Like cilantro or licorice, lamb is one of those polarizing foods that people feel strongly about either way. I used to find the barnyard aroma unpleasant at best, but as I ate it more, it went from offensive to tolerable to delicious. If my track record of posting lamb dishes is any indicator you might even say I’ve come to love lamb.
Full of umami like pork but with the juicy red flesh of beef, lamb is indeed a marvelous meat. For me, overcoming the smell and loving the meat can be fully attributed to one spice: cumin. Ironically, cumin by itself is also an ingredient that some people find offensive. I’ve even heard it compared to “sweaty socks” before.
But when combined with other spices or meat, cumin adds a wonderful deep nutty flavor that turns smoky when toasted. By “breading” the rack of lamb in cumin, celery seed, fennel and coriander seed, it creates a salty smoky crust that crackles with flavor with each bite. As you bite into each chop, the crust gives way to a moist, tender interior that will have you gnawing every bit of meat and spice off the bones.
To balance out the salt and spices I’ve paired this with a sweet and spicy watermelon chutney. In addition to balancing out the savoriness of the dish, the chutney adds a fresh vegetal flavor that compliments the rich meat nicely. I also served this with a celery raita that adds cool, creamy, and crunchy elements that complete the dish.
2 cups fresh watermelon juice strained through a tea strainer
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon amchoor powder (powdered mango)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (halve if using regular salt)
1 stalk celery cut into 1/4″ dice
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (halve if using regular salt)
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon toasted black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon toasted celery seed
1/4 teaspoon grated garlic (about 1 small clove)
2 teaspoons cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoons coriander seed
2 tsp kosher salt (halve if using regular salt)
1 rack of lamb, frenched
For the watermelon chutney, put the watermelon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. You can skim off the red foam that floats to the surface, but I left it in for color. Add the ground cumin, coriander, amchoor powder, clove and salt. Continue boiling until it’s reduced in volume to about 1/2 a cup. It should be thick and syrupy, like a loose gravy. Transfer your chutney to a small bowl and set aside to cool.
To prepare the raita, add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to the celery and let it stand for about 1 hour. Squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the celery and add it to a small bowl with the yogurt, salt, honey, mustard seed, celery seed, and garlic. Stir to combine and keep refrigerated.
For the lamb, put the cumin, celery, fennel and coriander seed in a cast iron skillet and toast over medium high heat until the spices are medium brown and fragrant. Transfer them to a spice grinder, and give it a few quick pulses to break up the seeds (but not long enough to turn it into a powder). Combine the spices and salt and sprinkle it onto the rack of lamb. You want to get a nice thick coating, so us all of the spice rub.
If you are grilling the lamb, place the rack over indirect heat until an instant read thermometer reads 130 degrees F (medium rare). If you are pan frying, add some oil to a cast iron skillet over medium heat and fry each side of the lamb until it reaches a dark golden brown. Finish it off in a 350 degree oven until an instant read thermometer reads 130 degrees F (medium rare).
Transfer the rack to a plate and let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice the lamb between each rib, then plate with a drizzle of watermelon chutney and a side of celery raita.