For me to present to you a perfectly procured, grilled, and sauced rack of lamb strikes me as a decent feat, given the lamb drama I have experienced over the years. Lamb failed me most humbly when my sister and I were hosting a dinner for a dear—and prominent—friend. We planned that menu right down to the mignardises mints, and decided our family’s special feast meat of rack of lamb would befit the occasion. We went to one of our favorite butcher shops in Chicago and selected the meat. The butcher handed it over with no discussion and we asked no questions; after all, this rack looked just like all of the other racks we had ever made at home.
The evening was orchestrated beautifully. We’d sit and visit with a glass of champagne and some appetizers, and neither one of us would be distracted from the conversation by the work of the kitchen. Then we’d tag team, taking turns in the kitchen to seamlessly finalize the salad, the special rice, the asparagus. And of course, the lamb, which I would cover since I felt it was my right, being the elder of the two of us. When you live with your sister even as adults, you end up pulling rank when necessary.
I decided to grill the whole rack, then cut it into chops so that the plated meal would elegantly show off two rare chops on their bed of rice. I kept careful time on the rack and pulled the meat off right on cue. Let it sit for a few minutes, then slice, plate, and call the ladies to the table.
It was the slicing that was the problem. My knife would not, absolutely refused to cut through the chop. I sawed, I turned the rack, I sawed some more. I started to sweat and then to cry. I took a time-out to compose myself and realign my face, then walked calmly to the front room. Thank God for Chicago shot-gun apartments, which keep the kitchen way in back out of sight and the dining and living area up front out of range.
Peggy, I said with a smile and rubbed her shoulder, waiting to interject until just the right moment in their conversation. Could you come into the kitchen with me? We walked and then ran as we neared the kitchen; she knew there was trouble. I presented the rack and she too tried to saw it apart. Now we were laughing hysterically, church-laughter that you can’t control, and decided we’d cut out the tiny filet from the rack. The plates ended up looking like the meat had already been eaten, and these were the morsels left because the eater was just too full to finish.
We outed ourselves about the meat with our guest (there had to be some explanation for the state of the plate) and had a great laugh with her too. That was the first time I learned about what a chine bone is, and that it has to be removed by the butcher. How our butcher let us walk out with an unfinished rack of lamb, I will never understand. He must have been high, but like most butchers, he didn’t look the type. Now every single time we cook rack of lamb, we check for chine and talk about that night, but we know that even with chine on, the party can still shine on.
Grilled Lamb Lollipops with Fresh Mint Sauce
These little lollipop chops are incredibly succulent, which is why I take a purist approach to seasoning. I want the flavor of the lamb to shine through and I find marinades just distract. I like to cook the rack already cut into chops to give the salty char flavor to more of the surface area of the chop. You will thank me and mother nature once you try the fresh mint sauce. There’s simply not a better pairing for lamb, and once you’ve tried this, there will be no going back to mint jelly, or any other condiment for your lamb. I usually figure one rack of lamb for two people, especially if the racks are small.
1 rack of lamb, Frenched, trimmed, and chine bone removed
1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced in half
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons red wine, champagne, or white wine vinegar
1 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
Pinch of sea salt
Prepare the lamb by slicing it into chops about 1” thick. Rub the garlic clove halves with the cut side all over the chops. Season liberally with salt and pepper on all sides of the chops. Let the meat rest until it comes to room temperature.
Make the mint sauce by dissolving the sugar in the vinegar, then stir in the mint. Season to taste with a pinch of sea salt. The flavors meld the longer this sauce has to rest the day you are eating it.
Heat the grill to medium. Get your watch ready and use it to time this in order to cook the little chops to medium rare. Lay the chops on the hot grill and cook, with the grill top off, for 1 minute. Turn the meat over and cook for one more minute. Turn the chops and press the fatty areas against the grill and near the fire if possible to cook and melt the fat a bit.
Serve immediately with the mint sauce.
Find a PDF of this recipe here.