Anyone who’s been reading my blog over the years knows I hold a distinct fondness for lamb. It’s a sentimental thing for me, and a main staple of the island where I grew up. We didn’t eat a whole lot of red meat in my family—mostly poultry and fish and the occasional roast. For most of our special occasions, we indulged in in spit-roasted lamb. Since those days as a child, the delicate and unique flavor of lamb has held a special place in my heart. I still think of it as a special-occasion meat to this day.
The rack is the most-prized cut of the entire animal. Dainty rib chops more sophisticated and elegant than the other cuts, the rib-rack also features the most mild flavor and tender texture. Because of its distinguished history and relatively petite size, I think of the rack of lamb as the most special cut of the most special special-occasion meat. Perfect for an intimate gathering of friends or family celebrating the season.
The rack is a great cut for company. Quick to cook, easy to carve and serve, super classy. And looks as attractive on your finest china as it does presented family-style, straight from the cutting board.
I don’t meet too many folks who would say no to a fancy, plated meal, but home cooks may be intimidated by the pressure of preparing a fancy dinner at home. There’s a notion that everything needs to be perfect, especially when serving to guests.
Well, guess what? I guarantee most guests don’t care, as long as the food is delicious. And I really can’t over-emphasize the importance of fewer complications over the holidays. It’s a stressful time for many people, and every step towards simplicity helps get through the bustle of it all.
So, the foundation of this recipe is the idea of a special-occasion meal, but served in a more rustic way. This instantly creates a more relaxed setting, allowing home cooks to enjoy company, instead of stressing out about plated perfection. (Of course, should you wish to arrange this dinner on your finest china, be my guest.)
But I leave my rack on the cutting board, with a big dollop of Tomato-Sage butter to slather over the chops. It was a big hit, and I loved how easy it was. Not to mention at least one less dish that needs washing.
I’m a big fan of using flavored compound butter to elevate a humbly-seasoned piece of meat into something heavenly and full of bold taste. You can make almost anything fancier and more delicious with a dollop of butter… who’s with me?
Far faster and easier than any pan sauce, flavored butters are packed with massive punch and are easy to make. Plus, they can be frozen for later use, making them one of my most convenient surprises for a quick, but sophisticated, dinner.
I love Mediterranean flavors with lamb, like this Tomato-Rosemary butter. I based the recipe on another one of my favorite compound butter recipes, made with sage. But I find the fragrant, evergreen-scented rosemary very fitting for this time of year, not to mention that rosemary is one of the most common herbs with lamb.
Of course, any flavored butter would do the trick—one fun idea is to make a few batches of different kinds, and dollop them all straight onto the cutting board with the lamb, for guests to experience a multitude of unique bites. For some added compound butter inspiration, this recent post has some other great ideas.
Cheers to a less-stressful season!
Rack of Lamb with Tomato-Rosemary Butter
Makes 4 generous servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes
2 racks lamb, frenched
Salt and pepper
½ cup butter
3 tablespoons roasted or sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed from stem and chopped
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Cracked black pepper
- Prepare tomato butter: Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Use immediately or refrigerate or freeze for later use. For best results, bring butter to room temperature before serving.
- Prepare lamb: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Season lamb generously with salt and pepper and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so, to take the refrigerator chill off. Heat a heavy, oven-safe pan (like cast iron) on stovetop, over medium heat, until nice and hot. Sear lamb racks, fat side down, until golden-brown, about 3-4 minutes. Turn over and transfer pan to oven. Roast until lamb is cooked to your liking (use an instant-read thermometer for optimal results), about 30 minutes for medium-rare. Once cooked, remove from oven and transfer the racks to a cutting board to rest for 5-10 minutes.
- Serve lamb and butter: Cut lamb between the ribs into one- or two-rib portions. Arrange on a cutting board or serving plates, with the butter. If you serve on the cutting board, drop the butter right beside the lamb, for guests to serve themselves, or you can spoon a dollop of butter atop lamb racks on serving plates.
Image from Briana Goodall.