May 28, 2011

On the Lamb: Harissa-Rubbed Lamb Chops with Charmoula

As a part-time food blogger and full time food freak, my antenna is always up for delicious things to make, eat and blog about. More and more, I’m cooking and posting original recipes that I’ve either perfected or – through pure blind luck and some modicum of skill – managed to create from the season’s best.

But sometimes, the clamour for a recipe outweighs my desire to be original. And that clamour was resounding last week when I made Bonnie Stern’s amazing Harissa-Rubbed Lamb Chops with Charmoula, from her wonderful Friday Night Dinners cookbook. With a houseful of people – 14 to be exact – all of them passionate about great food and wine, we wanted to serve something that was foolproof fabulous. And while our Butter Crunch Salad, Quinoa with Dried Cherries, and Rosemary-Roasted Salmon were all hits, the star of the show was the finger-licking good, garlicky, sweet-and-spicy chops. Easy, beautiful and tasty – a triumvirate that you can’t beat.

Harissa-Rubbed Lamb Chops with Charmoula
serves 10 to 12

For maximum flavour, we marinate the lamb a day ahead and refrigerate, and make the charmoula a day ahead too. We sear the lamb the next morning, and refrigerate until ready to cook and serve. So all that needs to be done for dinner is finish cooking the lamb.

You can also freeze the rack of lamb after searing. Just defrost, make the charmoula and finish off the lamb. We did just that last night, and had a ready-made Friday night dinner of our own in 30 minutes flat.

For the harissa:
½ c olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp smoked paprika (seek it out – the distinct flavour can’t be replicated with just regular paprika)
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cayenne or hot pepper sauce
4 racks of lamb

For the charmoula:
1 c olive oil mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp hot red pepper sauce
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro

1.  Make the harissa by combining all of the wet and dry ingredients in small bowl. Rub every last bit into the lamb. If making immediately, leave on the counter; if holding to cook later, place in a casserole dish, cover and refrigerate (overnight if desired).

2. Make the charmoula by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use, bringing to room temperature before serving.

3. If finishing the dish immediately, preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large roasting pan over medium high heat, sear the lamb racks, meaty side down, until browned. Transfer the racks to lined rimmed baking sheet, bone side down, and roast for 20 to 25 minutes for medium rare. Alternatively, grill the racks on a gas or charcoal babecue to enhance the smoky flavour.

4. Slice the lamb into chops, place on a platter, and serve with the charmoula on the side.