Lamb and memory

Roasted rack of lamb

When the Lets’s Lunch gang proposed that we make a cold entrée for this month’s lunch date, the first ideas to flash into my mind were gazpacho, cured salmon, dolmas, and chilled sesame noodles. All perfect for a hot summer night when turning on the oven is about as appealing as donning a parka in a sauna.

And then I remembered a mid-summer afternoon years ago, a picnic with dear friends outside the newly opened Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood. It was a decadently lazy day. We lounged on blankets, supine, with the sun on our faces and gorgeous music drifting out of the hall’s wide open shed doors.

We chatted, we laughed, we listened, we ate. We had not a care in the world beyond what tidbit to snack on next, or whether we should open another bottle of wine now or later. We were the luckiest people on the planet and, even at that moment, we knew it. We knew it was one of those afternoons that would never be repeated and we were blessed to be living it then, together.

I thought I had locked away every detail of that long summer afternoon into my memory, but I find now that neither M nor I can remember the music that was playing, though at the time it took my breath away. My brain stem remembers it as a Brahams piece, but which?

Here’s what I didn’t forget: the taste of the lamb chops I had made the day before, then chilled overnight. I’d made the recipe several times before and always served it hot. What inspired me to make it as a cold dish? I’m afraid I can’t remember that either. Where did I get the recipe? That is also gone. How much else have I lost? I’m afraid to know.

But here’s the beautiful thing about food: When I made this dish for our communal, virtual lunch this month, as soon as I smelled that garlic, mustard, rosemary salve, my memory turned right back to that summer day, the lush lawn and the lazy listeners. Taste and scent. We don’t forget those.

Though this recipe starts out hot, the cooking time is brief and there’s precious little to do in preparation. Put your favorite music on the stereo. Mince some rosemary and garlic, mix with cornmeal, salt and pepper. Briefly sear the rack of lamb on a hot, dry skillet to caramelize it, slather it with mustard, apply the cornmeal mixture, and slide it into a pre-heated oven.

While it cooks for half an hour, go sit on the porch and watch the afternoon float by for awhile. There’s not enough time to really do anything useful, so why not watch the clouds? Or listen to a favorite song five times. Or throw the ball for the dog, because summer only lasts so long.

When the timer beeps, pull the lamb out of the oven and just let it cool. Slice it whenever you get to it. You can eat it warm if you like, but if it’s a hot August day, put it in the fridge to chill, then serve it later that night, with chilled, barely cooked green beans, and maybe some slices of tomato with mozzarella and balsamic. And wine. Oh yes, for goodness’ sake, don’t forget the wine.

Roasted lamb ingredients

Roasted lamb


Summer still has some time left to spend with us. If you want other ideas for cold entrées, take a look at what the other Let’s Lunchers have prepared for you:

Byron Sprout Salad with chargrilled chicken ~ from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Cold noodles with stir-fried vegetables, hoisin pork, and spicy shrimp ~ from Eleanor at Be a Wok Star

Strawberry soup ~ from Mai at Cooking in the Fruit Bowl

Gazpacho rolls ~ from Linda at Free Range Cookies

Seafood Napoleon and Cold Olive Oil Poached Chicken Salad ~ from Victor and Charles at The Taste of Oregon

Spicy Sichuan Sesame Noodles ~ from Cheryl at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Croque Monsieur with Cheese Bechamel ~ from Maria at Maria’s Good Things

Jasmin Tea Poached Shrimp Summer Rolls ~ from Cathy at ShowFood Chef

Gazpacho with an Indian Twist ~ from Rashda at Hot Curries & Cold Beer

Cous Cous with Cilantro Pesto and Halloumi ~ from Danielle at Beyond the Plate

Korean Ice Water Noodles (mul naengmyun) ~ from Emma at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Smoked salmon BLT with dill-horseradish aioli ~ from Charissa at Zest Bakery & Deli

Rack of Lamb with Mustard and Rosemary


  • Rack of lamb (approximately 8 ribs)
  • 6 tablespoons cornmeal (I use coarse cornmeal, labeled as “polenta,” but any will do)
  • 3 teaspoons minced, fresh rosemary leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3-4 tablespoons Dijon mustard, or whatever mustard strikes your fancy


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Combine cornmeal, minced rosemary, minced garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
  3. Heat a skillet and then sear the rack on all sides until nicely browned (a couple minutes per side).
  4. Transfer the rack (fat side up) to an ovenproof pan or dish.
  5. Brush the fat side of the rack with mustard, then coat the mustard with as much of the cornmeal mixture as will adhere.
  6. Bake the rack for 30-40 minutes, until desired doneness.
  7. Allow to cool slightly, then slice chops apart.
  8. In warm weather, refrigerate sliced chops and serve cold. In cold weather, serve immediately.


  1. Rashda Khan says:

    Oh what a poignant post…loved it! Well, I love lamb too and the combo of mustard, garlic & rosemary is w/lamb is one of my favorite ways to prepare lamb…so yes, loved it! 🙂

    1. Rebecca says:

      Thank you, Rashda!

  2. Love the gorgeous crust on your lamb, one of my favs. Thanks for beautifying my post title.

  3. I love the way that food, particularly food aromas, are triggers for pleasant memories. When I went back home to Thailand for the first time in 30 years a few years ago, all I could do was search out my favorite fruits and dishes to eat and savor the memories of my homeland as a child. My partner, Charles, loves lamb. I will have to try this out on him as he loves eating with his fingers, plus this would be great for a picnic! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Danielle says:

    This is such a lovely post. I do, indeed, listen to a song five times in a row once I’m hooked 🙂

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