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.
- 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.