What is the best way to cook a leg of lamb?
Spring is the season for leg of lamb, Easter the holiday. It has long been one of my favorite cuts of meat, and a few weeks ago I had a revelation. Why not cook leg of lamb the way I now cook standing rib roast?
Until a couple of years ago, I'd always been a high-heat roaster, starting my beef in a 450-degree oven, then turning it down to 350 for the duration. But I became a fervent convert to slow roasting, cooking the meat for a few hours at 200 degrees, letting it rest outside the oven for an hour or two, and then giving it a final blast in a hot oven to brown it up.
This method resulted in a roast that was uniformly pink and medium-rare throughout, instead of rare in the center and medium-well toward the exterior. It gave up virtually no juice when carved -- all the juice stayed in the meat. And the timing was wonderfully forgiving.
So, I tried slow-roasting a bone-in leg of lamb, and it worked like a charm. First I slathered the roast with an herb-garlic paste and let it sit at room temperature for a few hours to start to warm up. In a 200-degree oven, it took a 4 1/2-pound roast about 2 hours to come to 120 degrees. (It would have taken longer if my roast had just come out of the refrigerator.) I took the roast out of the oven and wrapped it in foil. Over the next two hours, the temperature rose to 130 and then dropped back to 120. Just before dinner, I put it into a 450-degree oven and got it brown and crispy. Dinner guests clapped.
SLOW-ROASTED LEG OF LAMB
You will need an instant-read or a probe thermometer for this recipe. You also can use a boneless leg of lamb; cooking time will be shorter.
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (4 1/2-pound) bone-in leg of lamb, fat cap left intact
1. Make a paste of rosemary leaves, garlic, salt, pepper and oil either with a mortar and pestle or a mini-processor, or mince very fine with a sharp knife.
2. With a very sharp knife, score the fat on roast by making horizontal cuts about 1/2 inch apart that go through fat but not into meat below. Rub herb paste all over the meat, working it into the slits in the fat. You can do this a day ahead and refrigerate roast overnight. Take roast out of refrigerator a few hours before you plan to cook it to speed up cooking time.
3. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Place the roast on a rack in a shallow-sided roasting pan -- you want air to circulate around the meat. Cook the roast until a thermometer stuck into the center (not touching a bone) registers 120 degrees. Take the roast out and wrap it in heavy-duty aluminum foil. It will stay hot for 2 hours.
4. Just before dinner, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Unwrap roast and place on a rack in a shallow-sided pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until fat crisps and browns. Carve immediately. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
How do you carve a bone-in leg of lamb?
I learned this trick in France: Because the meat is unevenly distributed on a leg, and there are a few muscles that run different ways, do not attempt to cut slices off the bone. Instead, make one deep cut, down to the bone, along the whole length of the leg. Then cut all the meat away from the bone. Basically, you are butterflying the cooked leg. Once you have removed all the meat in one piece (and don't worry if it's a bit ragged), lay it flat on the cutting board and slice.