By Matthew “LJ” Johnson
A gruff farmer with warm blue eyes and a greying beard; he walks down to a quaint red barn with white trim, outlined in a golden thread of sunrise, the rooster crows and a hay-scented mist rolls off of the roof.
The farmer unlatches the door to the barn with his calloused hands. A beam of light cuts through the dusty murk and falls on the softly breathing curl of white wool.
The little fellow raises its head to the farmer, letting out a tired, feathery bleat; the lamb is only slightly disturbed and not at all alarmed, the farmer’s face is one he trusts and loves.
The rough hands gather the bundle of sleepy fluff into a blanket and the greying beard emits a humming lullaby. The pair head outside to a bench by a small creek-fed pond inhabited by a couple of dapper swans.
The farmer clutches the swaddled package against his chest and rocks it gently back and forth, continuing to quietly bombinate his lullaby.
The heavy hands of the farmer grip the fragile little skull resting on his breast and, with a swift twist, they snap the lamb’s neck.
A single tear wells up in the farmer’s eye and it catches the glint of the orange sunrise before washing into his peppery beard.
The farmer gathers his resolve and carries the limp parcel to a clean, rustic shed that he uses as a slaughterhouse.
He begins his somber work in respectful silence. He portions the flesh into steaks, chops, shanks, and most importantly, French-cut racks.
The farmer wraps the portions into clean brown butcher paper, and stacks them outside in a blue cooler.
A delivery boy in a derby cap riding a bicycle with a wooden wagon in tow pulls up and transfers the contents of the cooler into the wagon.
With a familiar wave, the boy is off to the town to fill the grocers’ meat displays.
I, a professional writer and chef, happen upon one of these displays while spice shopping at the open air market, purchase a French-cut half rack, and return to my kitchen to prepare it completely free of guilt.
… and SCENE.
Instead of facing the stark reality of overpopulated industry farms and assembly-line-sci-fi-nightmare-slaughterhouses, this is the fantasy I go to when preparing lamb.
I have this psychological divide: one half sees a lamb as an emotionally receptive, empathic being who deserves love and respect, while the other half sees a dripping roast spinning over a Paleolithic fire. I need a way to cope.
Why play the mental gymnastics? Why go through the self-deception? Why not just quit eating lamb?
Well, because it’s just so damned delicious.
L.J.’s Regret Mitigating Half-Rack of Sweet Spring Baby Lamb
Prep time about 45 min.
1 French-cut half-rack of sweet spring baby lamb (humanely raised, cherished, and dispatched)
3-5 tablespoons olive oil or enough to cover the bottom of the skillet and all surfaces of the lamb
A few tablespoons sea salt, from any sea you please, I used a mixture of fleur de sel and hiwa kai for the photos, again, just enough to coat duh meat
1 tablespoon celery salt
Fresh ground black pepper, in the same fashion as the salt, just enough to coat the li’l half-rack, a few tablespoons
A handful of rosemary sprigs, or if you have little hands, two handfuls
Just a pinch of cayenne, even if you have little hands, you don’t want to over-do it
Garlic puree (make it at home or buy it in one of those nifty tubes at the grocery store), guess what, you need just enough to cover the lamb, a few tablespoons
Preheat oven to a balmy 425 F
Coat your rack in oil.
(Man, this already sounds dirty…)
ANYways, coat your rack of lamb in oil, then add the salt, celery salt, and black pepper.
Set the meat aside on the cutting board and loosely drape it in a sheet of Aluminium foil to marinate.
Put a thin coat of oil on the bottom of the skillet and preheat over “medium-high” heat, so if you’re using an electric stove top like me and your dial goes to 10, set it at like 7, I guess, or 6? Man, when will I live somewhere with a gas stove, also why are rental prices so high in Anchorage? Ugh. The struggle is real.
When the skillet is preheated, sprinkle a bit o’ flour in there to test the temp, if it sizzles away, you’re golden.
Take your beautifully coated lamb and place it fat side down in the skillet.
Leave it there for a couple minutes—the aim here is to sear the meat and lock in the succulence.
Turn it over and sear the bottom for just a few seconds.
Now, this is the trickiest part, be careful working with hot cast iron.
Take the seared rack out of the pan and place it on a cutting board, let it cool for about a minute, then spread on the garlic puree.
In the skillet, make a nice cushy pillow out of the rosemary sprigs, just large enough for the lamb to lay on.
Place the garlic-ized lamb onto the rosemary sprigs, cover with the Aluminium foil, and return to the oven for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes of hopefully drinking wine and eating cheese, remove the foil.
Whack the temp up to 450 F.
Let cook for another 5 minutes, so a healthy, garlicky, peppery, crust forms.
Remove the lamb from the oven.
Now, take the lamb with the rosemary, and place on a platter, cover with Aluminium foil and wait for another 10 minutes. Have another glass of wine, another bite of cheese, and your British accent should be improving, bruv!
After 10 minutes, the temperature of the meat should be at around 145-150 F, a nice medium rare, if you want it done more than that please stop making this recipe.
Take your finely-honed blade, and cut along the inside of each bone to make 4 individual, breathtakin’, khaki-tightenin’, aw-snap-inspirin’, appetite satisfyin’, chops.
Serve with your choice of sides. Pictured here with pureed roasted turnips and roasted Old Bay brussels sprouts, holla atchya boy for these recipes.
By the time you hit your 4th glass of wine and are sucking the bone of the 4th and final chop, you’ll be too mollified to care where it came from.
Hi! My name is Matthew Edward Johnson, but friends and family call me “L.J.” so I invite you to do the same. I’m a lifelong Alaskan and a senior at UAA graduating in May 2016 with a degree in Journalism and Public Communications. My passion for cooking bubbles my blood like broth and writing about food is one of my greatest joys. I’m a photographer, storyteller, and self-described funny guy who hopes to travel the world collecting and sharing stories while expanding my culinary expertise.
*City Kitchen is a series of recipe blog posts contributed by community members, including my food journalism class at UAA.