Alex Mok's crown roast of lamb makes a good alternative to Thanksgiving turkey

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      Alex Mok moved to Vancouver from Hong Kong at the age of 11, but it wasn’t until he was 16 that he partook in the Canadian Thanksgiving tradition. That’s when Mok—who is now the executive chef and a co-owner of Yaletown’s Caché Bistro and Lounge (1269 Hamilton Street)—and his brother attempted to roast a turkey.

      “We thought it would be super easy because you just put it in the oven, but we bought it frozen and didn’t know to defrost it,” Mok tells the Georgia Straight at his restaurant. “We thought it would cook for maybe one hour, so we started cooking at 7 p.m. By midnight, we were starving, so we took out the turkey and started cutting it and found the [giblet] bag inside. We didn’t know to take it out.”

      Mok figured he wasn’t much of a cook and decided to pursue an economics degree at Simon Fraser University. After graduation, however, he started working at a bakery and then took a kitchen job at Hotel Le Soleil. Following a short stint at the Dubrulle culinary school, Mok learned how to cook French cuisine on the job at the now-closed Hermitage restaurant and ended up hosting a Chinese-language television show on French cooking. In 2011, he opened Caché with his wife, Zoe Lee, who manages the front of house.

      “I’m trying to create really wonderful flavours with classic French technique,” Mok explains. “Some people, before they come in, they think that French restaurants must be very fancy—that they need to sit tight and can’t talk too loud—but when they’re here, they find out it can be very comfortable.”

      When entertaining at home, Mok has come a long way from his frozen-turkey days, and he advises home cooks to think beyond the bird when preparing their holiday dinner. These days, Mok prefers to make a crown roast of lamb and serve it with a simple warm quinoa salad.

      “It’s a very good party dish for impressing your guests,” he says. “You don’t need to do too much for it, but it has a wow factor.”

      Mok suggests a full-bodied wine such as a Syrah to complement the richness of the lamb.

      Alex Mok’s crown roast of lamb with warm quinoa salad

      Ingredients

      2 racks of lamb, 2 lb (908 g) each, frenched by your butcher
      1 tsp (5 mL) salt
      ½ tsp (2 mL) pepper
      2 Tbsp (30 mL) cooking oil
      6 garlic cloves, minced
      4 tsp (20 mL) fresh thyme, chopped
      2 tsp (10 mL) fresh rosemary, chopped
      1 tsp (5 mL) Dijon mustard

      Method

      1. Preheat oven to 375 ° F (190 ° C).
         
      2. Season both sides of lamb racks with salt and pepper.
         
      3. On the stove, add oil to a large skillet on high heat. Sear lamb racks one at a time, meatside down, for 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer lamb to cutting board.
         
      4. Mix all remaining ingredients together in a small bowl.
         
      5. Bend each lamb rack into a semicircle, meatside facing in. Using twine or roasting string, tie the two racks together at the base, forming a crown. Tie a second piece of twine or string around the circumference of the roast to keep the lamb racks intact.
         
      6. Rub the meat side of the lamb with herb mixture. Place lamb on a baking tray and roast on middle rack until meat reaches an internal temperature of 140° F (60° C). (Roasting rack of lamb takes 7 to 10 minutes per pound for medium-rare, so total cooking time will be about 30 to 40 minutes.)
         
      7. Let lamb rest 10 minutes before removing twine or string. Place lamb crown on a large platter and spoon warm quinoa salad (recipe below) into the centre. Serve remaining quinoa salad as a side dish.

      Warm Quinoa Salad

      1 cup (250 mL) chicken or vegetable stock
      1 cup (250 mL) quinoa
      ¼ cup (60 mL) cucumber, diced
      ¼ cup (60 mL) red onion, diced
      ¼ cup (60 mL) tomatoes, seeds removed and diced
      2 Tbsp (30 mL) curly parsley, chopped
      2 Tbsp (30 mL) fig vinegar or balsamic vinegar
      1 tsp (5 mL) honey
      4 Tbsp (60 mL) olive oil

      1. In a small saucepan, bring stock to a rolling boil. Add quinoa and bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and allow quinoa to simmer for 10 minutes, or until liquid evaporates.
         
      2. Place hot quinoa in a large bowl and toss with all remaining ingredients. Serve warm.

      Yield: 8 servings.

      Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.

      Chef Alex Mok demonstrates how to tie a lamb crown.

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