Let’s just get something out of the way – this is not a dish that is delicate or subtle. It uses lamb ribs which can be quite fatty in the most delicious way, with a sauce that is sweet, sticky and tangy. It is matched with some nice green leaves, though. You need to start this recipe a day ahead and lots of it can be done in stages with just the final few steps left until the last minute.
- 3 lamb rib racks, approximately 500 g each
- 2 brown onions, sliced
- ½ head garlic, cloves peeled and roughly bashed
- ½ bunch thyme
- 2 tsp fennel seeds, plus 2 tsp extra, toasted
- river salt and black pepper
- 2 litres chicken stock
- 70 g brown sugar
- ½ lemon, plus extra juice, and wedges, to serve
- vegetable oil, for shallow frying
- 2 cups picked watercress
- 1 cup mint
- 1 splash olive oil
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Resting time overnight
Bring the ribs to room temperature. Preheat oven to 160°C. In an appropriately sized baking dish place the onion, garlic, thyme and 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds. Season lamb ribs generously on both sides and place them on top.
Pour the chicken stock over the lamb, place a sheet of baking paper over the ribs, and use a plate or smaller tray to weigh the ribs down so they become submerged in the liquor. Cover the baking dish with foil and place in oven. Walk away and do something else.
In about 2 hours, come back to your oven, carefully pull the ribs out, open the foil and have a little check. You want them to be cooked enough so that when you pull a little on one of the rib bones there’s a bit of give and the meat starts to come away. If they are stilling feeling a little firm, re-cover and put them back for another 30 minutes before checking again.
Once the ribs are nicely cooked, remove from the oven, allow to cool to room temperature then cover and place in the fridge overnight. (If the tray is too big, carefully remove the ribs, place them in a smaller vessel and pour the cooking liquor back over.)
The next day, gently remove the ribs from the braising liquor and set aside. Use a fine strainer to strain the liquor. Measure half of it and put it away for another time. It can be frozen until your next braising adventure, used as the base of a delicious spring soup, or reduce it by half by simmering for 20-30 minutes to make a lovely lamb sauce for later.
Place the remaining liquor on the stove with the extra toasted fennel seeds and the brown sugar. Squeeze the lemon half into the pot and throw in the skin as well. Bring this mix to the boil then simmer gently for about 40 minutes or until it’s reduced down to less than 2 cups. It should be starting to look a little thick and sticky.
Meanwhile, using a cleaver, cut the ribs into pieces by placing the rib rack on a board so you can see the line of the bones pointing up and, using them as a guide, cut between each bone. You should end up with about eight pieces from each rack.
Once your sauce is ready, fish out the lemon and give it a little squeeze using a pair of tongs. You are now ready for action.
In a large shallow pan, place about 5 cm of vegetable oil and heat until it reaches 180°C. Gently lower the rib pieces into this, doing it in batches if necessary. You want to keep moving the lamb pieces around, making sure they become dark golden brown and crispy all over. Lay them out on paper towel to drain.
Place your sauce back onto the heat in a large pot, bring it to the boil and taste for seasoning. It will probably need salt, a good grind of black pepper and perhaps another squeeze of lemon. Once you are happy with it, add all the ribs and gently stir. Let them simmer in the pot for a couple of minutes only - they all need a chance to become nicely coated in the sauce but you don’t want them becoming soggy.
While this is happening place the watercress and mint in a bowl and lightly dress with the merest hint of olive oil, a touch of lemon juice and seasoning.
When the ribs are ready, serve them on a large platter with all the sauce spooned over. Pile the salad artfully on the top and bring to your guests with extra wedges of lemon and perhaps some finger bowls at it may get messy.
• When buying your lamb, don’t get confused – you need lamb rib racks, not a lamb rack - it won’t work otherwise.
Photography by Benito Martin
Styling by Jerrie-Joy Redman-Lloyd
Platter by Slab and Slub from Small Spaces; plates by The Fortynine Studio.