ARTICLE / KITCHEN TIPS

The Secrets To Cooking A Perfect Leg Of Lamb

If you *want* to make lamb for your holiday dinner but what you *know* about lamb lies somewhere between what Mary had and mint jelly, we've got the secrets on how to do it right.

Perhaps few things say “Easter dinner” like lamb on the serving platter — particularly leg of lamb.

But while you might be well versed in cooking chicken, beef and pork, you probably don’t make a lamb roast regularly. Maybe it’s even your first time.

You’re not alone. Not even close to alone. Per capita annual consumption of lamb in the U.S. hovers at around 1 pound. (Compare that to about 93 pounds per year for chicken.) So if you’re lacking confidence in your lamb-cooking skills? You’re in good company, says the executive director of American Lamb Board.

Megan Wortman says that a lot of people reserve lamb for special occasions and she identifies a reason for any lack of confidence: “If you’ve never tried cooking it or you only have that one recipe that you’re comfortable with, you don’t have the confidence to try other cuts or know what to pick out, or you don’t have recipes.”

Your Secret Weapon

meat-thermometer

Whether for Easter dinner or any gathering of loved ones, you want to nail this.

Wortman offers a confidence-building tip and a tool suggestion: “It’s really not different than . . . a nice steak or a pork chop. We teach people to get a meat thermometer and you can’t go wrong.”

Why a thermometer?

A thermometer — especially an instant-read thermometer — tells you exactly where you stand with the internal temperature of the meat. This is particularly important because oven temperatures can vary and your beautiful roast leg of lamb can go from medium-rare to overdone surprisingly fast. (Always take the temperature at the thickest part of the meat and well away from any bone.) Bottom line: While a recipe may state a cooking time, there’s no substitute for a thermometer to know where your roast lamb stands.

Another important temperature tip: The temperature when you take the lamb out of the oven is not its final temperature. Many recipes instruct you to transfer the lamb to a cutting board and let it stand. This is an important part of the total time for a recipe and shouldn’t be skipped.

Bone-in vs. Boneless

One consideration is bone-in versus boneless. “The positive of bone-in is that you can actually find it now,” Wortman says. “You don’t always see it apart from holidays. And it’s a showstopper. It’s beautiful. It does cook a little differently. It actually cooks faster than boneless because the bone works to heat the roast up more quickly.”

If you go with a boneless roast, you are likely to find it sold rolled and tied. From here, you can unroll it and make a few slices to even out the thickness before you grill it. (It’s called “butterflying” and you could also ask the butcher to do it.) You can stuff it. Or you can chop it into cubes for kebabs.

Lambspiration

No matter which cut you choose, there are so many recipes! So where do you begin?

Garlicky Goodness Recipe Girl’s simple six-ingredient Rosemary and Garlic Leg of Lamb Roast takes advantage of elemental ingredients such as black pepper, kosher salt, fresh rosemary, and garlic cloves to gently complement and highlight the flavor of a boneless leg of lamb. The basic outline of this straightforward recipe: Place the lamb in a roasting pan, cook for about 2 hours 30 minutes (but check your meat thermometer!), remove from oven, let rest, and serve.

Marinade Magic Herbed Boneless Leg of Lamb with Mustard Crust from The Mom 100 uses Dijon mustard and panko bread crumbs for a delicious crust in a leg of lamb recipe that she calls a “showstopper.” An overnight marinade boosts the flavor without contributing to prep time on the day of the cooking. Step 1: Preheat oven. Step 2: Let roast sit at room temperature while you prepare the crust and pat it onto the lamb. From there, it’s a matter of about 1 hour 30 minutes in the oven and a resting period.

Making The Cut This Spice-Rubbed Butterflied Leg of Lamb combines olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and a host of spices for a richly flavored paste that gets rubbed on the lamb, which is refrigerated overnight. The next day, the lamb leg is barbecued to juicy perfection.

Leftover Lamb Part of the charm of a lamb leg is that it feeds a crowd of people — a bone-in American leg runs 8 to 10 pounds; a boneless leg typically runs 6 to 8 pounds. (New Zealand lamb usually runs smaller.) Figuring about 8 ounces per person for bone-in lamb and 5 ounces for boneless, that size means a leg often provides leftovers. (If you have leftovers, look no further than Leftover Lamb Sandwiches With Tapenade Mayo, Watercress, and Caciocavallo Cheese, which pairs roast lamb with an Italian cheese, a black olive spread, a hearty bread, and more for a powerhouse of flavor.)

Little Lamb If a large lamb roast sounds like too much of a good thing, think about looking for cuts beyond the leg. Loin chops and sirloin chops are solid options. If you’re not serving a crowd, both come in more manageable serving sizes compared to a leg.

Try Marinated Lamb Chops, where the lamb rests overnight in the refrigerator in a mix of ingredients including herbs such as garlic, shallots, fresh thyme and rosemary. The recipe echoes the advice of Jordan Sclare, executive chef at Chotto Matte, with a recently opened location in Miami and an upcoming restaurant in Toronto. “Marinating lamb in spices and olive oil is really good for adding flavor and tenderizing the meat,” Sclare says.

Grilled And Greek Classic Greek Grilled Lamb Chops make another good option for those of us living where outdoor grilling season has begun. Here red wine and a marinade of 2 to 24 hours contribute to the lamb’s flavor. Once the meat is prepped, cook time is short — only 10 minutes on the grill.

No matter which way you go, here’s the bottom line: You got this. Keep in mind a meat thermometer, resting time (for the lamb — but take care of yourself too) and a good recipe. Next time Easter rolls around, you might already have a favorite lamb recipe.

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