Monday, July 12, 2021

"Rice Over Lamb"
Pop up dinner presentation (Photo credit_ Christopher Hodson)
Pop up dinner presentation (Photo credit_ Christopher Hodson)

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NYC Halal Cart
NYC Halal Cart

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Rice Over Lamb (View 2)
Rice Over Lamb (View 2)

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Pop up dinner presentation (Photo credit_ Christopher Hodson)
Pop up dinner presentation (Photo credit_ Christopher Hodson)

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"Rice Over Lamb"

Rice over Lamb is a playful take on what became a staple meal for young cooks taking on the daily grind of New York City. As cooks and chefs typically finish their shift in the late hours of the night, finding quality dining options can be quite challenging. Fortunately, a fellow cook introduced me to the intoxicating phenomena of the halal cart. Fans attached to the carts circulate the rich, intense aroma of rendered lamb fat, combined with a plethora of Middle Eastern spices and seasonings, from Aleppo to Za’atar. If the beautiful bright yellow turmeric-flavored jasmine rice, along with the sizzling sound of lamb being chopped on the grill, isn’t enough to put you into sensory overload, just slather on a touch of the harissa-based hot sauce, copious amounts of the cherished “white sauce”–-a mayonnaise-based tzatziki sauce which counteracts the richness with a healthy dose of acidity—and embrace the welcoming sense of euphoria to follow.

 

Scooping up the delicious meat with some pita, which is sautéed in the white sauce, along with a slice of fresh tomato and some crisp lettuce is the perfect bite after a long day and night in the kitchen. Lamb over rice remains an important part of my New York City experience, and “Rice over Lamb” is my way of honoring the tradition through my personal culinary lens. 

 

“Rice over Lamb” turns the traditional concept completely upside down, both literally and figuratively speaking. The star of the show in a proper Lamb over Rice is, of course, the lamb. Traditionally, the lamb is prepared shawarma style, carved fresh and hand chopped. A hearty dose of the traditional spice blend is liberally applied and toasted for added interest. 

 

To recreate the dish’s original appeal, without losing its charm, I use lamb necks and delicate lamb loins for this preparation. The necks contain a great deal of collagen, which adds body to the finished sauce, as well as a ton of flavor. In keeping with tradition, a myriad of Middle Eastern spices, including cumin, coriander, curry powder, and turmeric, liberally season the massive necks and marinade for 24 hours. This treatment helps the initial breakdown of the tough meat prior to cooking. Next, submerge the necks in olive oil, enhanced with thyme, garlic, rosemary, lemons, and lemon zest for an additional eight hours. Sear the necks golden brown on all sides to enhance their flavor. Place the necks in a braising liquid, consisting of lamb jus—made with the roasted bones from the lamb loin rack—red wine, and the complementary spices from the marinade. Finally, braise the necks in a 325 degrees Fahrenheit oven for six hours. The result is meltingly tender, and incredibly flavorful.

 

Separate all the meat and fat from the lamb neck bones. Strain and heat the rich braising liquid up to a simmer and reduce by half. Bloom a few sheets of gelatin and thoroughly whisk into the liquid. Mix the enriched liquid with the braised meat, spread out into a one-inch thick layer, press and cooled overnight to set into a solid block. Remove the lamb pressé from the pan and cut one-inch cubes of the meat for pristine packages of perfectly portioned lamb.

 

Carrots are a building block of flavor for both Eastern and Western cuisine. Elevating the dramatic presentation of the lamb neck, carrot juice is transformed into a beautiful gel that will gracefully envelop the lamb. When gently heated, the gel wraps tightly around the succulent meat creating incredible visual appeal and flavor.

 

Lamb loins are the most tender part of the animal, which maintain its flavor without being overwhelmingly gamey. Marinade the loins for much less time than the tough necks, so as not to break down the delicate meat. Simply season with the blend of Middle Eastern spices and bathe the loins in olive oil enhanced with garlic, thyme, and rosemary. The loins will bring a fresh meat element to the plate. Grill with a slight char to add smokiness to the dish and slice into medium rare portions to grace the center of the plate.  

 

Infuse the rich lamb jus—made from the rib bones of the loin rack—with the warm spices and mirepoix. Reduce the jus into a delicious glacé that will sauce the loin, adding a great depth of meaty richness and flavor. 

 

Lamb over Rice would not be complete without the inclusion of “white sauce.” In order to maintain the flavor profile of the sauce, especially its acidity, the base will use heavy cream along with caraway, cumin, cardamom, turmeric, lemon juice and white vinegar. Load the sauce into an ISI canister to create a pleasant and light mouthfeel as a rich foam to garnish the meat. This method prevents the creamy richness from overwhelming the palate and disguising flavors, while still providing the plate with the sharp contrast sought after from white sauce. 

 

The final sauce component of the plate serves as the perfect contrast to the white sauce, its menacing evil twin: hot sauce. To create this fiery elixir, mix Tabasco and Siracha with honey to mellow out the intense flamethrower effect of the sauce. Then, to deliver the sauce in a more pleasing manner, blend the base with agar to create a fluid gel that will whimsically dot the plate. 

 

The vegetable garnish in this dish is refreshing and necessary for this rich treat. Blanch and peel baby heirloom tomatoes and marinade in olive oil, thyme, garlic, and lemon juice. Cucumbers bring fresh acidity and brightness as they are shaved thin and briefly pickled. Carve zucchini and yellow squash into parisienne spheres and confit in olive oil, with garlic and thyme. 

 

The rice element of the dish involves a beautifully aromatic turmeric-scented jasmine rice, which soaks up all the sauces and moisture from the juicy lamb. As a way to add a flavorful and textural component to the dish, I employ a whimsical technique with sushi rice. Season the base and liquid heavily with turmeric, curry powder and cumin, cook until all the starch is released, and dry the rice overnight. Once dried, the rice is then fried in hot oil, puffing up creating great textural and visual appeal to the plate. Place a sizeable rice cracker on top of the dish and “Rice over Lamb” becomes fully actualized.