Home > Cooking school > Knives and Fire XIX (Week 5)

Knives and Fire XIX (Week 5)

Lamb Day

Lamb. Agneau. Immature sheepies. Today, we did lamb. First we discussed our future schedule – fish tomorrow, bread Monday, pastry Tuesday and Wednesday, Vegetables/Shabbat cookery Thursday. Then we discussed lamb – how it’s cut (there are only five primal cuts for a lamb, which, unlike beef, are done on the whole animal, not half. The kosher ones are the shoulder, the breast and the rack (the ribs.) The loin and the leg are not kosher. We get shoulder chops and blade chops and ground and stew meat from the shoulder, and ground and stew meat from the breast, and we get rack of lamb and rib chops from the rack.

Lamb is traditionally marinated in an acid (usually lemon juice), an herb and oil. Most of lamb can be done anyway, but rack is best roasted, grilled, or broiled (dry heat). It’s also very expensive.

What we did today was to fabricate a rack of lamb, otherwise known as a hotel rack. The ribs came with the spine and featherbone cut out, but included. And each one was, on average, about $50 – and were enough for a main course for two people. Who were eating other things. Like I said. Expensive. What we were going to do was to “french” it – clean the bones down to the eye (where the best meat is) and get rid of everything else.

When we did veal and beef and chicken, we could make use of all the trimmings – we rendered the fat and the bones went to stock. Unfortunately, that’s not possible with lamb. One can certainly make stock out of the bones and render the lamb fat, but they have such a strong flavor that they’re simply not useful for much – one can make a scotch broth out of lamb stock but it would be intensely lamby. I love the flavor, but in that intensity, maybe not. So, heartbreakingly, they have to be discarded.

So. We each had half a rack of lamb. There are two sides to a rack – the shoulder end and the loin end, which ends just before the 13th rib. The loin end has the nicer eye – the tender round of nicely marbled meat. The shoulder end has pockets of fat and isn’t so nice. Some of us got the loin end, some the shoulder. Chef demonstrated using the entire rack, though. So, first thing – the rack is covered by a thick layer of fat with some meat inside. This has to be removed. The chef took a boning knife and sliced the fat off the bones on the shoulder end. Then, using his favorite butchering tools (his thumbs), he separated and pulled the layer of fat off, leaving only a thin layer of fat behind. He then sliced the thin pieces of meat out of the fat and put them to the side before discarding the rest. Normally one slices fat off of meat – in this case one slices meat off of fat.

Then he made a cut just above the eye, over a second,tiny round of muscle, on both sides in the back and the front. He then “connected the dots” – sliced a line directly over the bones,meat and fat on both sides. Below this line was the eye of the meat, and not to be touched. Above it was the stuff to be removed. This line was wonderful – it allowed me to cut with confidence. Then he pulled the remaining fat from the bones (leaving a layer on the meat) and scored down the bones in front. He then sliced out the meat between the ribs – this is long and skinny and called finger meat and it’s used for stews and curries and maybe little kebabs.

Then, he showed us how to hold a boning knife – grasp it in your fist and use your thumb to bend the blade. He also showed how to hold the rack – hand curled around the meat, with the thumb in back. Then he scraped the meat and tendons and fat and everything else off the bones, leaving them bare. This is very bad for knives – he had a frenching knife because it’s not good for anything else. My poor boning knife.

And then he talked us through our own half-racks. I got the loin end. This meant I had to use a knife to start the fat when peeling it away,and I had almost no meat to slice out of the fat. After that,it was easy. I followed the instructions on how to hold the knife (after he reminded me), and sliced and scraped only away from the eye so as not to risk it. It wasn’t easy and it was tiring, but I managed to get a nice clean rack fairly quickly. He told a couple of other women to use their paring knives as their boning knives because their hands were too small for the knives. I think I have the smallest hands in the class, but they’re strong.

And then we cooked. We covered the racks with herbs and garlic and oil to wait for use. We had Denver ribs – the ends of the ribs, and these were boiled and roasted with barbecue sauce, and also put straight in the oven. Some racks were cut in half to make double lamb chops, and some were cut into four chops. These would be grilled to make nice marks and the doubles placed in the oven. The single chops were served with potatoes anna and orange beets, plus rosemary for garnish and a bit of the glace we were nursing (I’d earlier skimmed and strained it while chef demoed a sauce). Glace is reduced veal stock. Reduced further, it’s glace de viand,and it’s *gold* – intense flavor and even thickening without flour.

And then it turned out Y brought her camera, and we took *good* pictures of all the finished platings (plus Y took some lovely still-lives of knives and equipment. I think my favorite is a cutting board with a pile of mint leaves, a knife and a peppermill.) So that was fun. G took a bunch of the scraps and ground them with spices and onions and added flour and made kofte kebabs, which I helped with. And chef took our stuffing of bread crumbs, salt,pepper, garlic and parsley and some puff pastry and made a rack en chemise (meaning in “tissue”, but in this case, he used the puff pastry.) The rack itself had been cooked for 16 minutes, which made it rare. He layered the stuffing over the meat and then wrapped it, cutting fingers of pastry to go through the ribs, and brushing it with egg for shine and glue. Then, he cut leaves for the front of the rack to make it pretty. This was put in the freezer to firm up the puff pastry and then in the oven.

To make pan sauce – brown the rack on a pan and put in the oven once all of it is seared brown. Take it out about rare (140°F) or at the point you want. Lamb does need to be medium rare, which is a problem for Ms. Well-done. Put the rack aside, and add shallots, or garlic, and deglaze with wine, and add other spices (like tarragon) and, since we had it, some glace, and salt and pepper to finish when it reaches nappé. Then cut the rack in half and arrange the double chops prettily with garnish and sides and so on, with the sauce.

Or, before putting the lamb in the oven, coat it with the parsley stuffing.

He gave me the end cut of the rack en chemise because it was better done, and *so* good. I started my own rack late, and only got it seared and in the oven for a time, so I was allowed to take it home,and I’ll finish it there. Since it’s a half rack, and therefore only enough for one person, I’m going to add a shoulder steak. Make a sort of mixed grill.

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