Food & Drink

Meat and potatoes get an upgrade

Rosemary-mustard rack of lamb with crushed potatoes is a comfort-food favorite that can be elevated to elegant.
Rosemary-mustard rack of lamb with crushed potatoes is a comfort-food favorite that can be elevated to elegant. New York Times

I’m an ardent vegetable lover, but, sometimes, what I really want to eat is meat and potatoes.

It could be a weeknight pan-grilled steak, just big enough for two, cooked on the rare side of medium-rare and served with baked potatoes. Or perhaps juicy braised short ribs and a creamy potato purée. I could go on.

If guests are coming, a simple meat-and-potatoes option makes for carefree entertaining, especially during the winter holidays. Add a vegetable or two on the side and a green salad. Done.

For lamb lovers, a good option is Irish stew, simmered with potatoes on top, a humble but eminently satisfying feast. Francophiles can roast a fine garlic-studded leg or shoulder of lamb to send to the table with a potato gratin.

It is the tender rack of lamb, however, that makes the most perfect roast for an elegant dinner, and it is the easiest to prepare. It may be the priciest cut, but a home-cooked rack of lamb is still far cheaper than one from a restaurant.

Usually, lamb racks are sold “frenched” (trimmed of fat, with the bones separated and scraped clean) and ready to cook. A good butcher will take care of this for you. Supermarket racks often need a bit more trimming. Frenching them at home is not necessary, but do remove extraneous fat. Each eight-bone rack, once cooked, may be sliced into four thick chops (my preference), or eight thin chops, if you prefer.

A simple seasoning with salt and pepper is fine, but a little more effort will yield a much more flavorful result. I mix pounded garlic and anchovy with Dijon mustard and olive oil into a quick paste to smear on the meat, and add a shower of roughly chopped rosemary. Give this marinade at least 10 minutes to do its work, or longer if possible, up to eight hours.

To combine the meat and potatoes for roasting, I chose my new favorite way with potatoes — crushed. Small potatoes are first boiled in their skins, then squashed flat, drizzled with olive oil and baked until crisp: in this case, right under the lamb, where they can absorb some of the flavors from the meat.

I learned this method from Argentine chef Francis Mallmann. In Argentina and Uruguay, these potatoes are called papas aplastadas, which simply means flattened or crushed, but sounds fancy. You’ll find recipes for them in most South American cookbooks, often with directions to crisp on an iron plancha, or griddle, rather than roast.

If you are well-organized, you can prepare this meal several hours in advance, and pop it in the oven at the appropriate moment. Guests are always impressed with the presentation, a festive turn on meat and potatoes.

And to drink

You are in luck. That special bottle of fine Bordeaux you have been saving will be just right with this rack of lamb. Ideally, it ought to be a cabernet sauvignon-based blend from one of the Médoc appellations like Pauillac, St.-Julien or Margaux, and even better if it’s well aged. But don’t despair if it’s a Pomerol, St.-Émilion or one of the other Right Bank appellations; they will go well, too. Good cabernet from anywhere would be fine, whether California, Tuscany or South Africa. Other options? Age-worthy Loire cabernet franc could be superb. So would a Barolo or Barbaresco from the Piedmont region, or a good Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino, or a Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie from the Rhône. Honestly, any red wine will work, but why waste an opportunity for a great wine?

Rosemary rack of lamb with crushed potatoes

Yield: 4 servings.

Total time: 1 hour.

2 lamb racks, about 1 1/2 pounds each, preferably frenched

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 anchovy fillets, minced

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 to 2 pounds small, round potatoes, scrubbed and left whole

2 tablespoons roughly chopped rosemary

2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley, for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Season lamb generously with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together Dijon mustard, garlic and anchovy (or pound together in a mortar for a smoother texture). Stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Smear lamb all over with marinade and set aside.

Meanwhile, boil potatoes until the tip of a paring knife meets no resistance, 10 to 15 minutes depending on size. When potatoes are done, drain, transfer to a roasting pan large enough to hold them in a single layer, and set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. With palms or the back of a wooden spoon, crush potatoes gently to crack open and slightly flatten. Sprinkle with salt, drizzle with about 2 tablespoons olive oil, and turn to lightly coat.

Lay lamb racks on top of potatoes, with bones curving downward. Scatter rosemary over meat and potatoes. Roast, uncovered, until a meat thermometer registers 125 degrees (for medium-rare), about 20 minutes. (Cook to 135 degrees for medium.)

Remove lamb to a cutting board and let rest, tented with foil. Return potatoes to oven and leave to roast 10 to 15 minutes more, until nicely crisped.

Use a large chef’s knife to slice the racks by cutting between the bones. (One rack will yield 4 thick chops or 8 thin ones). Transfer chops and potatoes to a warm platter, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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