So far as impressive lamb dishes go, Provençale rack of lamb is right up there among the top tier of dinner table crowd pleasers. Provençale cooking is where French food traditions meet the climate of the Mediterranean, and where fresh succulent vegetables and abundant herbs form the basis of many regional dishes.
Provençale rack of lamb uses a fistful of these herbs, combined with stale bread to make a beautiful dish that looks way more impressive than it is complicated. Once you have made this, you will understand why rack of lamb appears on so many restaurant menus – it can be prepped in its entirety in advance, and only takes as long to cook as the average diner is prepared to wait for their food order. The herbs need to be lightly dried to preserve the sandy texture of the crust.
There are a many recipes floating around the Internet for this dish, but two seem to stand out as the basis for all else. One is from Gordon Ramsay, and the other is from Raymond Blanc. Both of these recipes split the cooking time to 7 mins without crust and 4 mins with the crust. This idea is to cook the lamb without burning the crust. The Nosey Chef has tried this and finds that it results in very hit-and-miss doneness depending on the lag time between the two cooking stages. One solution is to just wazz the whole thing in the oven for 20 mins. The other is to follow Raymond Blanc’s timings from his television show, and these are given in the recipe below.
To French trim the rack, you can either ask your butcher to do it (because they sort of like doing this for some reason or other) or you can do it yourself. If you are doing the latter, ask the butcher to saw off spine free of the ribs. At home, cut the spine off with a knife, cut the skin through to the point where the fleshy part begins, and cut it off close to the bone. Cut the flesh from between the ribs close to the bone. Keep all these trimmings, including the skin, to make a jus.
Carré d’agneau à la Provençale
- For the lamb:
- 6-bone rack of lamb (will feed three people, or two hungry people), French-trimmed and skin scored
- 4 slices of stale bread
- 2 large handfuls of parsley, lightly dried
- 1 sprig of thyme, lightly dried
- 1 sprig of rosemary, stripped and stem discarded, lightly dried
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 knob of butter
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- For the jus:
- All the lamb trimmings including any trimmed skin
- A quarter of a carrot, split
- Half a stick of celery, split
- 6 black peppercorns
- 1 shallot, halved
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of rosemary, whole
- 1 glass (150ml) red wine
- Half a tsp redcurrant jelly
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Set an oven to 190˚C. Ensure that the lamb is up to room temperature, as a cold centre will result in under-cooked meat.
Start by making your jus. Place the lamb trimmings, spine, skin, carrot, celery, bay, rosemary sprigs, peppercorns and shallot in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer on medium for 40 mins or so until it stops gaining flavour. Drain, place back on the heat and add the wine and jelly. Reduce rapidly until the flavour intensifies. Check seasoning. Decant into a jar and chill until the fat solidifies. Scoop the fat off and discard (or add the fat to the butter and oil below).
To make the herb crust, place the bread, parsley, thyme and stripped rosemary leaves in a food processor, season and blitz until you get even crumbs. Set aside.
Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan until very hot. Quickly sear the lamb on all sides.
Place the lamb in the oven for 15 mins.
Remove the lamb from the pan and coat in the mustard. Coat liberally with the crust mixture. This is a useful mise en place.
To finish, place the lamb back in the oven and reheat for 10 mins. Remove and rest for at least 5 minutes.
Re-warm the jus (it may have jellied, but that is OK) and whisk smooth. Carve the lamb and serve with the jus poured around.
A meat thermometer is very useful for this dish. There is a narrow margin between under-cooked, pink and overcooked. You are looking for the centre to reach 56˚C and no more. Note that there is no shame in not bothering with the jus and just serving the lamb with with a mint sauce, as we often do.