This is by far the best lamb that I've ever had, and it might very well be one of my favorite meat preparations of all time. It's hard to put into words what it's like taking a bite into one of these juicy lamb chops, but it's a profoundly pleasurable experience in the same category of pleasures as uninhibited intercourse, standing stage-side at a rock concert, and shredding rubber around a racetrack in a Ferrari.
As you bite through the crust, your taste buds and olfactory senses light up as they're stimulated by salt and smoke, followed by pungent garlic punctuated with cumin and black pepper, which eventually gives way to a creamy toasty pistachio flavor accented with mint and just a hint of smoke. The contrast of the piquant exterior with the sweet juicy meat just beneath is orally stimulating, and a dip in the pool of sweet, tart pomegranate molasses brings the next bite to another level.
To achieve this carnivorous nirvana, the whole rack of lamb is cured with a crust of pistachios, garlic, mint, cumin and other spices before being tea-smoked and then roasted. It may sound like a substantial chore, but aside from sitting in the fridge overnight, it really doesn't take a lot of time to prepare. I'd be lying to you if I told you it was easy, but before you get intimated by the curing and smoking, consider this, I made this inside a tiny apartment on the thirteenth floor of a high-rise. If you're wondering how I managed to smoke something in an apartment building without having the fire brigade axing down my door, I'll tell you.
It involves putting sugar (the starter) with tea (the aromatic) in the bottom of a heavy duty pan, and heating it until the sugar starts to burn. This in turn sets the tea leaves smoking, releasing their aroma and depositing it on the surface of your roast.
It's an awesome technique that allows you to infuse a smoky flavor into your food indoors. But before you try it, you need to be a aware of a few things. While a tight fitting lid helps hold most of the smoke in the pot, some will inevitably escape, especially when you open the lid. If you have a smoke detector anywhere near your kitchen it will almost certainly go off. Also, if you don't have an externally venting range hood, I don't recommend you try this.
You'll also want to use a pot that is safe to use at very high temperatures (never use teflon coated pans for smoking). While the aluminum foil is there to keep the burning sugar and tea away from the surface of your pan, the high temperatures involved will discolor stainless steel. I use a non-enameled cast iron dutch oven with a metal steamer rack insert, but an uncoated wok with steamer insert should work as well.
It took me a while to love lamb, but preparations like this one and Braised Lamb with Israeli Couscous have naturally left me smitten. I hope you will also give lamb a chance to charm you, too.
- 6 cloves garlic (about half a head peeled)
- ¼ cup fresh mint leaves
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 40 grams shelled pistachios (about ⅓ cup)
- 720 grams rack of lamb
- 2 tablespoons loose leaf tea
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- pomegranate molasses (for serving)
- To make the pistachio crust, add the garlic, mint, olive oil, salt, cumin, fennel, coriander, and black peppercorns to the small bowl of a food processor and pulse until everything is roughly ground. You'll need to scrape down the sides of the work-bowl a few times.
- Add the pistachios and pulse until the mixture is a coarse gravelly texture.
- Spread the pistachio mixture all over the rack of lamb, cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 C)
- Line a cast iron dutch oven with aluminum foil. Add the tea and sugar then place a wire rack over on top to keep the rack of lamb elevated off the tea and sugar. With an externally venting hood running on high, cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and heat over high until you see smoke coming out from the pot.
- Quickly add the rack of lamb, and close the lid. Smoke the lamb for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, then transfer the pan to the oven and roast until the lamb has reached 135 degrees F (57 C) for medium rare (about 20-25 minutes).
- Remove the lamb from the oven and transfer to a cutting board and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before slicing the lamb chops between the bones.
- Serve with pomegranate molasses.