SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--Last year, my cooking partner Dominic and I field-tested a couple of dry rubs for a bag of boneless lamb cubes we received from the American Lamb Board. Mine was coffee and garlic salt; Dominic's was traditional garam masala. In the end, we combined the two and grilled up a delicious meal.
This year, similar meat but different circumstances. I have to be in Arizona, where it's been 115 every day for the past week. (Cools off at night, though, down to the mid-90s.) Should be perfect for an outdoor grill, but there's none available. Best I can come up with is a 10-inch cast iron griddle to set upon the burner of an electric stove.
So here's the rub: 2 TB French roast coffee, finely ground, from Peet's. 1 TB salt, from Morton's. 2 cloves minced garlic and 2 sprigs rosemary, from Fry's market, 1/2 tsp cumin powder, from Whole Foods. Moosh in the food processor (can't find mortar & pestle), spread over the cubes of lamb (once again courtesy American Lamb Board), refrigerate.
To cook: add a drizzle of olive oil to the griddle as it heats to medium-high, wipe off excess with paper towel. Add lamb when griddle is hot, and don't crowd the pieces. Turn every few minutes. Lamb will be done (even overdone) rather quickly.
Here's what's happening. Searing meat creates a Maillard reaction (named for the French scientist, Louis-Camille Maillard, who first described the chemical reaction that occurs when high heat touches the sugars and amino acids on the surface of food. As the New York Times reports today (yes, today!!), "the reaction creates all sorts of new and delicious flavor profiles that were not previously present."
It sounds like too much of a coincidence, I know. The Noo Yawk Timez cooking my thing the very same weekend! But I did mine first, I swear!
Legitimate questions: why coffee? Answer: coffee is already roasted, and acts as an insulator. It also has a rich, wine-like flavor that complements the meat. The cumin? I think of highly aromatic spices as vectors for what's in the dish. Ideally, I'd just put a little dab of cumin on the far side of the plate to help waft the exotic smells toward my nose.
Two more notes: first, read the previous post about the disastrous attempt to do something interesting with a mysterious bottle of fig liqueur. Second, the Gnarly Head pinot. Bright fruit, medium body, under $15, perfectly acceptable. Thought about bringing something bigger and more complex from my modest cellar in Seatle, but ya can't carry on wine anymore and I sure wasn't going to fork over an extra $25 to check a bag.
There's a bit of sour cream in the fridge, so what I'm going to do with the left-over lamb is clean it up a bit (scrape off the coffee grounds), slice it, and make cold lamb sandwiches with a tangy sour cream & cumin sauce.