I love lamb in all its guises: lamb chops, lamb stew, rack of lamb, ground lamb, souvlaki... You name it, I dig it. But my favourite is a big old leg of lamb, seasoned and roasted, with each succulent slice landing on the plate like a steak unto itself.
At the supermarket, you have a choice. Leg of lamb is available on the bone or off the bone and butterflied (in which form it’s scored to an even thickness). Buying it on the bone has two advantages. The first has to do with taste; the meat next to the bone is sure to be moist. The second has to do with presentation; serving leg of lamb on the bone is an act of drama. (I imagine a medieval feast with everyone sitting around the leg of lamb.)
But carving a leg of lamb on the bone can be a challenge. If you start instead with a boneless roast and tie it into a roll before roasting, carving is a snap. Another advantage of working with the boneless guys is that you can season the inside as well as the outside. The secret agent ‚Äî surprise, surprise ‚Äî is salt. When you rub the cut side of a butterflied roast a few hours ahead of time with an herb mixture containing salt, the meat deeply absorbs flavour from the herbs and garlic.
Another way to ensure that your leg of lamb turns out tasty and juicy is to slow-roast it. The lower temperature ‚Äî 275 F as opposed to 350 F or higher ‚Äî ensures that the lamb will be cooked to the same degree of doneness from edge to edge. If you bake it at a higher temperature, the outer edge of the roast becomes more well done than the inside; each slice will feature just a bull’s eye of medium-rare (my favourite) meat.
Happily, if you do indeed slow-roast your leg of lamb, the outside edge will become just brown enough, saving you the extra step of having to sear the meat on top of the stove or under the broiler.
But letting the roast rest, preferably for 30 minutes, is key. The resting time allows the juices to redistribute. If you carved the meat right away, the juices would all stream out willy-nilly, leaving the leg woefully dry. While the lamb rests, some juices will seep out onto the platter. You’ll want to collect those and pour some of this liquid gold over each portion when you serve it.
SLOW-ROASTED HERBED LEG OF LAMB
Start to finish: 5 1/2 hours (40 minutes active)
1/4 cup minced garlic
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tablespoon dried)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6- to 7-pound butterflied boneless leg of lamb, with an 1/8-inch-thick fat layer left on the outside and trimmed of excess pockets of internal fat on the inside
In a small bowl combine all the ingredients except the lamb. Rub the herb mixture evenly on both sides of the lamb and let the lamb rest, at room temperature, for 2 hours.
Heat the oven to 275 F.
Place the lamb, fat side down, on a cutting board. Starting at the short end, roll up the lamb tightly and tie it crosswise with kitchen twine in 1 inch intervals. Tie a string around the roast lengthwise, weaving it into some of the crosswise strings as you go. Place the lamb on a rack set in a large roasting pan, fat side up.
Roast on the oven’s middle shelf until the lamb reaches 125 F at the centre for medium-rare meat, about 2 hours to 2 hours 15 minutes.
Remove the roast from the oven, transfer it to a platter, and let it rest, loosely covered with foil, for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. To carve, remove all the string, and, using a large carving or chef’s knife, slice the meat crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices to serving plates and top each portion with some of the juices that accumulated on the plate while the roast was resting.
Nutrition information per serving: 520 calories; 230 calories from fat (44 per cent of total calories); 26 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 205 mg cholesterol; 1460 mg sodium; 2 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 65 g protein.