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11/04/2011 10:45 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To French A Rack Of Lamb

Chef Mark Elia of The Culinary Institute of America demonstrates how to french a rack of lamb, a technique used to remove the top cap of fat as well as separate and clean the bones for a more refined presentation.

Using a 5- or 6-inch boning knife and keeping the eye muscle on the cutting board as he works, chef Elia first removes the top flap from the rack by using his hand to pull while cutting with the knife to separate connective tissue. Then, he removes what's left of the shoulder blade by running his knife under the blade and peeling it back as he cuts. Next, he determines the length of the bone he wants to french (typical length is about an inch and half from the eye muscle) and makes a mark with his knife at both ends of the rack. He connects the two knife marks with a deep cut across the top of the rib bones. His next step is to go in alongside and in-between each rib bone, cutting up one way, then turning his knife and cutting down the other way. He flips the rack over, then cuts the back of the rib bones. Still working on the back of the ribs, he cuts down on top of the ribs to release the membrane, then cuts down in between the ribs. (The goal here is to loosen up the membranes on the top, sides, and bottom of each rib bone to make it easy to remove the meat and connective tissue.)

To finish the process, chef Elia takes a length of butcher's twine and, holding it much like dental floss, loops it around one rib and make a knot at the top of the rib. Then, he wraps the twine around the handle of a knife steel (you can use a wooden spoon) for leverage, then pulls -- and the meat slides cleanly off the bone. He repeats this process on the remaining ribs, holding on to the rack as he pulls away from it. As a final step, he scrapes away any other connective tissue with the tip of a boning knife.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

I'm Chef Mark Elia from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm now going to show you this kitchen basic: the frenching procedure.

Today we're going to french a rack of lamb. Why do we french a rack of lamb? It's all about the presentation. Nothing looks better than a nice shiny bone and a beautifully displayed eye muscle.

The common knife that would be used for this procedure is nothing more than a six-inch or a five-inch boning knife. One thing to remember is to keep your eye muscle on the block. We'll start by separating the top flap from the rib section. This can be done by hand-pulling, to a point where you'll have to come in and cut along with your knife, cutting and pulling a little bit at a time. If you get too far ahead of yourself, you run the risk of cutting into the eye muscle.

After releasing all the connective tissue, the next step is to remove what's left of the shoulder blade. To do that we can just take our knife and run it up underneath the shoulder blade and just peel the shoulder blade back. This is nothing more than just thin cartilage.

The next procedure is to determine the length of the bone that you want to have frenched. The typical and most popular size is approximately an inch and a half from the end of the eye muscle, right about there. We'll just make a little mark on the end. We'll turn to the other side and we'll just come out an inch and a half again from the end of the eye muscle, and make another mark. Laying it down flat on our table, we'll take our knife and go across and connect the two lines, pressing down hard on the rib bones. Once we've made our cut across the ribs and loosened the membrane from the top side, we then lift the rack and cut in, alongside and in between each rib bone. Cut one way, turn your knife, and cut the other way. Once we've got them all cut through, we turn the rack over, and we can see the lines where we were. At this point we'll take our knife and we'll cut across the back of the rib bones. What we've done here is we've loosened up the membrane from the top and from the bottom, and in between each rib in both directions. The last part of the membrane we have to loosen up is the length of the rib. Well take our knife, hold it right along the center of each rib, and cut along the back of the rib. Each rib has to be cut. What we're doing right now is releasing the membrane so we can peel it off.

Now that we have all the membrane released from the back of the ribs, we can cut in between the ribs. We're going to cut along the cut line, and come back. We'll cut in between each rib. We were on top of the rib before; now we're in between each rib. Every single rib we have, we cut. When we're done, we should have something that looks like this. Now that we see all the meat is released, we can start to remove the meat from the ribs. That's where the real fun part comes in, and the real frenching procedure begins.

We'll go to our cone of string, a standard 16-ply butcher's twine. We'll take our length of string, probably leaving about six or eight inches hanging from one end, and you're going to go up in between one of the ribs, all the way down to the area you released the membrane from. This is where we do our little dental floss. Here we'll make a simple knot like we're going to tie our shoes, and then a double knot, but we don't want to tie too tightly here because these bones widen at their ends, and this string needs room to move.

We could take the handle of our steel or the handle of a spoon, or anything that's comfortable for you to hold on to. Using both ends of the string, the short and the long, wrap around the handle of whatever you're going to use, give it a tight grip, using the palm of your hand to hold the rack of lamb down on the table, and pull like we're starting a lawnmower - removing all the meat from the bone. Now this is the actual frenching procedure. We have our string, wrap around a rib, pull down one knot, a second knot - again, not too tight - and we wrap the ends of the string around the handle leaving a short distance. We have one hand on the rack, and pull the bone away from the meat. This leaves us with nice clean french bones.

Once we've removed all the meat from the ribs we take the tip of our knife, put it right up against the bone, and scrape away any connective tissue that might still be left. And that's how we get to the final product of the frenched rack of lamb. At this point it is ready for seasoning, and for roasting. It's so easy to carve at the table - we just need to go in between each rib and cut straight down to have our chop.