Rack of lamb is my favorite cut of lamb. It’s always delicious – the bones add so much flavor – and the basic preparation requires little more than popping it in the oven and keeping an eye on it until it’s done. It’s really almost impossible to mess up. But it is an expensive cut, so chances are you’ll be saving it for special occasions such as Easter Dinner. For an easy Passover entree, check out my Moroccan Spiced Leg of Lamb with Preserved Lemon Relish.
Butchers will tell you that one rack feeds three to four people – each rack has seven or eight individual chops – but I think you’re safer if you figure on one rack feeding two people – and then you can count on some choice leftovers.
Get the butcher to french the chops, a process of scraping off all the fat and meat from the end of the bones so that each chop is left with an elegant long bone attached, almost like a carved handle. Also, make sure the butcher removes the chine bones, or you will not be able to slice through the chops. Finally, ask your butcher to trim all the fat from the top of the meat. He or she will be reluctant because the fat protects the meat from drying out when you roast it. But we replace the fat with a flavorful, protective crust, which serves the same purpose.
This recipe is an adaptation of one that Kempy Minifie, Gourmet’s senior food editor, developed for the magazine in the mid-eighties. I have never found a lamb dish I like quite so much. One of the great things about it is that you can prepare all the parts ahead of time and then just toss it in the oven about 40 minutes before you want to eat it. (It requires 25 to 30 minutes to cook and 10 to 15 minutes to rest. This rest period is crucial. It allows all the juices a chance to redistribute themselves evenly throughout the meat.) The crumb crust and mustard mayonnaise can be made a day ahead. The meat can be seared up to an hour ahead, topped with the mayo and crust, and then parked on the counter until it is time to put it in the oven.
Fresh watercress sprigs for garnish
Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pepper flakes and cook for 10 seconds. Add the garlic and cook until softened but not brown, about 30 seconds. Stir in the scallions and rosemary and cook until the scallions are slightly softened, about 10 seconds. Stir in the bread crumbs and remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and place in the skillet meat side down. Cook, turning often until well browned on the sides and the ends, about 5 minutes. Pour off the fat from the skillet.
Mix the mayonnaise and mustard together and spread over the meat side of the rack. Pat the crumb mixture evenly on top. Transfer to the oven and roast until a meat thermometer reads 130°F for medium-rare, 25 to 30 minutes. Let rest on a cutting board, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Cut down between ribs or between every two ribs and arrange attractively on a warmed platter. (If the crumb mixture falls off, gently pack it around the round part of the meat before serving.) Garnish with sprigs of watercress and serve.