Sunday, August 17, 2008

On the lamb

There's a layer of fat between the meat and the bone.
After an hour on the grill, that layer of fat becomes soft and succulent, keeping the meat on the lamb rib incredibly moist. When your teeth bite into the rib, separating meat from bone, your mouth is the first to discover the delicious fatty secret. You pause -- briefly -- to figure out this unctuous find. You stare at it hungrily and it winks back.
Oh my God, those were good ribs.
It's rare that I have one of those surprise moments with food. Sure, I've had great meals in great restaurants and at friends' homes. But this wasn't a matter of manipulation. This wasn't a great recipe (though the marinade I put on the ribs was pretty good), it was completely natural.
That layer of fat is between the meat and bone of every rack of lamb ribs that ever was and will ever be.
So why was this the first time I've had lamb ribs? Before I bought them on sale a while back, I didn't know there was any such thing as lamb ribs. I figured I'd get a bit of meat off them, but little else. But what the hell, they were on sale.
On Saturday, the missus and I threw a little welcome home party for a friend and I decided to chuck the ribs on the grill with a butterflied lamb leg.
It was a good party.
For the lamb leg, I used a South African recipe from Steven Raichlen's opus, The Barbecue! Bible. (If you own a grill, you should own this book. I own a few grilling and barbecuing cookbooks. I use Raichlen's all the time.)
For the ribs -- oh, those ribs -- I did a slight variation on the traditional rosemary and garlic recipe by adding crushed red pepper flakes to the marinade.
Judging by the sounds coming from around the table, both dishes turned out well, but the lamb ribs were a fantastic surprise.
To be sure, the pig remains the undisputed king of animals when it comes to most quality cuts from a single animal. But after Saturday's rib revelation, the lamb is making a mighty strong push for the title.

Lamb ribs

2 racks of lamb ribs
1 tbs. garlic powder (or 4 garlic cloves, minced)
1 tbs. crushed red pepper flakes
2 tbs. rosemary
3 tbs. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Capetown Lamb
(From Steven Raichlen's The Barbecue! Bible)

For the lamb
1 bone-in leg of lamb (6 to 8 lbs), trimmed of papery skin
6 cloves of garlic, cut into thin slivers
6 thin slices fresh ginger, cut into thin slivers

For the glaze
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tbs. Dijon mustard
2 tbs. hot Chinese-style mustard or 1 tbs. dry mustard
3 tbs. fresh lemon juice
3 tbs. vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs. minced fresh ginger
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Lamb ribs:

The night before cover the ribs with olive oil and add the seasoning, making sure to rub it into the meat. The next day, pull the ribs out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you're ready to grill.

Put the ribs on the grill directly over the heat, meat side down. Cook for 8 minutes, watching for flare ups. Turn the ribs over and cook for another 8 minutes. Move to a cooler side of the grill and cook for another 30 minutes.

Remove from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes before eating. I served the ribs with tzatziki sauce for dipping, but it wasn't really necessary.

Capetown Lamb:

Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, make slits about an inch deep all over the surface of the lamb, spacing them about an inch apart. Insert a sliver each of garlic and ginger into each slit. Place the lamb in a non-reactive roasting pan and set aside while you prepare the glaze.

Combine the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, sugar, both the mustards, lemon juice, oil, garlic and ginger in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook until thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Let cool to room temperature. Pour half the cooled glaze over the lamb in the roasting pan, brushing to coat on all sides. Cover and let marinate, in the refrigerator, for 3 to 8 hours (the longer the better).
Set up the grill for indirect grilling, placing a large drip pan in the center and preheat to medium. When ready to cook, place the lamb on the hot grate over the drip pan and brush with more glaze. Cover the grill and cook the lamb until done to taste, 2 to 2-1/2 hours; an instant-read meat thermometer inserted n the thickest part of the leg (but not touching the bone) will register 160°F for medium. Brush the leg with glaze two or three times during cooking. If using a charcoal grill, add 10 to 12 fresh coals per side every hour.

Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and brush one last time with glaze, then let stand for 10 minutes before carving. While the lamb stands, heat any remaining glaze to serve as a sauce with the lamb.

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