This time of year is all about renewal and the foods of spring reflect this natural renewal of the earth. The perennial food plants: asparagus, fiddleheads, rhubarb and mint and chives miraculously appear through wet ground eager to pair with meats such as new lamb.
If you have a small crowd (6 to 8 people) it is a perfect roast. Alas it is another product that is a little pricey at the supermarket so I am giving you good instructions to make it memorable. I use a boneless leg of lamb and do a bit of prep work on it before putting it in the oven. It is an adventure.
Preparing a Boneless Leg of Lamb Roast
If you can find any local lamb you will really be in for a treat. But in lieu of the real Vermont product a market lamb roast will still fill the ‘delicious’ bill on your table. Most supermarket boneless lamb comes prepackaged in a stretch netting to hold it together with instructions to leave this on during the cooking process. I like to take this netting off and unroll the roast in order to flavor it and cut out all of the connective tissue and excess fat that you can find. There is always a lot on the inside and it does not cook well if you leave it in the roast. The roast is now ready to rub with lemon, some herbs and spices for either roasting or grilling.
Season the inside and tie it back up with butchers’ twine after this task is done. There are great instructions for tying a butcher’s knot on the internet - it is a good skill for any adventurous cook to have.
My preference is to use a paste type of seasoning mix to rub inside and out for consistent flavor throughout. There are recipes that call for big pieces of garlic to be inserted in the roast, but I find that with a roast like lamb that is not cooked all that long you end up with uncooked garlic that has not imparted enough flavor. A light coating of a wet rub of your favorite herbs and spices is much better.
Grilling: Leave the roast unrolled and butterfly the thickest portions. Put a light coating of wet rub on both sides of the meat and grill until rare to medium rare. It does not take long and the different thicknesses of the butterflied roast will yield rare to well done pieces to please everyone’s taste.
Roasting: Lightly rub your herb and spice mix on both sides of the unrolled roast. Roll the roast back together as tightly as you can and tie it with butchers twine. Trust me this is a great skill to master for all kinds of meat roasts. Put a little extra rub on top and you are ready to put your roast in the oven.
Lamb with Orzo
This Italian treatment of lamb is a classic and has a combination of flavors sure to please everyone in the house.
- 1 boneless leg of lamb
- 2 lemons cut in half
- 1 bunch scallions - chopped
- 2 large onions - quartered
- 2 ribs celery - chopped
- 2 carrots - sliced into coins
- 1 branch of fresh rosemary or a couple of teaspoons dried
- 3 cloves of garlic - sliced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- ½ cup fresh parsley chopped
- 4-5 cups chicken stock
- 10 oz can peeled whole tomatoes - coarsely chopped
- 1 lb orzo pasta (rice shaped pasta available at most supermarkets)
Cut the lemon in half and put it in a microwave for about 2 minutes or in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. It will bring the juices and oil out of the lemon and impart a great flavor to the lamb. Prepare the leg of lamb as described above. Before you tie it up squeeze the lemon onto the roast and massage the juice into the lamb. Then rub the skin of the whole lemon on the roast, letting the oils penetrate the lamb. Combine the olive oil, garlic slices, sugar, basil, oregano, a few of the rosemary leaves and parsley in a food processor or blender and chop it all together. Spread some of this spice mix on the inside of the roast, coating it evenly. You don’t want to put a thick coating on the inside of the roast – just enough to give it a little flavor during cooking. Roll the roast back up as tight as you can and tie it with butchers’ twine to hold it together during cooking. Put the rest of the spices on the outside of the roast. Lay the roast on a rack in a roasting pan and drop the lemon halves into the pan along with the scallions, onions, carrots and celery. Pour 3 cups of chicken stock into the bottom of the pan. Cook in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and cook another 30 to 45 minutes. A leg of lamb should be pink in the center, so don't overcook. A meat thermometer is helpful if you are not familiar with a roast of this sort. Take it out of the oven when the interior temperature is not more than 130 degrees and set on a plate. The temperature will rise to about 140 degrees on its own while it is resting after you take it out of the oven. Set the roast aside.
Skim the excess fat from the drippings in the pan and add the tomatoes and one more cup of chicken stock. Add the orzo right into the pan and stir. Return the pan with the pasta in it to a 325 degree oven and cook for about 30 minutes. Check after 20 minutes to make sure the pasta is not drying out. Add more chicken stock if necessary. Remove from the oven when the orzo is tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. This side dish of pasta is amazingly good.
Remove the twine from the lamb roast and slice the lamb across the grain in ¾ to 1 inch slices. Put on a platter and serve the orzo on the side.
I would add a green vegetable of some kind for a festive dinner. Fresh peas are classic with lamb and at this time of year there is good asparagus in the market.
Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb
The American barbecue grill inspires this delicious treatment of lamb. Serve with minted new peas and oven roasted potatoes with rosemary. I can smell the herbs in the kitchen already.
One boneless leg of lamb
- ½ cup Dijon mustard
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoons pepper
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
Prepare the leg of lamb as descried above. Unroll the leg and butterfly the roast into one evenly thick piece. You can have your butcher do this chore for you.
Mix together the mustard, olive oil, sugar, pepper and balsamic vinegar in a small mixing bowl. Place the roast in a nonreactive pan and spread the mix overall. Let set for an at least an hour.
Place the butterflied roast on a medium hot grill for about 10 minutes on each side. Check for doneness. I liked lamb rare, but everyone has a different taste. Just don't cook all the life out of this spectacular roast.
Slice and serve on a platter with vegetables and potatoes on the side.
Grilled Lamb Chops
If you don’t want to go to all the trouble of dealing with a whole lamb roast, try grilling chops for your guests. Nothing could be easier and if you grill them just below rare you can finish them in the oven just before you serve them.
- 2 lamb chops per person
- A little sugar, salt and pepper for a light rub
Clean your grill top as well as you can and rub it with a little olive oil. Preheat the grill to the highest setting*. Rub the chops with a little salt, black pepper and sugar. Put the chops on the very hot grill and cook for about 3 minutes on both sides(depends on the size of your chops) letting the lamb get well seared – a few flames are okay. Turn over for another few minutes. I like this hot grill method. It allows the lamb chops to char on all sides and stay rare in the center. Take them off a little early if you are not quite ready to serve them and set them aside. If they are nice and rare you can finish them off in the oven for few minutes and have nice hot chops when dinner is served. Didn’t I tell you there is nothing easier.
Note: When you use a hot grill like this, make sure there is not a lot of excess grease in the area under the flame to catch on fire – this is never a good thing. In this season of renewal here is a great opportunity to get the grill in shape for the summer.