Roast Leg of Lamb
When it comes to lamb people either love it or go to extreme lengths to make it taste like anything except lamb. I chuckle when I see a leg of lamb shot through with dozens of spikes of some kind of herb and hundreds of garlic cloves in hopes of disguising the fact that it’s lamb. Lamb these days isn’t the strong flavored meat that was sold years ago. Modern lamb is milder and more tender than the lamb my mother cooked when I was young, but it’s still lamb and in my mind, should still taste like lamb after it’s cooked. This doesn’t mean lamb shouldn’t be well seasoned, it means it should still resemble lamb.
Next to heavy handed overkill with the seasoning, nothing can ruin a leg of lamb more than overcooking. Because lamb lacks the marbling that beef and pork often have, the meat will tend to become dry and taste “lambier” if overcooked. Cooking lamb to an internal temperature of 145°F to 150°F degrees yields a lamb with rosey pink meat that’s still moist and tender.
Boneless legs of lamb usually weigh 4-5 pounds and are easier to carve (and cost more per pound) but if you can only find a bone-in leg don’t fret. It’s configured the same as a bone-in ham. If you’ve ever carved a bone-in ham, a leg of lamb should be a breeze. I prefer a bone-in roast, I think cooking on the bone helps preserve some of the juiciness of the meat plus if I plan to make an Irish beef stew with the leftover meat the bone is nice to add to the stock.
Next to a reasonable amount of marinating or seasoning, the best way to control the “lamby” aroma is to trim much of the fat off the roast, leaving the thinnest layer possible. Much of the aroma we associate with lamb comes from the lanolin in the lamb fat and removing most of it will cut down on some of the lambiness.
Once trimmed your lamb is ready for seasoning. Some people like an overnight soaking in a marinade based on wine with added herbs. I prefer an overnight semi-dry mixture. Both will result in a nicely seasoned roast. I’m not a fan of sticking numerous spikes of strong herbs such as rosemary deeply into the flesh and I also don’t care for cutting slits all over the roast to slide in raw garlic cloves. The holes make it easy for the juices to escape when roasting and the meat often has little areas of meat that are just too powerfully over seasoned. Any combination of herbs, spices, mustard, beer, wine or fruit juice (pomegranate works well) will season lamb nicely. My favorite seasoning combination and roasting method follows
1 leg of lamb trimmed of most of the fat.
2 cloves garlic, mashed
¼ cup good quality soy sauce
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup sherry or fruit juice
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Finley grated zest from one lemon or orange
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
Place lamb in a large zip lock bag or a dish with sides large enough to hold the roast. Combine all of the seasonings in a bowl to form a loose paste. Pour the mixture over the meat to coat well, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the roast from the refrigerator about an hour before roasting. Remove the meat from the seasoning mixture gently scraping of the solid pieces of herbs that might burn and become bitter when roasting. Re-season the meat with additional salt & pepper. If using sprigs of fresh herbs place them on the bottom of the roasting pan along with a half dozen whole large garlic cloves.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Roast 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F; roast about 20 minutes per pound for medium or until internal temperature reaches 145°F when tested with meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of roast.
Transfer roast to cutting board; cover with foil. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes before carving. Internal temperature will continue to rise 5° to 10°F during stand time.
I recommend serving whole small parsley potatoes, caramelized fried apple rings, asparagus and English style parsley sauce with roast lamb.