Rack 'em up

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One of my favorite dishes when I go out for dinner is rack of lamb. It is featured on many restaurant menus and carries with it an aura that seems to say: available only at restaurants; too difficult to cook in your kitchen.

But really, making an outstanding rack of lamb at home is not much more complicated than broiling a steak.

Serves 4, generously 2 racks of lamb (Have the butcher remove the chine bone at the top of the ribs - these should weigh about 2-1/2 pounds.) 2 teaspoons kosher salt 2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided 1 cup Italian-style bread crumbs (I use the canned kind, and they work great) 5 tablespoons chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley 10 sprigs (4 to 6 inches each) fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from the tough center stalk (I keep the leaves whole, but if it bothers you, chop them up a little. Also, I save and dry the stalks and toss them in the fireplace later to enjoy their fragrance.) 3 cloves garlic, chopped fine 2 shallots, chopped fine (Shallots are sold near the garlic at many supermarkets. if you can't find them, substitute the white part only of 5 scallions.) 4 tablespoons butter, melted Preheat the broiler to high. If your oven and broiler are separate, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Using your fingers and a sharp knife, pull and slice off the top thick layer of fat from the racks of lamb, as well as any connective tissue. The meat should be almost clean of fat. Sprinkle both sides of the racks with salt and pepper. Rub both sides with olive oil, using 1 tablespoon per rack. Place both racks, meat side down, in a baking dish large enough that the racks lie flat in one layer. In a large bowl, combine remaining olive oil, bread crumbs, parsley, rosemary, garlic and shallots. Place the racks of lamb under the broiler and cook 3 minutes. Turn the racks over and cook 3 more minutes. If the broiler is part of the oven, switch the setting to bake and 500 degrees. Leaving the racks in the baking dish, cover the racks with the bread-crumb mixture, paying special attention to covering the meaty end. Pour the melted butter over the racks. Place the baking dish in the 500-degree oven and bake for 7 to 8 minutes for rare lamb, 8 to 9 minutes for medium-rare, 9 to 10 for medium. Let the meat rest for 5 to 7 minutes, then remove the racks to a cutting board. Slice between the ribs to cut the rack into chops, or you can slice each rack in half and let your guests cut into chops. Serve with boiled red potatoes tossed with a little melted butter and chopped parsley, and steamed green beans. Scoop up the extra bread-crumb mixture and serve it on the plates - it is too tasty to waste. - Adapted from ``Cuisine Rapide: A Classic Cookbook From the 60-Minute Gourmet'' by Pierre Franey and Brian Miller (Times Books, $17)

Over the years, I have tried a number of techniques for rack of lamb, but my favorite is this one, which is a heavily modified version of a recipe in a 1989 cookbook by Pierre Franey and Brian Miller. It has just been re-released in paperback as "Cuisine Rapide: A Classic Cookbook From the 60-Minute Gourmet'' $17)]. Franey, Miller and Craig Claiborne were the foundation of the food section of "The New York Times'' in the years I learning to cook.

When making this recipe, I usually prepare two racks, pulling one out of the oven a minute early, so I have one rack rare (for my husband and me) and one medium-rare (for friends and relatives who prefer it that way). The crucial step in this recipe, as with most roasted or broiled meats, is to let the meat rest after cooking and before cutting into it. This allows the juices from the meat, which are released by the heat of cooking, to flow back into the meat. Skip this step and your meat could be dry, tough and not very flavorful.

I hope you treat yourself and your loved ones to this special recipe at home; they'll be so impressed by your skills that there will be no need to go out just to enjoy rack of lamb.

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