By contributing writer Mary Cressler
Growing up, ham was our traditional Easter dinner meal. Nothing special, just a store bought, ready to serve ham. Now no offense to ham (although I think I can safely say I could happily go the rest of my life without ever eating ham again), but I just think there are so many more interesting options out there — like lamb. I don’t even think I tried lamb for the first time until I was a grown adult. I was deprived of that incredible flavor my whole childhood life (why, Mom, why?). I’m not sure if it was the higher price tag or the fear of cooking it, but my family just sadly never ever cooked lamb.
My husband and I, however, love lamb and cook it year-round. Our favorite method of cooking it is on our smoker or even grilling it on a high heat. But roasting in the oven produces equally flavorful and perfectly tender meat that pairs so incredibly with a wide variety of wines.
Lamb can be fairly expensive, so it’s a nice option for a special event or holiday dinner like Easter. It has a naturally gamey flavor that works so well when balanced out with some savory herbs.
I like to coat a rack of lamb with a mix of some of my favorite aromatic herbs, like thyme, sage, and plenty of rosemary, and then mix in some garlic, salt, pepper, and a generous amount of olive oil. Mix everything together and just rub it all over the lamb and cook it in your vessel of choice. It’s so incredibly simple to prepare, yet so elegant once served.
If you have a smoker, there’s nothing like the mildly smoky flavor of slow cooking this cut of meat. We set it to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and smoke it for approximately one hour. Though grilling at a high temperature will give you a fantastic crust on the outside to offset the gamey and savory flavors found within. On the grill, a rack of lamb takes approximately 15 minutes to cook.
With roasting, and what I’ve included in the directions below, you get the perfect balance of both – nice tender meat and just enough crust on the outside. No matter how you cook it, remove it when it’s around 130-135 degrees internal temperature for medium-rare (the best way to prepare it in my opinion).
Depending on the size of your rack, this recipe can serve 3-4 (estimating 2-3 pieces per person), so you can easily double the recipe if you are making this for a larger crowd.
- 1 (8-rib) rack of lamb (approx 1 – 1 ½ pounds), fat trimmed
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tablespoon garlic cloves, finely diced
- ½ tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
- ½ tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
- ½ tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- ½ teaspoon good salt (like Maldon or sea salt)
- 6 turns of freshly ground pepper, or approx ¼ teaspoon
- Preheat oven to 450° F.
- Trim excess fat off the lamb.
- In a small bowl, mix olive oil, garlic, thyme, sage, rosemary, salt, and pepper until combined. Spread the mixture evenly over the lamb.
- Place on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat reads 130 - 135 degrees (approximately 20 to 25 minutes). Let stand 10 minutes before carving into individual chops.
Like I mentioned earlier, roasted lamb is one of my favorite foods for pairing with wine. It’s incredibly diverse when it comes to its compatibility with wine. If you smoke it or grill it, it can handle fuller bodied wines like Syrah, Tempranillo, or Bordeaux-style red blends. It can even work with rosés and white wines depending on how it’s prepared.
For the roasting method above, and covered with those savory herbs, I prefer a medium bodied dry red wine that has more berry flavors and also some savory notes to balance out the meat. My favorite wines to pair with this roasted lamb are Pinot Noir (especially from my home state of Oregon) and Rhône-style red blends. The Rhône-style wines work great with the gamey flavor of the meat, and the Pinots provide a lovely savoriness that is great with the flavors of the crust and tender meat.
You can find some excellent matches in the Wine4.Me app, like Pinot Noirs from Argyle (OR), King Estate (OR), Davis Bynum (CA), Etude (CA), or Rhône-style wines like those from Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras (France) or, on the value side, try E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône red (France).
Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners. She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.