Rack of Lamb, An Unexpected Delight

The lamb might seem to be the icon of Australian cooking. But before prosperity arrived, post-war, the lamb we ate was more likely to be the full-on big daddy or mummy of the flock, aka mutton. It’s only since the fifties that the baby baa-baas have been our favourite food.

The rack of lamb should be enmeshed in Australian cooking folklore. My memory suggests that this nifty cut of lamb, and its partner the crown roast, were an early indicator of our change in economic circumstances, coupled with a new inquisitiveness. In other words, we were growing up. And we took some of our new questioning of the status quo into the kitchen. The rack of lamb, often served with the old staple mint sauce, and then with rosemary and garlic and then soy and honey, became a centrepiece of thousands of dinner parties in the seventies. The crown roast, an absurdity of theatre getting in the way of commonsense, was several racks of lamb or beef, sitting together primly in a round, the bones topped with some sort of crazy faux toques of paper or foil. That, I am pleased to say, has disappeared from our lives, I hope forever. The rack, with all its tremendous potential, based on that oh so tender loin of perfect Australian lamb, never will.

White Lies is a tiny restaurant in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. Tiny in size, huge in quality, because of the marvellous technique and attention to detail of chef-owner Ali Bou- talbi. Herbed rack of lamb is one of the most simple dishes, almost unexpected in a restaurant. It is so outstanding it should be part of any cook’s repertoire.

Ask your butcher to bare the racks of all excess fat and particularly that very thin sinew that holds the fat to the meat. Then he must saw almost through the bones – two chops to each saw – so that when the rack has been cooked you can slice for the table, while retaining the ‘handle’ bones to gnaw upon.

fresh herbs, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely sliced

50-100 g butter, melted

1 rack of lamb (4-6 chops) per person – Bones sliced almost through at every second chop.


Mix the herbs and sliced garlic on a dinner plate. The melted butter needs to be in a bowl deep enough to allow the largest rack to be dipped into it. Heat the oven to 250°C.


Dip the back of the lamb racks – the meat on the opposite side from the bone – in the melted butter, and then dip immediately into the mix of garlic and herbs. Press down so that the herbs stick well to the loin.


Refrigerate for a short while, to allow the butter to re-set and the herbs to stick.


Layer the racks in a baking tray, buttered side up, and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 6-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the loin. Remove and squeeze the ends – there should be some give and plenty of resistance. The lamb should be kept medium-rare. Set aside in a warm place, covered for 5 minutes, while you get the rest of the show organised.


When all else is ready, slice through the sawn bones and serve pink side up.

I happened to pick up one of those lamb recipes that come from the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, this one for cooking the rack. It suggests cooking the lamb for 40-45 minutes at 200°C. Please don’t follow this sort of instruction. This is the cooking of Australia circa 1965. The tenderness of the lamb is such that it can possibly survive such over-cooking. But that gorgeous tenderness should never be compromised. Please undercook your rack in the oven, and leave to rest in a warm place to allow the cooking to be concluded. Lamb should never be served rare, as it is a little on the chewy side. Aim for medium-rare, or a better description, pink all the way through.

WINE: Lamb means Coonawarra cabernet. Go for one from a good year, and seek out lots of berry flavour.