Monday, September 15, 2008

Lamb Ribs: An Experiment in Flavors

I had no idea I was getting FOUR racks of lambs when I purchased these at the Austin Farmers Market. This is actually a great thing, I can now experiment with different rubs and seasoning on each one to see what I like best.

Loncito Cartwright's lamb is all grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free and tender. Produced on Twin Oaks Ranch, owned and operated by his family in Dinero, Texas. They don’t have a web site yet, but you can read about them on this website and check out Farmer Brad’s blog to learn more about what this group of local farmers are up to.

A lot of the recipes I came across online have you use a dry rub and let the meat stand at room temperate for at least an hour. Great, this will give me some time to create the four different rub combinations. Let’s get started on this adventure, shall we!?!?

Ribs #1, I’m going to use Alton Browns “Who Loves Ya Baby-Back” recipe from food network as my guide. For the rub I’m using 4 tablespoons of brown sugar (halving as much as I can), 1 and ½ tablespoons of kosher salt, ½ tablespoon chili powder (I only have smoked chipotle chile pepper), 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon, cayenne pepper, ¼ teaspoon thyme, ¼ teaspoon onion powder. I patted this dry rub all over both sides of ribs #1 and then wrapped it in a foil boat and labeled it with a sharpie.
Ribs #2, I’m going to follow Ina Gartens (Barefoot Contessa) recipe from food network. In a food processor I put 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 tablespoons minced rosemary leaves, 3 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. I pulsed all this in a food processor and let me say this smelled really good.
I ran out of dijon mustard and found this local mustard in my pantry. I'm going back to my German roots!
I wasn’t sure about the rosemary combined with the spicy mustard though. I stuck my finger in to taste it and I think Ina might be on to something here. We’ll see. I brushed this gooey mess all over both sides of ribs #2 and wrapped it in foil, marked it with my sharpie and placed on a foil lined baking sheet to rest for an hour.
Ribs #3, A friend of mine gave me a sample of rub from Tom Perini of Perini Ranch Steak House in Abilene, Texas. I lived in Abilene for four years while attending Hardin-Simmons University and this place has the best steaks. Here is what it contains: 2 teaspoons corn starch or flour, 2 teaspoons salt, 5 tablespoons coarse-ground pepper, 1/2 teaspoon oregano, 4 teaspoons garlic powder, 4 teaspoons onion powder, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon beef stock base (granulated). I rubbed this on both sides of the ribs, wrapped in foil, numbered with a sharpie and placed on my foil lined baking sheet.
Ribs #3 This seasoning mix comes from the executive chef at the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio. I have no idea what is in it, but I do know it taste great on chicken, fish, beef, veggies. It’s like powdered crack for food. I don’t think you can purchase this anywhere (to my knowledge) I get a small zip top bag of this each year when our organization hosts a large meeting at this hotel in San Antonio.
To Braise or Not to Braise. Here are some great techniques and ingredients from Michael Chairello of NapaStyle.

“Braising is one of my favorite ways to cook — long, slow, moist heat.
The method renders tough meat tender.

Done incorrectly, it can make tough meat tougher. To braise means to
cook food very slowly in liquid in a covered container. The secret is to go
slowly! You can braise on top of the stove but I prefer to braise in a slow,
250° oven. Its all-over heat gives a deeper, richer flavor and even cooking.
Don't drown the food in liquid but use enough to cook in a moist environment.

You can braise nearly anything including vegetables such as endive,
leeks, and radicchio. The cooking liquid can be water, wine, stock, or a

The colder and grayer the weather, the more intensely flavored you want
your food to be. The way to achieve this is through caramelization of
ingredients. Brown the meat to be braised all over, then brown the aromatic
vegetables as well and use a rich stock and red wine as the braising liquids. In
spring, caramelize the vegetables for less time and use a white wine.

The best cuts of meat for braising are lean, tough cuts such as shanks.
Keep in mind that there is very little moisture in the meat. Don't think about
"cooking" as much as "encouraging" the meat to tenderness.

Check for doneness with a pair of tongs. When the meat is done, it will
pull away from the bone with no resistance. Let the braised meat cool in the
braising liquid. As meat cooks, it relaxes and releases its juices. If it
remains in the braising liquid as it cools, the juices will stay in the meat.“

Ribs #1, In a microwavable container, combine 1/2 cup white wine, 1 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 tablespoon honey, 1 cloves chopped garlic. Microwave on high for 1 minute. This yields ½ cup of liquid that I pour into the #1 foil packet. Tilt the baking sheet in order to equally distribute the braising liquid.

Ribs #2, I’m not going to do anything to these right now. I’m going to check after an hour and brush more of the mustard sauce on the ribs then.
Ribs #3, This is a crazy idea that Jim had and I love it. I’m going to add 3/4 cup Jack Daniels No. 7 Whiskey.

Ribs #4, To this rubbed rack of ribs I’m going to add ¾ cup red wine.

I’m going to take a quick minute to talk about cooking with alcohol. I love cooking with wine, and sometimes I put it in my food. Just kidding….kind of. I think it is very important that you are cooking with wine that you would also drink. So before just opening a bottle of whatever white wine you have in your wine locker, swirl it and taste it. You first want to make sure the wine isn’t “corked” or BAD in any way. Secondly, you want to make sure you would actually drink a glass of the stuff before you drown your food in it. So ask yourself if you would drink this while eating the particular food you are cooking. Stepping off soap box now.

The white wine I’m using is from Sonoma County, a Sebastiani Chardonnay with lots of fruit characteristics and ample acidy with a crisp finish. There is a hint of oak that will go great with the rub I used in Ribs #1. The red wine I’m using on Ribs #4 is a Liberty School Cab from Paso Robles. This is less than $15 and found at my local HEB. This ruby red wine smells like dark berry, chocolate and hints of vanilla. It’s warm, approachable and elegant with a full finish making this perfect for cooking and sipping – or is it sipping and cooking? Whatever. After one hour of cooking at a low temperture, I opened and checked each foil pouch. The meat was already starting to pull back from the bones and each foil pouch smelled insanely good – each different, each making me want to dab the au jus behind my ears. I didn’t pay attention to which way the rack of lamb sit in the foil when I put them in the first time. As I opened each one up, I made sure the meat side was down in the juice and bone side up. I don't know if this is right or wrong, but the little bit of OCD I have wanted them all to be the same. Back in they go for another hour and a half.
At the 2 ½ hour mark I pulled out all the meat and put them on one serving tray and upped the oven to 350 degrees and put them back in for 10 additional minutes so they can caramelize and crisp on the outside. I made this up, and it worked well.

Meanwhile I took the drippings from ribs #1 and put them in a saucepan over medium heat. I am going to simmer it for 10 minutes, but I don’t have high hopes for it since it looks like there is quite a bit of oil floating on top.

Once complete, the four ribs look completely different from each other. Jim and I tasted all of them and here is our verdict…

We both agreed that our favorite was #2, Ina Garten’s mustard rub with balsamic vinegar. I didn’t even put anything else in the foil pouch for braising liquid. These were falling off the bone and they tasted great.
Our second favorite was ...
#1, Alton Brown’s recipe. These were very good but the au jus that I tried to boil down to a thick sauce was a flop however. It had a quarter of an inch of grease sitting on top. Maybe if I would have scooped this off and dipped the rib meat in the goodness at the bottom it would have been better. But the ribs truly had tons of flavor on them and didn’t need a dipping sauce.

#3 with the Perini rub was okay. I think this rub is best used in the way for which it was made – steaks. This rub was very salty on the mild lamb meat. The Jack Daniels I put on this probably also delivered a flavor that didn’t blend well with the rub. It was okay, but wasn’t the best.

#4 ribs with the San Antonio rub was also very salty. I love this rub, but I think the addition of red wine clashed with the marinade. This was the toughest piece of meat in the whole pack too, so maybe the red wine wasn’t the best choice for braising. Although I’ve braised short ribs before in red wine (among other ingredients) and they turned out well. I guess lamb has a unique flavor and certain seasonings work while others just don't.

Way to go Ina!! Now Jim and I are off to our local sports bar to watch the Bronco’s and the Chargers. Go Denver!!!

Turned out to be a great game! (Did I really just type that?)


  1. wow, that's a ton of work. Thanks for putting all the info up. I've never made lamb ribs and I think I will have to look into it now.

    Love the blog too, I will be back for sure.

  2. well if you do them in the oven they really arent BBQ are they?


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