Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Best Recipe In The Book: Coffee- and Spice-Rubbed Lamb with Coffee-Vanilla Sauce

If the title of today's post didn't scare you off, then you are my kind of people. Welcome, people, to the world of damned tasty lamb. This is the world wherein an eager lamb lover flits from table to table at the New Zealand embassy, snagging lollipop after lollipop after lollipop of lamb until she was blissfully full and her skin tasted of lamb for days. Oh, yes. It's a good world to be in. (And, yes, I really did do that. It was a Shiraz & Lamb tasting, and it was heavenly.)

One of the first recipes Chefly Husband ever made out of The Wine Lover's Cookbook: Great Recipes for the Perfect Glass of Wine was this initially strange sounding but utterly delicious lamb. It turned out to be phenomenal; heck, I'd say it's the best recipe in the book. Do not be scared off. Stay in lamb world.
Coffee- and Spice-Rubbed Lamb with Coffee-Vanilla Sauce
Recommended Wine: Pinot Noir
Alternative Wine: Cabernet Sauvignon

As pinot noir ages, it picks up some graceful, coffee-like notes. This dish was created to try to mirror this characteristic as well as accentuate the vanilla character that results from barrel aging. If the recipe sounds a little "over the top," don't be intimidated. It is quite flavorful and a wonderful way to heighten the character of almost any red wine, particularly those that have aged for a while.

2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon finely ground coffee
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine
1/4 teaspoon whole mixed peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon coriander seed
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (1 teaspoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

4 boneless, tied lamb sirloin rolls (about 2 pounds) or 8 double-thick lamb chops (about 6 pounds), trimmed of fat
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 6-inch vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 cups lamb or chicken stock
1/4 cup freshly brewed coffee
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 teaspoon cold water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Garnish: mint springs

To make marinade, combine garlic, mint, coffee, olive oil, and wine in a small, nonreactive mixing bowl. Using a mortar and pestle (or electric coffee/spice grinder), grind peppercorns, seeds, rosemary, and salt. Add to coffee mixture and whisk thoroughly.

Place lamb in a large glass dish. Pour marinade over lamb and rub in thoroughly on all sides. Refrigerate, covered for 3 to 4 hours. Remove from marinade and wipe off most but not all of coffee mixture with paper towels.

In a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat, sauté olive oil, mushrooms, and shallots for 4 to 5 minutes. Add red wine, vanilla bean, and mint and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and reduce wine by half. Stir in stock, coffee, and honey and reduce by half. Remove vanilla bean. Stir in cornstarch mixture to thicken sauce. Remove from heat, swirl in butter, and season to taste. Keep warm.

Prepare a hot grill. Cook lamb for 7 to 8 minutes per side, or until medium-rare.

To serve, place lamb rolls on plates and top with sauce. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Serves 4 as an entreé
...yes, please.

I hope I don't need to say this, but the butter is not optional. It's just not. It's one measley tablespoon, spread out over 4 servings. It's the key for finishing this sauce (or, really, almost any sauce). Use the darned butter. And whatever you do, do not substitute butter.

I could put that paragraph in a macro, I could. I will stand by that paragraph until the day I die. The day I die in buttery, lamb-filled bliss.

You may not have a store of all those lovely seeds in your cupboard. Or, you might have some...in metal tins you got from your mom's cabinet when you went off to college. Those? Are not good anymore, folks. They're just not. Get your fingers flying over to Penzeys Spices and get yourself some spices like you've never had spices (unless, of course, you've already been to Penzeys).

See, even with dried spices, freshness is an issue. There are volatile oils in your spices (or there were, back when your mom bought that tin in 1973), and as the word volatile implies, they're not sticking around, stable as salt. They're fleeting. They're flying. They're gone. Restock your spices. You'll be glad you did.

I'd get on your case to make sure you're using a mortar and pestle for your spice grinding. It's really a spiffy fine way to go about spice bashing. So, by all means, use a mortar and pestle. Like I said, I'd get on your case...but I'd be a hypocrite. I don't own a mortar and pestle. I just don't. Somewhere in this crazy apartment of mine, I have my old coffee grinder, and I'll use that. It works.

If I'm feeling frustrated, though, I might put those seeds and spices in a zip-top bag, put the bag on the cutting board, and then bash it over and over with a heavy fry pan.

What? It's therapeutic.

As for the wine, go for the pinot. You'll be happy, you will. While you're cooking, you're going to use less than two cups of wine in the actual recipe. You've heard the old saw about never cooking with a wine you wouldn't drink; this is one of the very good reasons why. A 750-ml bottle of wine has about 3 1/4 cups in it. You have my permission to drink the rest of the wine as you prepare the dish. Open something else for the table.

That's how we do it in lamb world.

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