Lemongrass-Grilled Rack of Lamb with Tamarind Sauce

Makes 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes plus marinating time

Charles's mesquite charcoal grill at Slanted Door is a wonder-hot as heck, but with enough cool spots so food can be moved around to cook evenly. One of the best dishes he produces on it is this sweet-and-sour rack of lamb. The marinade is one his mother made when he was young, so he has a particular fondness for it, but it will have instant appeal to anyone who enjoys the flavors of Southeast Asia.

If you don't have a grill, you can broil the meat, following a similar pattern. But you could also cook it on top of the stove: Pan-grill the rack without the marinade until it's almost done, then finish it by cooking it in the marinade (but watch carefully; with this much sugar, it will burn easily).

4 stalks lemongrass, trimmed of its ends, first couple layers of outer coating peeled off
4 shallots, peeled
2 Thai chiles or 1 small jalapeno, stemmed and seeded, or about 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon neutral oil, like corn or canola
2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
2 small (1 1/4-pound) racks of lamb, trimmed and, if you like, "frenched"
Salt and black pepper
1 recipe Tamarind Sauce (see below)

1. Mince the lemongrass as finely as you can. Combine with the shallots, chiles, sugar, and oil in a mortar and pestle or a food processor, or continue to mince until as fine as possible. Add the fish sauce. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper, then marinate in this mixture (you can use a bowl or strong resealable bag) for 2 to 3 hours, refrigerated. Meanwhile, make the Tamarind Sauce (page 160).

2. Start your grill; rake the coals so the fire is quite hot on one side and cooler on the other, and place the grill rack about 4 inches from the heat source. Grill the lamb, starting on a hot part of the fire, until crusty, turning as necessary. (Move it to a cooler part of the grill if it threatens to char.) Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat measures 125°F to 130°F for rare?this will take 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot, passing the Tamarind Sauce at the table.

Tamarind Sauce

Makes: 1 to 2 cups
Time: About 30 minutes

This dark brown, tantalizingly sweet-and-sour sauce will be pleasingly familiar to frequenters of Southeast Asian restaurants; it's a classic.

Tamarind is sold in many forms; Charles gets it fresh, or semi-fresh, and you can find it that way in some Asian markets. You're more likely to find dried pods, or a thick paste wrapped in plastic, still containing seeds and some hulls. (You can also buy premade tamarind sauce, and it's not bad, but this is better.) No matter what form you find, the process is the same: You cover the pods or paste with water and simmer gently, mashing until the whole thing is blended. Then you force the paste through a sieve and season it.

8 ounces dried tamarind pods or 1 pound tamarind paste
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam), or to taste

1. Simmer the pods or paste in hot water to cover, stirring and mashing until soft, about 10 minutes. If you used pods, remove the husks. Press the pulp and seeds through a fine-meshed sieve.

2. While warm, stir in the sugar and fish sauce to taste. Serve hot, with the lamb. (This sauce can be refrigerated for about 1 day and reheated just before serving; add a little water or lime juice if necessary to thin it out.)