Where your cute-soon-to-be-delicious lamb was born, raised, and ate affects just about everything about how Mary's Little Meal will taste. Firstly, a 'lamb' by most countries definitions is a sheep that is less than one year of age. Some countries get more specific; Australians further subcategorize lamb by how many teeth they have prior to slaughter. Lamb from Australia and New Zealand is often cheaper and has a more gamey taste than American lamb, which tends to impart more beef-like characteristics and is milder. Icelandic lamb - and there are a lot of them for which I can personally attest - sort of falls in the middle between the American and Aussie/NZ lamb. It's milder than their southern cousins but also leaner than the fatter US compatriots.
For Sunday dinner I decided on lamb as we were having Jim and his son Sam over. Lamb chops and ribs are easy to cook on the grill and prep'd in this manner represent a great, summery dish along side tomato/cucumber/feta salad, corn on the cob, and grilled raddichio. I wanted to do all ribs but some jackass who went to the Dupont Farmers Market that morning decided to buy nearly all of the ribs from Virginia Lamb before 9:15...only 15 minutes into the markets open. I thus was only able to get a 10 rib rack.
Either way, I picked up a few chops to top things off.
The "marinade" is quite simple:
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil + extra
1 sprig of fresh mint
5 - 8 fresh basil leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
5 sprigs of parsley
2 cloves of garlic
Separate the herb leaves from their stems and put in a big pile on your cutting board. Add about 1 TBS of olive oil to this and using a rocking motion mince the herbs until none are larger than 1/8 of an inch. [By adding some oil to the mincing procedure this not only helps keep the herbs green but makes it a little easier by keeping them together.] Put this paste into a small container and add the rest of the olive oil. Mince the garlic and add to the herb mix. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Prepare the lamb. Cut the lamb rack into riblets of two each. Some like to do each individually; this is a pain since you have more to tend to on the grill and you REALLY risk over cooking them. Rinse all the lamb under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay all the pieces closely together on a large platter with the cut side of the riblets facing up.
Lightly salt and pepper one side of the lamb. Using a sharp paring knife, stab each piece once in the thickest, meatiest area. With a small spoon and your fingers, add about 1/2 teaspoon of the marinade into the hole. Rub half of the remaining herb paste into the lamb. Flip the pieces over and repeat. Set in the fridge for at least two hours but not more than four, uncovered.
One hour before cooking remove the lamb from the fridge; get your fire going. I've recently been experimenting with cooking only with wood. It's great because you get a real hot fire and it winds up being easier to manage in terms of heat and length of burn. However, it does take some management and as I lost attention to it yesterday it wound up nearly burning out. Have no fear though - throw another log on the fire and it's up and ready in 15 minutes.
Put the lamb on the grill over the fire. You don't want high flames here so wait until it's died down a bit. The lamb will cook fast...assuming you want it rare to medium rare. If not, stop reading this recipe and go to McDonald's. Sear each piece about 2 minutes on each side - you be the judge based on chop thickness - and remove to the cool side of the grill. My buddy Jim grilled his radicchio shortly thereafter. In the interim, Bailey The Bad Dog decided to lap up the butter off the table - a good half stick of some nice Icelandic Smjör while we screwed around with the lamb.
I was wondering where he'd went.