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Ingredient Challenge: Celery Root, Leeks, Pomegranate Arils; Sumptuous Sides

Image of Chef Eric Samaniego
Here’s a cozy dinner-for-two dish that uses four fresh ingredients from the early fall harvest to create an intimate dining experience that needs only a roaring fireplace and a slight nip in the air to complete the mood. Chef Eric Samaniego, Executive Chef of the unique Little Sparrow in Santa Ana, CA. gives us a very fun four-part recipe to prepare. Eric’s approach to a rack of lamb is really three separate, seemingly simple, treatments of each of his chosen challenge ingredients to complement the meat. These components do not meet until the plating, and then it’s all about buttery meets fruity meets marinated-seared goodness meets comfort food creamy. Adding up to an entrée that has its own warm after-glow--the perfect special occasion dish!

The other nice thing about Eric’s recipe is that the dish’s prep can be managed by one of the two parties at the table without breaking the intimacy of the occasion. In fact, the celery root purée should be done ahead of time, if for no other reason than to eliminate the whir of a food processor, speaking of mood breaking! The lamb, marinated well in advance, is always ready to go when the cook is. The rest is just a matter of timing; as the lamb finishes in the oven, both the poaching of the pears and the leek sauce can be completed; the purée warmed if necessary.
Image of leeks
In that timing plan, be aware that Chef Eric’s soubise sauce takes a little patience. Do not be fooled by this sauce’s set of simple ingredients. To be successful, this sauce needs to be approached with a low and slow heat that allows for the complete fusion of its butter, stock and leek flavors into one. The chef advises giving this transformation full attention with a constant gentle stirring; the results will touch every bite with a light, buttery garden goodness that takes the fresh leek to another level.
Image of Celery Root
This dish is also a great reminder of what a wonderful thing celery root purée can be! So much more flavorful than a starchy potato, with that tasty freshness and creamy texture. Each time I come across this great component in a recipe, I resolve to use more celery root in my own cooking. The veggy’s gnarly exterior can be easily conquered with a potato peeler. I ran across a “to strain or not to strain” issue in a ‘net search of this tasty purée; I say either, just enjoy it. Besides making a flavorful purée, celery root, a.k.a. celeriac, can be boiled, braised, sautéed or baked. Uncooked, it will add a tasty crunch to fresh salads whether grated, julienned or shredded.

The poached pears were a surprising part of this recipe for me. Frankly, I was not quite sure how this component was going to fit in with the rest of the dish. Actually, I was right…the pear really did not fit with the other two vegetables, but in a wonderfully delicious way. Be sure to constantly spoon the poaching liquid over the pear halves during the process until a deep rose red color is achieved The sweet-tart fruitiness of the pomegranate-basted pear was a delightful treat as its flavor snuck into the occasional forkful. With each of those bites, I was again reminded of the genius of the culinary professional, who see flavors that are invisible to others. There is no doubt that the sum of this dish’s parts add up to make for an altogether different and delicious whole. Bravo, Chef Eric!

Roasted Rack of Lamb With Celery Root Purée, Leek Soubise Sauce and Pomegranate-Poached Pears
Serves 2

For the lamb and marinade:
1 Rack of Lamb
¼ cup of Olive Oil
1 large sprig of Rosemary
4 cloves of Garlic
1 Shallot
Image of Ingredients for the lamb and marinade
  1. Combine the olive oil, rosemary, garlic and shallot in a mini food processor and chop finely.
  2. Cover the lamb with the oil mixture and marinate for 4 hours.
  3. Remove the lamb from the marinade and dry well with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Heat a large sauté pan, add two tablespoons of vegetable oil.
  5. Sear the lamb on the meat side first until nicely brown.
  6. Then turn over and do the same to bone side of the rack.
  7. Put whole pan in a 400 degree oven for 8-9 minutes for medium rare. (adjust time according to taste)
  8. Remove the lamb from the oven and let it rest for 10 min. before slicing into individual chops or four 2-bone chops. Before serving sprinkle a little fine sea salt on each piece.
Chef Note:
I used a vacuum sealer for the lamb rack and a circulator. The circulator was set at 149.9 degrees and I cooked the lamb for 30 minutes.

Celery Root Purée
2 large Celery Roots
1 cup of Cream
½ cup of Whole Milk
Salt & White Pepper to taste
Image of Ingredients for Celery Root Purée
  1. With a potato peeler, remove outer skin of the celery root until only a pure white root is left.
  2. Chop into roughly 1-inch cubes and place in a small sauce pan with the milk and cream.
  3. Season with a pinch of salt and a couple fresh cracks of white pepper to taste.
  4. Simmer the celery root until very tender, then transfer the mixture to a blender or processor.
  5. Blend until very smooth (if dry add a bit of milk to get it going).
  6. Pass this purée through a fine strainer and reserve for plating.
Leek Soubise
4 large Leeks
12 ounces Unsalted Butter
4 ounces Chicken Stock
Salt and White Pepper to taste
Image of Ingredients for Leek Soubise
  1. Trim the root end of the leeks and the green top, greenish hue is okay.
  2. Split the leeks in half long ways and wash well, place in paper towels to dry.
  3. Cut each leek cross-wise into three sections, then finely julienne each section.
  4. Start a saucepan that is taller than it is wide on low heat.
  5. Add a few drops of olive oil to the pan, then the leeks and a heavy pinch of salt.
  6. Next add a few tablespoons of butter and mix until melted.
  7. Maintain a very low heat and keep stirring the leeks, slowly adding more butter and the broth until both are fully incorporated.
  8. When finished, a soubise sauce should be opaquely clear and the leeks super tender.
Chef Note:
Do not throw away those leek tops; they make a great veggie stock.

Pomegranate Poached Pears
1 package (8 ounces) Melissa’s Pomegranate Arils
2 Bosc Pears, peeled, cored and halved lengthwise
½ cup Red Wine (any type)
2 tablespoons Sugar (or 1 Tablespoon Agave Syrup)
1 Cinnamon Stick
2 Star Anise
1 clove
Image of Pomegranate Poached Pears
  1. Smash the seeds through a strainer to harvest the juice.
  2. In a small saucepan combine the juice, red wine, spices and sugar, then reduce by half.
  3. Remove the spices from the poaching liquid and drop in the pears, simmer on low, spooning.
  4. The liquid over each half until the pears are fork tender. Cut the halves into quarters for plating.
Chef Note:
I also compressed the pears in the vacuum machine with the poaching liquid instead of normal poaching to infuse the color into the pear more.

First, swirl the celery root purée around the plate with a "swoosh”. Then center the soubise as a bed for the lamb with two pear quarters placed as if a garnish, near the meat. Sprinkle with celery top greens chiffonade to finish.
Image of roasted Rack of Lamb with Celery Root Purée, Leek Soubise Sauce and Pomegranate-Poached Pears
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