San Francisco’s Nopa is the ultimate neighborhood restaurant. Though the eatery’s known for its burger, Chef Laurence Jossel’s menu has a distinctly Mediterranean influence. The more sophisticated dishes, such as these lamb riblets, are major crowd-pleasers.
What to buy: Denver ribs, also known as riblets, consist of seven to eight ribs that are cut from the lamb breast and belly. You’ll have to special order them from your butcher, so be sure to plan ahead accordingly. And make sure the butcher doesn’t separate them into individual ribs; ask for the whole rack.
Harissa is a North African chile and spice paste that adds a nice dose of heat to foods. You can make it yourself, or easily find it in a jar or tube at most gourmet markets.
- Yield: 20 to 25 riblets
- Difficulty: Easy
- Total: 4 hrs, plus 12 to 24 hrs for marinating
- Active: 30 mins
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons dried cumin seed
- 2 teaspoons dried coriander seed
- 2 teaspoons dried fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 1/2 pounds Denver lamb ribs (about 2 racks)
- 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth or homemade chicken broth
- 1/2 bunch fresh thyme
- 2 medium garlic heads, skin-on, slightly smashed
- 2 tablespoons Harissa
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon reserved braising liquid
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- Heat a small, dry frying pan over medium heat. Add peppercorns, cumin, coriander, fennel, and chile flakes, and toast, swirling the pan occasionally, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and finely grind. Combine ground spices with salt and rub on riblets to completely coat them.
- Place riblets in a large resealable plastic bag and add any leftover rub; close the bag and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Remove riblets from the refrigerator and heat oven to 325°F.
- Combine broth, thyme, garlic, and riblets in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tightfitting lid and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and braise in heated oven until meat is very tender and easily pulls off the bones, about 2 to 3 hours. Alternatively, cook on the stovetop over low heat. Check periodically that the liquid is just barely simmering and is not at a boil, adjusting heat as necessary. Remove riblets from braising liquid, strain braising liquid, and cool both meat and strained liquid; reserve.
- Heat a grill pan over high heat. Cut lamb riblets into individual bones; working in batches, place meat side down on the heated pan, and turn when meat begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Remove to a large bowl and repeat.
- Combine harissa, butter, lime juice, and braising liquid in the pot used to braise the lamb, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium-low heat and simmer until sauce is reduced enough to look like it will glaze meat, about 5 to 8 minutes. Pour over riblets, sprinkle with mint and cilantro, and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Serve immediately.
Beverage pairing: Paris Goulart Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, Argentina. Cabernet has a grassiness that works perfectly with the herbal flavor of lamb. But these ribs are coated so thoroughly in aromatic spices that a wine with a little spice can add some nuance to the pairing, hence this Cabernet-Malbec blend from the Mendoza region of Argentina.