Ben Machin grew up in Vermont on a small organic homestead where his family grew their own food and produced apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup for market. After some years working for the US Forest Service as a Smokejumper, Ben came back to Vermont to study and work on various natural conservation projects. Eventually he rekindled his interest in farming.
In butchery, “frenching” is the process of removing all fat, meat, and connective tissue from the rib bones on a rack roast.
Personally, I like to leave all that stuff on when I’m cooking lamb. I love the crispy, fatty bits on the bones, but for the purposes of presentation, frenching is often preferred.
A rack of lamb consists of a loin attached to a series of rib bones. When untrimmed, this loin is covered with a thick layer of fat and connective tissue that should be removed before cooking.
Begin by using your fingers to find the natural seam between the top layer of fat and the rack. Slowly peel away the layer. You may use a paper towel to help grip and a small knife to help free any stubborn connective tissue.
The fat should separate along a natural fault line leaving a thin 1/8th-inch to 1/4th-inch layer next to the meat. Be careful not to get carried away when trimming. The more fat left on a lamb rack, the more flavor will come through!
At this step, your lamb rack is fully trimmed ready to cook. To french the rack, follow the steps below demonstrated for us by Phil Lewis, Chef du Cuisine at Fat Radish.
How to French:
Using your knife, score the membrane along the center of each bone. Place the tip of the knife against the center of the bone about an inch and a half away from the cut end and pull the knife slowly and firmly down away from the eye of the loin. Repeat along each bone.
Grip the meat and pull away from the ribs slowly and firmly. You can use a paper towel to get a better grip. the meat should pull cleanly away from the bones. Continue working each rib until all are exposed.
Flip the rack over and use your knife to cut away the flap. Discard excess fat, or render if desired.
If you’re really lucky, the fat and membrane will come cleanly off the bones, leaving them bare and pearly white, but most of the time, little bits of meat and fat will remain behind. These can be removed with the help of a small pairing knife.
To divide rack into smaller chops, stand it on end, starting from the exposed rib end, cut between ribs with a smooth, single stroke. If you don’t get through in one stroke, pick up your knife, place it back in the seam, and pull it again. Try to avoid sawing back and forth, which will create jagged edges.
That’s it! It may seem intimidating at first but it just takes a little practice.
Leave any questions in the comments section bellow.
When the Meatball Shop first opened THIS was their very first daily special. 4 years, and 5 new locations later we still get excited when they bring them back! The raisins and walnuts give these meatballs a subtle sweet and earthy quality that complements perfectly our heritage lamb. Make these into mini balls and pass them around at your next party, or try our favorite– Smash ’em between two pieces of crusty bread for a quick slider!
2 TABLESPOONS OLIVE OIL
2 POUNDS GROUND LAMB
3 LARGE EGGS
1 CUP DARK RAISINS
½ WALNUTS, FINELY CHOPPED
½ CUP CHOPPED FREASH PARSLEY
½ CUP CHOPPED FRESH MINT
½ BREAD CRUMBS
2 TEASPOONS SALT
1 TEASPOON FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle the olive oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and use your hands to evenly coat the entire surface. Set aside. Combine remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated.
- Roll the mixture into round, golf-ball-size meatballs (about 1½ inches; about 24 balls), making sure to pack the meat firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, being careful to line them up snugly and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid. The meatballs should be touching one another.
- Roast for 20 minutes, or until firm and cooked through.
- Allow to cool for 5 minutes before servings.
Lamb Breed Histories and Tasting Notes
Want a hot recipe? Choose a lovely, well- sourced piece of meat — from a farm you know, and from a breed you have come to love, and add fire. Et voilà! There’s your recipe. Just remember, the fire is the constant, the meat is the variable. We believe in the formation of breed charts that describe the gastronomic wonders of every livestock variety. “One 32-ounce flank steak” as the prime mover in a recipe is not enough information. Heritage Foods USA is an ingredient- based philosophy.
It’s hard not to respect a breed that was referenced numerous times in the Bible (see fat-tailed sheep) and is reputed to be 3000 years old. It’s even harder to imagine the Tunis not being completely delicious since the first three U.S. presidents raised and consumed them.
John Adams mentioned the breed in his diary in 1782 when the Tunis had an excellent reputation for delicious mutton — and tail (not sold today!). Thomas Jefferson ordered the importation of a second herd from Tunisia because he loved them so much he thought they should be more readily available. George Washington bred them —one of his early legacies was the proliferation of his particular Tunis crossbreed on farms and dinner tables along the East Coast.
The tail is now smaller and the color ranges from tan-to-red with the occasional white spot on the head and tail. Ewes usually birth twins although the Tunis still remains on the ALBC-USA.org Conservation Priority List. The Tunis is an excellent ambassador breed for the grass-fed movement – they don’t like to eat a lot of grain.
Woodsy and Rootsy
Not lamby or pungent
Taste seasoned without seasoning
Notes of fresh buttermilk
The Dorset Horn is a breed of sheep that spread over Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and most of Wales. In 1750 this is the breed the English with a fine palate would eat for Christmas! Today we eat it more frequently because the Dorset Horn is able to give birth three times a year. Dorsets tolerate heat well, and heat tolerance contributes to the rams’ ability to breed earlier in the season than rams of other breeds. This contributes to the Dorset Horn being a very profitable sheep to grow although it remains on the Threatened List of the ALBC-USA.org website.
The Hudson Bay Company first shipped the Dorset Horn to America in the 1860s. But it was a livestock show in Chicago a few years later that made it famous. The Dorset Horn is known for its healthy appetite and thrives on the lush pastures of Vermont where Ben Machin and Grace Bowmer raise a herd.
Great fat/meat ratio
Gamey in the best way
Lamby and sweet
The Katahdin is inextricably linked to Michael Piel of Abbott, Maine who had the brilliant idea of separating out the wool producing side of the lamb business from the meat side. Wool production took time and energy from both the animals and the farmers while only providing about 10 percent of the farmer’s income. In addition wool creates a more pungent and muttony taste in the meat.
Piel imported three hair sheep from the Virgin Islands and bred them with various breeds like Tunis and Suffolk in an effort to produce a sheep that excels in taste. The result of the crossbreeding efforts finally produced a flock so perfect that it became the foundation for a herd and eventually the Katahdin breed that is raised around the country. Piel named it after a mountain in Maine even though the breed excels in hotter climates. The Katahdin is known to live a long time while remaining productive. There are now a couple of hundred U.S. breeders of the Katahdin including our very own Chris Wilson of Clover Creek who has worked with us for almost a decade.
The Katahdin serves land conservation projects very well and are perfect for grass-fed systems like that found in Northeastern Tennessee where Chris has won awards for land conservation.
Spicy and peppery
Barky and woody
The Churro was perhaps the first domesticated animal in the Americas when the Spanish brought it here in the 1500s. The animal quickly became a big part of Hispanic and Native American ways of life. One of the few positive legacies of Spanish conquerors was the lamb breeds they left here, especially at missions, as they searched for gold. It was these very sheep that the Navajo and other Native Americans stole and purchased making them a part of their way of life and diet.
The Navajo-Churro produces excellent wool and meat. It was Navajo women who owned the sheep, the grazing rights and the wool, which became an important source of income. The Navajo-Churro existed in great numbers here until the government killed off most of the population in their war with Native Americans. The breed currently sits on the Threatened List of the ALBC-USA.org website.
Today many of the residents of the Navajo reservation continue to raise sheep for wool and food. Dr. Lyle McNeal played a crucial role in increasing their population in the 1970s despite the fact that conditions in that part of the country are harsh.
The Katahdin/White Dorper is a crossbreed bred by Joseph Hubbard at Shannon Creek Ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The Dorper has a lot more muscle than the Katahdin. Combined you get a meaty carcass with the mild taste of the Katahdin.
Heritage Foods USA consideres the Flint Hills to be the best terroir for grass-fed animal farming in the U.S. The Flint Hills are band of hills that stretches from eastern Kansas into north-central Oklahoma, extending from Marshall and Washington Counties in Kansas in the north, to Cowley County in Kansas and Kay and Osage Counties in Oklahoma in the south.
Anywhere tallgrass grows makes for a great and sus-tainable terroir for grass-fed sheep, but what makes the Flint Hills our number-one choice is that it boasts the most dense cover-age of intact tallgrass prairie in North America and has blossomed into a mosaic of independent family farms— many of which are at the heart of the heritage breed movement.
Tallgrass is the food the prairie produces naturally in the absence of intensive row-crop agriculture. Unlike corn, tallgrass is not dependent on petrochemical fertilizer or herbicide, and its roots run deep below the thin layer of topsoil. It is potent, incredibly resilient, the all-you-can-eat salad bar for healthy sheep. And they love it, gladly eating pounds of the stuff every day.
The result of this robust food supply is a meat with a nice even ratio of intra- and extramuscular fat, a clean taste, a natural delight. It is the taste of the Americas.
Varietals like Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass, Prairie Dropseed, and Sideoats Grama have stalks whose profound roots are able to pull moisture and nutrients from deep within the ground, making them the best candidates to withstand the drought and deluge likely to accompany climate change. They are resistant to all types of extreme weather, and they bounce back quickly, even from fires. And they do not rely on the dwindling power of the thin layer of topsoil to grow.
This Wednesday the team at Heritage skipped breakfast and didn’t bring in any snacks to work so that their pallets would be truly ready to uncover the words that describe the tastes of the various breeds of pork that we sell. Italians and French people have no trouble finding words to describe the un-describable. In the U.S. the wine people have it down but for fruits and vegetables and meat it’s hard to find words to explain what our mouths and pleasure centers are experiencing….
Doug Metzger works his 1500-acre farm, which grows corn, sorghum, wheat, alfalfa, oats, barley, Reese turkeys (he has worked with turkeys since 1951) and pigs with wife Betty, son Mark, daughter Marilyn, son in law Stan and their three kids….
Larry and Madonna Sorell have been farmers since 1970 when they purchased 200 acres of land in Cloud County, Kansas. Larry Sorell continues a family tradition that was passed down from his grandfather to his father and then to him.
Last summer we launched our Rare Breed Heritage Chicken Tour – an effort to revive 24 rare, heritage chicken lines and create an alternative market for non-industrially bred chicken. We partnered with Frank Reese, the country’s preeminent poultry farmer, to show our customers what real chicken tastes like.
Heritage Foods USA is now offering a rotation of 24 heritage chicken varieties every 3-4 months. Numerous heritage breeds of chicken are on the brink of extinction and we must create a market for them by eating them. Heritage Foods USA is the only place you can taste these special heritage birds today.
Heritage chickens are breeds that have been around since before the industrial era. Their genetic lineage has been preserved from genetic modification. Heritage birds grow at a healthy rate, while industry chickens are genetically manipulated to grow at an unnaturally fast rate that is harmful to the skeletal, cardiovascular, and immune systems of the bird. Industrial chickens are bred as dead end animals that cannot reproduce or survive on their own.
Mr. Reese explains, “It is not the antibiotics. It is not the hormones. It is not the feed. It is the genetically engineered animal” that makes the difference in the poultry industry. If we focus on animal welfare while ignoring the genetics of these birds, we are not changing a thing.
Mr. Reese’s poultry not only look and taste different from commodity poultry; his birds have double the protein and half the fat. He told us, “The skinnier the bird, the longer the leg, the darker the meat, the higher the nutrition. The bigger and fatter and plumper it is, the more worthless the meat is.”
So far we have offered Colombian Wyandotte and Rhode Island White. Next up is the White Leghorn coming in early spring. After that we have many more varieties including New Hampshire, Silver Penciled Plymouth Rocks, Dark Brahmas, Black Jersey Giants, Golden Penciled Hamburg, and many more!
We just announced the winners of our 2013 Heritage Turkey Photo contest!
Congrats to Phillipe in Illinois, Benjamin in Pennsylvania, and Jennifer in New York!
Click to see the winning photos and hear from the winners!
We also got an email from a customer last year sharing an image of her 2012 bird that we had to share for its pure artistry.
Behold Judith Mazza’s incredible bird!
Here’s how she did it:
“I stretched the skin of the neck over the roaster to make the equivalent of turkey cracklings (like Peking Duck Skin). It was totally delicious. I roasted it in my Kamado Grill on a vertical turkey roaster. I’ve been developing some expertise in doing food photography and I particularly enjoy the turkey photo.”
Thank you to everyone who sent photos!