I haven’t cooked lamb ribs in months (–actually, now that I think about it, not since I wrote about my wonderful Lefever Holbrook Farm ribs on January 16). So Mark Bittman’s recipe for glazed lamb ribs in the New York Times Magazine last week caught my eye. A little complicated!–Not hard, but lots of steps. He’s playing with deep layering of flavors and textures. But for me, the flavor of lamb is deep enough! I often add nothing to it at all (or at most a little garlic and rosemary). Why would you do all that to succulent little lamb ribs?
Why indeed?–I decided to find out. Some time toward the end of last week I pulled my last package of Lafever Holbrook lamb riblets out of the freezer to defrost. But the recipe sat on my kitchen counter until, about to walk past it one more time yesterday afternoon, I found myself pulling out spice jars–time to do it!
As a beginner, I have to apply a kind of kitchen hermeneutics to any new recipe. He asks for “2 racks lamb ribs;” does my package of riblets qualify as a “rack?” How much does a “rack” weigh?–My package is a little over a pound; do I halve the recipe? My ribs are already cut apart; will that fatally undermine the cooking process he recommends? With a complicated recipe like this one, I can see that cooking it is going to be one long interpretive act. Well, let’s get on with it.
Essentially, we are making lamb ribs with yogurt sauce. But oh those ribs! First they will be rubbed with herbs and roasted, then they will be glazed and grilled, and then they will be dusted with a crunchy sprinkle. Finally they will be paired with a yogurt sauce (like tzatziki, but with mint and chives instead of cucumber). Here’s how it goes.
Start with “2 racks lamb ribs.” (I went with my riblets; if you decide to cook along, go see your butcher first.) The ingredients for the initial layer of flavors, the herb rub:
- 2 T kosher salt
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
- 6 sprigs thyme
- 3 sprigs rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
Here’s the recipe narrative for this step: “Preheat oven to 275. Trim most of fat from the surface of the lamb racks and place them in a large roasting pan. Combine salt, garlic, and herbs and rub over lamb. Place in oven and roast for 2 hours. Remove pan from oven and turn ribs, then return to oven for 30 to 60 minutes longer, or until the lamb is just tender and starting to pull away from the bone. Remove pan from oven and set aside.”
I didn’t trim any fat off the ribs; I love fat. (Will this mess them up?) I don’t have a large roasting pan, but I have a roasting pan, and the ribs fit, so it will do fine. I halved the amounts of the herbs, sort of. Also, I used fresh Tabor thyme and rosemary from my garden, but a dried bay leaf. (it says “sprig,” so that must mean to use fresh herbs, right? And if you are going to rub them on the ribs, you should mince them, right?) My riblets, although already cut apart, were kind of stuck together in a block, so I decided to leave them that way, and rubbed the herb mixture on the block as a whole. I roasted them for an hour and a half, then turned them and roasted them for about another 30 minutes; I reduced the time because I was pretty sure I had a much smaller amount than Mark had in mind, but I think they might have ended up a bit more tender if I had cooked them as long as he wanted me to. (Honestly, I could happily have eaten them at this point!)
But now on to the glaze. Here’s the list of ingredients:
- 1 C sherry vinegar
- 1 C honey
- 1 T fennel seeds, cracked
- 1 T coriander seeds, cracked
- 1 T freshly ground black pepper
- 1 T ground Aleppo chili
- 2 T unsalted butter, cold
And the narrative: “Meanwhile, make the glaze. Combine vinegar and honey in a small sauce pan placed over moderate heat. Add fennel, coriander, black pepper and Aleppo chili and bring to a slight simmer. Lower heat and allow the mixture to reduce by half. Remove from heat and whisk in the cold butter.”
I used the full quantities of ingredients because the glaze sounded so good that I wanted to save some for another use. But I didn’t have sherry vinegar, so I subbed in a really good zinfandel vinegar (how far wrong could that go?). I measured out my fennel and coriander seeds onto a cutting board, covered them with a paper towel, and thwacked them with a mallet. (Some mistakes you make only once–if you hit an unconstrained mound of coriander seeds with a mallet, it explodes like a fireworks flower all over your kitchen.) Getting back to making this glaze, I wish that I had clobbered the fennel seeds first, then the coriander; the spheres of coriander cracked but not so much of the fennel. Also, what is “Aleppo chili?” I couldn’t find it at my neighborhood store. But Wikipedia says it is a mild chili like an Ancho. Bonanza!–I have ground ancho chili right there on the shelf. Then, “reduce by half”–I didn’t actually notice the starting level of the liquid in the pan. Oh never mind, it’s supposed to be a glaze, I cooked it until it became a shiny syrup.
Now let’s make the sprinkle. The ingredients:
- 2 T coriander seeds, toasted and cracked, or 1 T ground coriander
- 2 T Aleppo chili
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 T parsley, finely chopped
And the narrative: “Combine coriander, chili, salt, lemon and parsley in a small bowl and set aside.” I halved the amounts, and toasted and cracked the coriander seeds. (The sprinkle is supposed to add crunch, right?–So why would I use ground coriander?) I minced the lemon zest; it probably would have been better if I’d left it coarser. Next time!
Let’s grill these babies! Here’s the narrative: “Light a fire in grill or preheat broiler in oven. Slice ribs into individual pieces, cutting between each bone. When coals are covered with gray ash and fire is hot, put chops on grill directly over coals, or on a pan in the broiler. Using a pastry brush, coat lamb lightly with glaze and continue to cook, turning occasionally, until the meat begins to turn golden and crisp, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Remove to a platter and sprinkle with the topping.”
Well, I have a gas grill, but we get the idea. I think “chops” is a typo? (I love it when the New York Times has a typo; this morning I had to stare for a moment at a description of a misbehaving male as a “rouge.”) At any rate, my riblets cooked to a lovely mahogany and smelled fabulous.
Now, the yogurt sauce:
- 1 C best-quality whole milk yogurt
- 1/2 C creme fraiche
- 1/4 C mint, minced
- 1 T chives, minced
- 1/2 clove garlic, finely diced or grated on Microplane
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, to taste
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
The narrative: “Combine yogurt, creme fraiche, mint, chives, garlic and lemon zest in a medium-size nonreactive bowl, then whisk to a smooth consistency. Season to taste, transfer to small bowls and serve with lamb ribs.” Except that I didn’t add any Tabasco (add Tabasco, after slaving over all these spices?!?), I stuck to the script. (Actually, later on I added a little sriracha to the yogurt sauce, to follow through on the recipe’s concept. Delicious!)
(I drew the recipes directly from Bittman’s article “Aye, There’s the Rib” in the June 26th issue of the New York Times Magazine. Bittman adapted these recipes from originals by Jim Leiken of DBGB Restaurant in New York.)