Growing up, I never liked lamb. As I get out more and more, and I try more and more preparations of lamb, I’m finding that I’ve mainly been subjected to mistreated lamb in the past. No harm, no foul.
It came very close to Easter Sunday, and I didn’t really plan on cooking traditional lamb (or any lamb, for that matter), but, as the days came closer, I kept thinking that I could do something really nice with a leg of lamb. And by thinking, I mean searching the internet for Gordon Ramsay recipes. I came across one recipe that looked perfect. I totally dig the rack of lamb with mint jelly, so I thought stuffing the lamb with mint was perfect; likewise, I thought the cheese added a nice touch, and, if nothing else, would yield me a nice lamb brasciole.
So I called my “go to” butcher, Falvo’s, and ordered a small leg of lamb. It was about 3 pounds and costed me about $30 ($9.29/lb).
The preparation was actually pretty simple, but there were a few steps.
I started by preheating my oven to 450°F with my trusty cast iron pan inside.
I laid out a few ingredients.
I laid out some slab bacon on a cutting board. This was a touch I added to the recipe because the lamb was super lean. I was looking to cover the whole lamb roast.
I used a box grater to grate up the manchego cheese.
At this point, I could start thinking about dealing with the lamb. I needed to season it inside and out, so I seasoned the butcher block with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and laid out the lamb. I covered the top of the lamb with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and I rubbed the mint leaves into the meat, using the salt and pepper as an abrasive to bruise the mint and get the flavor to penetrate the meat. I also grated four garlic cloves over the mint.
I covered the mint layer with the cheese, very liberally. After all, much of it stood to melt away during the roast.
I rolled it up (from left to right) and tried to make it as even of a cylinder as possible. Then I rolled the bacon around it.
I tied around the lamb about four times with some butcher’s string, and then put it on my preheated skillet. Per the recipe, I tucked some rosemary sprigs under the string and added some to the pan.
I roasted this at 450°F for 20 minutes, and then backed the temperature to 400°F and let it go for another hour (that’s an hour and twenty minutes total). I made sure to baste it with the pan juices, of which there were many, every 15 minutes or so.
In the meantime, I made the vinaigrette. As always, I laid out my ingredients.
I zested the lemon into 3 tablespoons of olive oil, tore in about 12 mint leaves, seasoned with salt and pepper and whipped while I streamed in some lemon juice. It yielded a tangy bowl of vinaigrette.
At the end of the roast period, I took the lamb out to rest, about 15 minutes.
I was working on some oven potato wedges (both sweet potato and white potato), which I was going to serve on the side with the lamb [aside: this recipe is coming soon.]. To serve the dish, I served two nice slices of lamb covered in an ever so small amount of the vinaigrette along side some of the potato wedges.
I’m sure you don’t need me rubbing in the fact that it was delicious. But I’d like to articulate on the experience just a little to get you to appreciate what happened to this lamb.
The already delicate flavor of the lamb was infused with the aroma of mint, which was able to steam and penetrate the lamb from the inside. The firm manchego cheese, a sheep milk cheese, played off the theme of lamb and added a bit of tang and salt to each bite. Some of the cheese did melt out, which is always going to happen, but a significant amount did stay rolled within the meat, and was delicious. The cheese also got to marry with the juices from the lamb, so, on its own, it had a meaty flavor.
The bacon wrapping was my way of cheating to make this great. Lamb leg has a lot of connective tissue and fat, so roasting it helps to break down these tissues and render the fat resulting in tender meat. The bacon further ensured this by surrounding the lamb with a lattice that was constantly basting the lamb with salty fat. Of course, the physical basting helped to keep the bacon from burning, and also helped moisten the exterior of the lamb.
The lamb was cooked just about medium well. I would have preferred it done a little less, maybe more like medium, but it was still tender. Next time, I’ll cook it a little less, or use a meat thermometer.
The vinaigrette was a little acidic for me. I’m glad I applied this very sparingly. The acid, though, helped to cut some of the fattiness of the lamb, and the mint in the vinaigrette tied the whole thing together.
So, my Easter Sunday meal wound up having some ties to tradition. Whether you celebrate
Passover or you celebrate Easter or you celebrate the Orthodox Easter (which is coming up), this is a great way to prepare your lamb.