Perfectly rendered lamb fat, all crisp and golden, and pink tender flesh make for a joyous mouthful. Add to that this Italian classic, which is a pure reflection of spring and its bounty, and you have a meal that should sit long in the memory.
Cooking a rack of lamb feels like quite a ‘cheffy’ undertaking. The sort of thing you see people cooking on Masterchef or Great British Menu, probably in a water bath and probably neglecting to properly render the fat. But, in actual fact, they aren’t very difficult to cook and shouldn’t be too scary. Plus, in this recipe, they make an appearance next to one of the all-time great dishes — vignarola. Seriously, it is hard to overstate how much I love it and how delicious it is.
So often, we, as trainee chefs, were taught to cook green vegetables for as little time as possible, and then refresh them in icy water. Al dente was the holy grail. But, when you cook them like this, for a little longer, they release a whole new side to their flavour. Something unexpected and unique and amazing. To really make the most of it, buy fresh, excellent-quality ingredients.
3-bone rack of lamb w/ vignarola
- For the vignarola
2 globe artichokes
250g fresh pea pods
250g fresh broad bean pods
2 banana shallots, peeled and finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
200ml dry white wine or Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth
200ml homemade chicken stock
1 head of gem lettuce, washed and cut into wedges
white wine vinegar
2 fresh bay leaves
5 sprigs of fresh mint
1 unwaxed lemon
extra virgin olive oil
- For the vignarola:
- Add the shallots, garlic, and bay leaves to a heavy-bottomed pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with a pinch of sea salt and set over a low heat. Cook, stirring regularly, for 10 minutes, until soft and translucent but with no colour.
- Meanwhile, prepare the artichokes. Have a bowl with cold water and the juice of a lemon ready and waiting. Then start by cutting around the heart of the artichoke with a very sharp knife. As the tough outer leaves fall away you will be able to get a better view of where the actual heart is. Trim as close as possible to the heart, dipping the artichoke in the lemony water as you go. This will stop the heart from oxidising. Once the outer leaves are removed, cut off the stalk and trim up the bottom.
- Then begin to remove the more tender inner leaves and then, finally, the furry looking ‘choke’ at the centre. Leave that artichoke in the water whilst you prep the other one.
- Once both are prepped, cut them in half and then each half into 4 wedges. Add the artichokes to the pan and turn the heat up to medium. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes, then add the chicken stock, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, and a pinch more sea salt. Cover the pan with a cartouche and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, remove all the peas and broad beans from their pods and add to the pan. Stir together and then allow to simmer for a further 8 minutes.
- Add the gem and the mint sprigs and remove from the heat. Set to one side.
- For the lamb rack:
- Take the 3-bone rack of lamb out of the fridge, remove it from its packaging and allow to reach room temperature — at least 1 hour before cooking.
- Preheat your oven to 160°C.
- Score the fat of the rack with a sharp knife, in a crisscross pattern, and then season well with fine sea salt.
- Place a cast iron skillet over a low heat with half a tablespoon of oil.
- Lay the rack, fat side down into the pan and begin to render the fat. Cook fat side down for around 10 minutes, moving the rack around so that all of the fat is able to render and caramelise.
- Turn the heat up to medium and seal off the rack on its other sides. Baste the rack with the lamb fat that is now filling the pan. Once perfectly browned on all sides, transfer the rack to the oven for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and leave to rest in a warm place for at least 15 minutes.
- Returning to the vignarola, remove the mint stalks and taste for seasoning, adjusting as necessary. A little additional extra virgin olive oil to finish is a nice touch.
- Carve the rack between each rib bone and serve.