I know it must be the holidays when I see produce bins filled up with little orange balls of fruit, stacked high, spilling over themselves with skin the color of a vibrant pumpkin. Their shapes give them individuality, a dimple or a dent, perfectly round or slightly squashed. Maybe it is the green of the leaf and stem still attached that makes them seem so festive. Green, rigid, beautiful, like that of a holly tree.
It fits, the orange, perfectly cupped in the palm of my hand; thumb reaching over it’s top. Poised and ready, my thumb pokes through and penetrates the outer skin which gives freely. I am rewarded with a short spray of fragrant air. I peel the skin away, revealing a self-contained fruit held together with a thin membrane, translucent enough to expose the ripe flesh that lays within. Flecks of pith hang onto the membrane, creating a pattern that resembles a vein. My thumb digs in deeper now and pulls back a section. Juice dripping and sticky as it plops into my mouth, flavor explodes and I know it must be Christmas, or at least, a New Year.
Pomegranate, Kona coffee, Rack of Lamb with Celery Root puree & Mandarin Orange relish
(Mandarin) oranges are like lamb, enjoyed all times of the year, but celebratory at the holidays. For Christmas, we were gifted a perfect rack of lamb from my Dad and my step-mother, Linda. It came from a little place back East you may have heard of called D’Artagnan. Seriously good eats (don’t get me started on their foie gras…).
My Dad will attest to my penchant for lamb (as will Linda with whom I share a strong affinity). Whenever my Dad took me to dinner, rack of lamb was what I ordered; it was always a special meal to me. This particular rack of lamb was exquisite; tender to the bone (which we (the 4 of us) did gnaw on… for the record).
Paired with a simple relish of Mandarin orange, raw celery root and mint, the soft, suppleness of the lamb is shocked into perpetual flavor.
2 TB pomegranate juice
2 TB pomegranate molasses
2-3 crushed garlic cloves
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
Lots of fresh thyme
1/4 cup fresh mint, torn
2 TB “good” brandy
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 TB ground coffee (Tom shared his beloved 100% Kona)
1 lamb rack (8 bones), denuded
1 dollop (per person) Mandarin orange relish – recipe to follow
Season the lamb with approximately 1/2 tsp salt and many grinds of fresh pepper.
Mix all of the braise ingredients together in a fryer bag, add the lamb. Seal the bag and be sure the lamb is coated with the liquid.
Refrigerate for at least 24 hours (and up to 48 hours). Remove from the liquid and pat dry, discarding the marinade.
Heat a saute pan to hot and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Brown the lamb rack on the meaty side, wiping the pan of oil to avoid splatter.
Transfer the rack to a baking sheet and cook in a 400-degree oven until it reads 150 on a thermometer (approximately 15 minutes).
It is important to let it rest for at least 5-10 minutes which allows the juices to distribute from the bones back through to the meat. A tender morsel awaits.
Mandarin Orange Relish
Combine the following combination (per 2 persons):
1/2 a Mandarin orange, small dice (peel and pith removed)
1 – 2 sections blood orange, small dice (peel and pith removed)
2 slices (1/8″) raw, peeled celery root, small dice
Squeeze of lemon juice
2-3 sprigs fresh mint, chopped
Pinch of sea salt
Small drizzle of raw honey (optional)
1 drop white truffle oil (optional)
Slice 2 chops (or 3) per person and plate over a dollop of celery root puree (or mashed potatoes, or polenta… you get the idea). Set a dollop (or spoonful) of mandarin orange relish alongside (a red wine roasted cippolini onion or steamed green beans works nicely to accompany too).
Perfect New Zealand lamb, paired with roasted cippolini onion, celery root puree and mandarin orange relish.