When I lived in Shanghai I was fascinated by the food from Xinjiang region. The Uygur people from Xinjiang had a strong presence on the street as traders. There were also many restaurants serving Uygur cuisine, most specialising in goat and lamb.
It was here that I first experienced the strong aromatic flavours often associated with this cuisine. More importantly for me at the time, they also held the monopoly on skewered food outside bars and nightclubs. Grilled over coals and seasoned with cumin seeds, dried chilli and monosodium glutamate, it exceeded the concept of a 3am souvlaki.
This recipe is loosely based on a northern Chinese recipe. The combination of spices is aromatic and pairs beautifully with lamb, particularly lamb fat. We originally cooked this recipe with a whole lamb shoulder, where we encased the shoulder in the spices, wrapped it tightly in cling film, and left it to marinate and cure overnight. The next day, we slowly roasted the lamb shoulder, covered, at about 160ºC for about six hours or until it was falling off the bone.
When cooked, we shredded the meat and served it with flatbread, some chilli paste and pickled cucumber.
To speed up the process, we changed this recipe and use it on some lamb racks or chops. It works just as well. When cooking the lamb racks, the first stage of the recipe requires pan-frying the rack. We take care to cook it gently. This process activates all the spices but they can also burn very easily. I serve this dish simply, with some cucumber batons dressed with a few drops of soy, some shredded ginger, coriander and a splash of chilli oil.
Roast spiced rack of lamb
– 900g rack of lamb
– 1 tbsp ground, roasted dried chillies
– ½ tbsp coriander seeds
– ½ tbsp black peppercorns
– ½ tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
– 1½ tsp white peppercorns
– 1 star anise
– 2 cloves
– 20g brown sugar
– 1 tsp sea salt
– ½ tbsp grapeseed oil
– cheeks of 2 lemons
Cut any excess fat from the lamb rack.
Combine all the spices with the sugar and salt. Grind them to a fine powder in an electric spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle.
Coat the lamb ribs with the spice mix, rubbing it into the meat with your hands. Cover and place the ribs in the refrigerator overnight to marinate.
The following day, preheat an oven to 160ºC. Remove the lamb rack from the fridge. Pat dry with a paper towel to remove any moisture.
Warm the grapeseed oil in a fry pan. Add the racks to the pan and roll the rack back and forth from time to time to colour. Take care as the spices can easily burn.
When golden and aromatic, transfer to the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes or until medium-rare. When cooked, remove from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
To serve, slice the ribs into individual pieces and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Serve immediately, with the lemon cheeks on the side.
2015 Simão & Co. tempranillo, Alpine Valleys, Victoria ($29)
– Leanne Altmann, wine buyer, Supernormal and Meatsmith
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 11, 2017 as "Roast spiced rack of lamb". Subscribe here.