April 12, 2009


Leg of lamb most splendid: Forget everything you know about the dish. Roasted a bit longer than intuition dictates, it takes on sublime texture and flavor. (Russ Parsons, April 4, 2007, LA Times)

THIS weekend being Easter, many Americans will sit down to a Sunday dinner of roast lamb. And that will be the last time they try the meat until the same time next year.

Lamb is to this holiday what turkey once was to Thanksgiving, something served once a year and, for many, eaten more for ceremony than for pleasure. [...]

AUStralian and New Zealand lamb tends to be smaller than American lamb. The American Lamb Council brags that domestic rib chops are 38% bigger than imported chops. American lamb also seems to be more variable in flavor; whereas New Zealand and Australian lamb is fed entirely on grass, much American lamb is finished on grain, which gives the meat a milder taste.

Other than that, your only choice in lamb will be whether you want the leg whole or with the bone removed and tied into a roll. Either can be roasted, and they can be used interchangeably in recipes except for a slight difference in timing. Because the bone conducts heat, the boneless roast will take slightly longer to cook.

For most roasts, I prefer to leave the bone in, strictly for appearance's sake (though boneless legs, untied and opened flat, are superlative for grilling as they offer so much surface area to sear a good crust).

If you're roasting with the bone in, look for legs that have had the hip bone removed for easier carving (as is automatically done at some markets), or have the butcher remove it. For a nicer presentation, I also "french" the shank -- that is, remove the last 1 1/2 to 2 inches of meat all the way around the bone. A butcher can also do this.

Roasting a leg is about as simple as good cooking can get. Season it liberally with salt and pepper. Rub it with olive oil. Brown it in a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 325 to let it cook through to an interior temperature of 130 degrees. Let it rest so the juices can redistribute and then serve.

Roasted this way, a leg of lamb is a majestic piece of meat. Anything else you do to it is an elaboration -- not that that would be a bad thing, necessarily.

Pot roasting is usually quite distinct from oven roasting -- it normally means cooking a big piece of meat in a covered pot until it's falling apart. But you can make a delicious roast by braising the leg only briefly on a garlicky bed of fennel and potatoes before removing the lid to finish cooking. This way, the perfume of the vegetables penetrates the meat quickly, but you still get the nice brown crust of a roast.

With either type of roast, you might like a sauce. You can make a simple jus while the lamb is resting by pouring off most of the fat from the roasting pan, sizzling some shallots in what is left and deglazing with red wine. Taste, and if the wine is too intense, dilute it with a little water.

Or make a mint sauce. I really like this adaptation from British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's upcoming "The River Cottage Meat Book." Shake up chopped mint and minced shallot in vinegar and thicken it with yogurt. It's about as far from the stereotypical super-sweet English mint jelly as you can get -- there's just enough sugar to take the edge off of the acidity.

Italian salsa verde is usually made with a mixture of parsley and basil, but for serving with lamb, make it with parsley and mint. This is an exuberant sauce, like a very gutsy pesto, super-charged with pounded anchovies and capers.

Lamb 101 (PAUL LUKAS, April 4, 2007, NY Sun)

With Easter right around the corner, sales of lamb have been increasing. And that, paradoxically, is part of the problem for the lamb industry.

"People generally think of lamb for special occasions and holidays, and that's about it," the marketing director of the American Lamb Board, Megan Wortman, said. So after Easter, sales will go back down to pre-holiday levels. And those levels tend to be low: Annual lamb consumption in America is only one pound per capita, compared with 66.5 pounds for beef and 50 pounds for pork.

Industry sources cite many reasons for this, including the lack of a concerted marketing effort (there's no lamb equivalent to "Pork: The Other White Meat" or "Beef: It's What's for Dinner"), the squeamishness of some people about consuming such a young animal, and the simple fact that many Americans don't like lamb's robust flavor profile.

As a result, the boutique meat revolution has largely left lamb behind.

[originally posted 4/07/07]

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Posted by at April 12, 2009 12:00 AM

I buy and cook lamb alot. Why not, when you can get a 4lb boneless leg of NZ lamb from Costco for under 20 bucks?

Not having the bone takes away from the taste, but I usually stuff it with an Italian salsa verde and it comes out great.

It's particularly good if you sear it over charcoal on the grill and then move it to the cool side of the grill over a drip pan, cover, and finish roasting it.

Another great way of using a boneless leg is to cut it into large chunks and braise it in the Roman style -- with white wine, garlic, chili pepper, and anchovy. Great winter dish. There's a great recipe for this in Patricia Wells' Trattoria cookbook.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 4, 2007 1:15 PM

Where in tarnation is Rick T.? I can't recall him missing a cookery thread.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 4, 2007 6:14 PM

Easter, Thanksgiving, Glenn had/has a really great recipe for either.

Thanksgiving Lamb (Instapundit)
1 semi-boneless leg of lamb (about 8 pounds)
2 cups merlot
1 cup each worcestershire and teriyaki
2 cloves garlic, crushed (more is better!)
1tbsp sugar
2 oz. olive oil
rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper to taste
Disposable aluminum roasting pan.
Mix merlot, worcestershire, and teriyaki, plus sugar, and marinate, preferably overnight. Heat a covered gas grill to high temperature on one side, low on the other.
Rub the lamb with olive oil, garlic and other spices. Place the roasting pan on the "low heat" side. Place the lamb on the "high heat" side of the grill and sear; rotate until all sides are browned. Move to the roasting pan, and turn the "high" side down to low as well. Close the grill cover and cook. If the lamb seems to be browning too much, cover with aluminum foil.
Cook until a meat thermometer inserted all the way to the center reads 140-145 degrees. (Don't overcook, or the lamb will be dry and tasteless; the outside can be pretty crispy, but the inside should be rare). Remove, let cool for a few minutes, and serve. Juices will make an excellent lamb gravy, especially if you add more merlot.

Posted by: Mike at April 4, 2007 10:35 PM
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