It’s All About the Rub: Ten-Spice Rack of Lamb w/ Cucumber-Mint Relish

A few days ago I went to see a massage therapist in Chinatown after hurting my back at work. People around me kept warning me of this kind of therapy saying things like: “You can’t take the pain, you wuss!” or “This ain’t for gwai lo’s!” (white boys) or even “You’ll cry like a baby!”. This is the kind of treatment where the therapist adds to the already existing pain by pin-pointing and rubbing the most painful spot really hard with eucalyptus-scented oils and other mysterious elixirs. Of course, I didn’t want to pay attention to all the scary stuff people were telling me because I wanted relief from that pinched nerve and I was ready to pay the price, although I learned later the only currency accepted there is pain. How much pain can you take? How much can they give?

So I went to pell street in the heart of Chinatown to the third floor of an old building and got my Chinese back rub. Whoever warned me wasn’t kidding. Gosh it was painful! Mind-blowingly painful! To add to the experience, the strong-armed lady kneading my back kept repeating things like ‘No pain, no gain’ or ‘Is it delicious?’.. or even ‘You kill me or I kill you!?…err.. No happy ending! Happy endings belong light years away from this place. Those 45 minutes were spent in the utmost dark corners of consciousness where Kama-Sutra has no place at all, but now it’s all over and done with I realize what a genius my masseuse was. I left feeling numb, the next day the pain had magically disappeared. I now feel better than ever. You’ve got to love the Chinese and their secret medicines.

After all this trauma I needed to reward myself with a different kind of rub so I prepared a dish symbolizing the experience: Jean George’s Nine-Spice Rack of Lamb with mint-cucumber relish. An homage to my Chinese masseuse. First, you’ve got my back in the form of a rack of lamb. Is it delicious?.. Heck yeah! Not me… the lamb! I have to admit i added black pepper to the nine-spices to make it 10. Like the number of expert fingers of the Chinese masseuse… 10 spices. Oh la la! An asian-inspired spice rub. A bit of work to find, toast and grind but hey… no pain, no gain! Then the cooling effect of the herbal oil… a cucumber-mint relish to attenuate the heat. This is a killer my friends! I’m sure my Chinese masseuse would agree with me.

Ten-Spice Rack of Lamb with Cucumber-Mint Relish
adapted from a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe
(serves 4)


  • 2 large European cucumbers–peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup fresh wild mint leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • One 1-inch-long cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorn
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Two 8-rib racks of lamb, frenched
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil

1. In a food processor, combine the cucumbers, mint and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Pulse until minced but not pureed. Transfer the cucumber mixture to a coarse strainer set over a bowl. Let drain in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 500°. In a small skillet, combine the cinnamon, sesame, fenugreek, cumin, mace, cardamom, red pepper and clove. Toast the spices over moderately high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes; shake the pan frequently. Transfer the spices to a plate to cool. Coarsely grind the spices in a spice grinder or mortar. Transfer the spices to a small bowl and stir in the nutmeg.

3. Using a sharp knife, score shallow X marks in the fat of the lamb racks. Rub the spice mixture over both sides of the racks. Heat 2 large ovenproof skillets over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to each skillet. When the oil is very hot, add a rack of lamb to each skillet, fat side down. Cook the lamb until browned, about 2 minutes. Turn the racks over and cook for 2 minutes on the bony side. Turn the racks again, fat side down, and transfer the skillets to the oven. Roast the racks for 15 minutes for medium rare. Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil. Let the racks rest for 10 minutes.

4. Transfer the cucumber relish from the strainer to a bowl; season with kosher salt and black pepper. Carve the lamb into chops and serve with the relish.

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  • Anali

    Love this post, but sorry you had to go through so much pain. A pinched nerve is no joke!

  • _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    Haha. Chinese massages are the best. Pretty soon you’ll be unsatisfied if they don’t use the same amount of force.

  • Claude-Olivier

    ben rien que ca, 10, tu n’y vas pas psa de main morte..mais j’aime comme l’impression que je sens ce doux fumet jusqu’ici 😉 bonne journée

  • Manggy

    Just when I thought I’d finally have enough spices on my rack to make the rub, you come along and introduce new ones! You even one-upped the man himself (JGV) by adding one more spice. But seriously, isn’t everything made better with black pepper? :)
    I guess the delicious lamb will have to be the happy ending! That, or being pain-free 😉

  • Clumbsy Cookie

    Oh my, that massage sounds so much fun! For the person giving it of course! I’ll ask you for the adress later so I can send my enimies!
    I would rather rub that lamb! I don’t have lamb now, but I have all those spices I might be tempeted to rub something… maybe some back! Lol!

  • a n n n a

    wow.. oriental massage! u shudda try the bamboo one. More happening. Haha..

    I’d like to try this lamb rack but most of the seeds aren’t available here.

  • Giff

    nice one Zen. Now I have to get my ass to an asian market one of these days and fill out my spice cabinet.

  • Peter M

    Rumour has it that Zen when to a massage parlour of dubious repute…something about a “happy ending”? lol

    The rack of lamb is seasoned and cooked wonderfully…a deserving plats for the chef!

  • Adam

    You have to watch out for those little Chinese women, they pack a whallop!

    Sounds like you had some serious trigger points in your back. I know it hurts, but it’s important to break that stuff up :)

  • Susan from Food Blogga

    Really? It disappeared. Well, I’m happy for you that it worked. I’m still a little scared to get one myself though. And that lamb…I didn’t think it could look this pretty.

  • TavoLini

    hahahaha–so, the pain is worth it? I waited until I was 29 to pierce my ears because I was afraid of the pain–I don’t think I’m ready for Chinese massage!

  • Chicopea

    awww! well i’m glad it worked and you feel better Z. My whole family swears by these massages.I should probably try it out, i’m getting a slight limp from all this running!

    that lamb looks divine! take good care.

  • glamah16

    I need to check out China town here for a sucha massage for CS. How did you know lamb waa my favorite?

  • My Sweet & Saucy

    I so love getting recipes from you! Thanks!

  • Nate-n-Annie

    You *did* get a happy ending – the lamb!

  • Gloria (Canela)

    Oh dear, sorry you are with pain is so upset.Really hope you will be well soon. (Psst Chef Zen maybe a lot of work??? you know in the Hamptons, Im serious!! I know how is work with pressure! xxGloria
    Any way this recipe is absolutely delicious! and look so!!!

  • Maggie

    I need to find a Chinese massuse for my husband.

    The lamb looks wonderful!

  • waliz

    zennnn…i think u need a good tradisional Malay massage…!! wanna try?

  • breadpitt

    thats a cool whorking as a private chef…….i always only have chance to look at your dish but not lucky enough to taste them , haha. i also wish dollar bill will hire too since the place and the pay sounds so tempting , lol!(long way to go since im still new in pastry) haha.nice work pal.

  • Tartelette

    Glad to hear you are feeling better! And that rub….I can smell its delicious healing powers from here!

  • Emiline

    Glad you’re feeling better! Maybe I should get a Chinese massage while I’m there…

    The lamb looks delicious. It’s cooked perfect! The relish looks very refreshing and cool.

    I see you’ve been very busy out at the Hamptons. Did you see Ina Garten?
    The carbonara looks great also.

  • AzAzura

    i am glad that you are ok by now zen,i used eucalyptus all the time for my achesits good i even have its plant back then, I miss reading your rants and food,i am hungry and looking at this lamb and its rub , i rubbed my tummy and say come to mommy…

  • Cakebrain

    I enjoyed your anecdote and appreciated the analogy! I love a good rub.

  • Mallory Elise

    Therapy, therapy, i suggest you drink some wine and then go run 5 kilometers.

    you work in the hamptons? quit wining youre like an ina garten pimp!

  • daphne

    giving hte lamb the same rub u got huh. I totally get what u mean by the pain though…hv to admit they are good.

  • Darius T. Williams

    Hey man! Great job w/the lamb…hilarious story!


  • One Food Guy

    That is one beautiful rack! Come on, I’m talking about the lamb!!

    It is also quite thick, I’m assuming it’s American lamb and not New Zealand which is typically much smaller. Where did you pick up that beautiful rack…of lamb?

  • Ellieut

    I am laughing so hard at your description. I can almost hear her! I am also a massage therapist, specializing in a Tui na type therapy (similar to what you had) but maybe not quite as painful :) Glad to hear it helped with the pinched nerve! BTW the lamb looks awesome!

  • Mike of Mike’s Table

    Yikes, sorry to hear about your back…its a fun experience I know all too well. :-/ I get irked by any massage that doesn’t have that mmph behind it–I’m not paying to be tickled or caressed–I want the good stuff and the good stuff has to hurt!

    As for that lamb, I love this dish! The rub, the relish, and of course, the rack (I’m such a sucker for lamb)–it sounds delicious. Also, I really like the photos for this one.

  • Big Boys Oven

    this is so awesomely delicious, salivating already, must ry to make this!

  • Kirstin

    I’ll have this with a mojito with this, please.
    Anyone know a masseuse like this in Oakland or San Francisco? I could use some pain and lamb.

  • Dhanggit

    if only you could see me while reading this post..all smile! of course i felt bad about you going through this but your post is hilarious my dear zen :-) anyways i dont like massage so much but with this lamb rub with all those spicy things i say “i do” :-)

    ps, next time you have a backpain just call me and i’ll massage it with a rolling pin instead hehehe