped the leaves off the second bunch of flat leaf parsley and put them along with 6 cloves of garlic in the mini-prep. Again, a few pulses on “chop” and that mixture was ready for the next ingredients. Technically – this was a “short cut” – I was supposed to finely chop the parsley and garlic by hand, but I assure you, the mini-prep, as long as you just use a few short pulses only, works just fine and saves time!) I put the parsley and garlic mixture in a bowl, and to that I added the anchovy paste.
Then I added the extra virgin olive oil.
I zested the lemon and squeezed the lemon for the fresh lemon juice, which I then added to the parsley, garlic, olive oil and anchovy mixture.
Then I just mixed all the ingredients together to complete the Sauce Vert, and put it in the refrigerator for the flavors to combine. (As with the marinade, the sauce was supposed to “meld” in the refrigerator overnight, but I had it for just 7 or 8 hours, which was certainly enough time.)
About two hours before I wanted dinner served, I started the Ratatouille process. First, I peeled and cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes.
Next I chopped the onion.
I sautéed the eggplant and onion in some regular (NOT extra virgin) olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, until they became very soft, which took about 20-25 minutes. (Never sauté or fry in extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil has a very low boiling point, so treating it with high heat breaks down the oil and actually releases an almost “toxic” odor from the oil, which is imparted to the food. Extra virgin olive oil is special and should be savored raw – that’s why it’s used to dress dishes such as vegetable, pastas and fish, right before serving, and used in vinaigrettes.)
Then, I put the eggplant and onion in my trusty mini-prep (I seriously cannot live without that thing!), and I puréed them. Once puréed, I seasoned the Ratatouille with salt and pepper, and set it aside.
Now came the “adventure.” I had never cooked lamb in a vat of duck fat before – in fact, my only use of duck fat in the past was for sautéing potatoes.
The recipe called for an extraordinary 3-1/2 pounds of duck fat! The duck fat that I could easily find was in 7 oz. containers from D’Artagnan. To get to 3-1/2 pounds, I would have had to buy 56 oz of duck fat – that’s EIGHT containers of duck fat. At $5.99 per package (almost $50 just for the duck fat), that was a bit “too rich” for my blood. I bought 5 containers, and decided that would have to be enough. I melted the duck fat in a large stock pot.
Keeping the lamb in a rack would have meant I would not be able to submerge all of the lamb in the duck fat, and for that reason, I purchased double chops of lamb instead. I took the lamb out of the marinade, and scraped the herbs off of the lamb into the duck fat. (You’ll notice that I did not “French” the lamb chops.)
Then I added half of the anchovy sauce (the Sauce Vert) to the duck fat, increased the heat and brought it to a soft boil.
Meanwhile, I seared the double lamb chops on both sides in a skillet in some regular olive oil over high heat until well browned, for about 6 to 8 minutes total.
Then I took the duck fat off the heat, and submerged the lamb in the fat, so that all the lamb was completely covered, and let the lamb sit in the fat to finish cooking. The recipe said 30 minutes for rare and 45 minutes for medium-rare.
When the lamb was done, I used tongs to lift the chops out of the fat and let them drain on paper towels. I was going for medium-rare, and here is where I feel I made a small misstep. Since I was using double chops, and not a whole rack, I think I should have let the lamb cook in the fat for less than 45 minutes. In the end, my lamb came out closer to medium than a “real” medium-rare. It was still delicious, but I’m a stickler for NOT over-cooking my meat, so I was a little disappointed in myself for this.
The Tomato Garnish:
While my lamb was cooking in the duck fat, it was time to make the tomato garnish. I sautéed a pint of cherry tomatoes, the fresh basil sprigs and two whole cloves of garlic over low-medium heat in a small sauté pan, for about 10 to 12 minutes, until the tomatoes were soft, but not mushy. They still held their shape. The garlic and basil were discarded. Their job was to just impart flavor to the tomatoes.
“Plating” the Dish:
I made this dish for 4 people, so I first made sure the Ratatouille was still hot (30 to 60 seconds in the microwave accomplished this) and divided it up among the four plates. Then I topped each serving with a few tomatoes. I chopped some raw zucchini and added that to the plate in a pile.
After that, I sliced each double chop in half, to make two individual chops, placed them on the plate so the lovely pink meat from the inside of the sliced double chop was showing, spooned some of the remained Sauce Vert over them, seasoned the plates with a touch of salt and fresh ground pepper, and served.
How to Make this Already Fabulous Dish Even Better:
This dish was fabulous. Except for being sure to cook the lamb for a slightly shorter time period in the duck fat if using double chops and not a whole rack, I cannot think of anything to suggest to make this very special dish any better.
Final Word on this Dish:
I loved it. It was an exquisite and impressive dish, particularly appropriate for a special occasion like Easter. My friends loved it, one of whom is a chef who studied at the Culinary Institute of America, and the other a food-scientist. It was another “clean plate club” success. Of course, due to the preparation (lamb essentially poached in duck fat), it was not the healthiest of all meals. Then again, I think I consume more fat when I make my potato puree (um, should I add potatoes to the cream and butter? – oh, yes, I guess I should!). Also, the flavors of this dish all really worked. The Ratatouille was mild and provided a good base to the dish. The tomatoes added acidity to help counter the unctuousness of the fat-poached lamb. The raw zucchini added freshness and texture. And finally that salty garlic flavor of the Sauce Vert tied everything together.
The “Ratatouille” in this recipe is not a traditional ratatouille. Ratatouille is a traditional Southern French dish (in particular, it originated in Nice), and the ingredients usually include tomatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic, bell peppers, and of course, eggplant, seasoned with Herbs-de-Provence. These ingredients are usually sautéed and then baked together in a casserole or left simmering stove-top, until fork tender. White wine can be added (optional) to this vegetarian “stew” as well. The dish, as a “stew,” is served “chunky” – not pureed. Before serving, the dish is seasoned with salt and pepper. The word “ratatouille” is derived from the French word “touiller”, which means to toss food. It’s a heart-warming and country-feeling dish, that is often affectionately referred to by the French as “Le Rat.”
“Frenching” a Chop:
“Frenching” a lamb chop means taking a sharp narrow-bladed knife and scraping all the meat and fat off the rib bone creating a lamb “lollipop.” The French developed this technique because it makes any chop of meat look much more attractive, and the French are strong believers in elegant attractive food, as well as delicious food. I did not do it, however, because (1) I hate to waste food, and (2) the meat that resides against the bone is some of the most tender and delicious meat, which I personally love to eat. Picking up and gnawing on the bone is heaven for me, even though it does get my hands dirty. I assure you though, that I avoid this form of “rustic” eating in fine restaurants! But at home? Well, that’s a different story.
What About All That Duck Fat?
I had so much left over duck fat after making this dish, and I just felt it was wrong to throw it all out. I reserved about a pint of it and kept it in my freezer. It was pretty amazing, because it became an herbed duck fat that I was able to use for (you guessed it) sautéing potatoes!