Friday, June 22, 2012

Carré d'Agneau (Carre d'Agneau) - A rack of lamb. A rack of Lamb in French Cuisine. Ordering Lamb in France II.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated October 2018

A rack of lamb.
Carré d'Agneau, a rack of lamb.  A full rack of lamb includes 13 ribs, but in France, as elsewhere, the first 6 or 8, the best, are the rack that will be prepared in a restaurant.  When there are enough diners to order a whole rack of lamb do not let the restaurant divide the rack in the kitchen as that would be a shame.  You may have missed an artist at work.  Carré d'Agneau is a cooking term, and lamb chops, when cooked separately are côtes or côtelettes.
Rack of Lamb with a spicy Fennel rub
When a single diner orders Carré d'Agneau they will usually be served three chops and will rarely be asked how they would like their lamb cooked, as would be done when ordering a steak.  The French prefer their lamb rosé, pink, so if you prefer lamb a little closer to well done discuss that with the waiter when ordering.  The weight of the three chops can vary significantly with the restaurant’s particular traditions from 200 gm (7 ounces) for a milk-fed lamb to 350 gm (12 ounces) for an older and to my mind often-tastier lamb; the weights are before cooking, and the meat is about 50% of the weight served. 
Your menu may offer:
Carré d’Agneau Rôti au Romarin Frais –  Roasted rack of lamb prepared with fresh rosemary.
Carré d'Agneau à la Provençale -  A rack of lamb covered with bread crumbs that will have been mixed with garlic, parsley, and thyme; then roasted.

A crown of lamb.
Two racks for a great occasion.

Carré d'Agneau de Sisteron Rôti, Crème d'Ail Doux – A rack of roasted Sisteron lamb served with a cream of sweet garlic sauce.  The beautiful and historic village of Sisteron in the department of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence has highly rated lamb and veal.  The most famous person to stop in Sisteron for lunch was Napoleon I.  He stayed there for a few hours after his escape from exile in Elba on the 3rd March 1815.  He regained the throne of France but only held it for 90 days; he was defeated by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.  According to tradition, Napoleon’s dined on Sisteron duckling prepared with olives; he had arrived too early in the year for the lamb.  If you were in the boy scouts or girl guides, then that is another good reason to visit Sisteron.  Sisteron is one of the few places in France that has a Baden Powell museum; theirs is the Musée Scout Baden-Powell.  On the third Saturday in May they have a fair to celebrate their tasty lamb, their Fête de l'Agneau.
The village of Sisteron set below the Rocher de la Baume
Carré d’Agneau Rôti à la Broche (Le) – A rack of lamb roasted on a spit.
Carré d'Agneau Rôti En Croûte de Sauge et Amandes – Rack of lamb roasted in a covering (en croute) of sage and almonds. En croûte initially only indicated dishes that had been cooked or were served, inside pastry or in a hollowed out loaf of bread.  Today's creative chefs have moved on and apart from pastry and bread dishes en croûte may be prepared with coverings from vegetables, herbs or fruits.

Carré d'Agneau en croute, in a herb crust.
Photographer Hamid Attie
 N.B. Agneau, lamb, in France has a very clear meaning, different from the USA and the UK.  French lamb must be under nine months old compared with a year in the UK and any age in the USA.  The same menus that offer a Carré d'Agneau may offer a noisette.  A noisette d’agneau is a tender center from one of first six chops in a rack cut out and served without the bone.  Noisettes and mignonettes have many, many meanings in French cuisine and will need a separate post.
Agneau de Pré-Salé

The most unique lamb in France is the Agneau de Pré-Salé AOP.  The Pré- Salé lambs are raised on the salt meadows on France’s Atlantic coast.  The sea-air and the sea salt flavor the grasses on which the lambs feed; that creates a uniquely tasting lamb without even the slightest trace of salt.  A restaurant’s menu may offer Agneau de Pré-Salé du Mont-Saint-Michel AOP from around the island of Mont-Saint-Michel on the border of Normandy and Brittany and the Prés-Salés de la Baie de Somme AOP from the department of Somme in the new super-region of Hauts-de-France.

The Pré-Salé lamb from Mont-Saint-Michel AOP.
The island of Mont-Saint-Michel is in the background.
There are also some ten areas in France that raise Label Rouge, red label, lamb.  The red label signifies the best and not only for taste.  It also controls, as does the AOP Agneau Pré- Salé, the best in French animal husbandry.  The lambs must be raised by their mothers until weaned and no growth hormones or antibiotics are permitted. Red label lamb includes the Agneau de Quercy, part of the Agneau du Périgord IGP, the Agneau du Bourbonnais, and the  Agneau du Poitou-Charentes.
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