How to buy and roast a perfect leg of lamb for Easter
WASHINGTON, March 29, 2018: Lamb is a favorite Easter dinner treat. You can buy boneless leg of lamb at your grocery store meat department or your local butcher. Leg of lamb typically comes with the bone in, meaning you need to debone the meat yourself or ask the butcher to do it for you.
Lamb can be bought in Cryovac packaging to prolong the shelf life. If you buy the lamb in the packaging, know that it will be slightly bluish in color and have a stronger smell when unwrapped. Once opened, the lamb will change back to the red color, and the strong smell will dissipate the longer it’s out of the packaging.
You will need around ½ to ¾ pound of lamb per person. Don’t forget there is a lot of fatto be removed, so the weight on the packaging isn’t always the amount of edible meat. Better to plan for more, and enjoy the leftovers.
Luckily, leg of lamb is not difficult to prepare.
Tips for buying Leg of Lamb
When they call the roast “leg of lamb,” it means the sheep was slaughtered before reaching 12 months of age. At this age they have not developed incisor teeth, which determines the feed that they eat and the eventually taste of their meat.
Lamb available in the U.S. typically comes from Australia and New Zealand. Australian lamb, where it is traditionally grass fed, grazes on feedlots, particularly during its last two months of raising. American lamb, if you can find it, comes from Colorado where it is often grain fed, particularly during the last two months.
Some lamb is also imported from the province of Quebec province in Canada. Quebec lamb is particularly delicious due a feeding regimen that includes free-range roaming and mother’s milk, plus a final forage finish introducing high-quality grains to ensure a diet rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. This process creates a mild, deep pink meat with a mild flavor not found elsewhere.
Bone in vs. boneless
Choosing a bone-in, also known as shank, or a boneless cut of meat is a personal preference. Any meat, cooked on the bone has more flavor and allows for even cooking. But if you prefer boneless, either ask the butcher to bone the roast for you. Or you can do it yourself. It’s fairly easy to slice the meat along the bone. Then, using a boning knife, cut the meat from the bone.
If you’re working with your local butcher, you can also request him or her to trim away the “fell.” That’s the thick outer layer of fat that comes with some cuts. Leaving this fat intact during roasting is what creates the strong mutton taste that some dislike. But, as with any good roast, be sure to leave at least some fat on the roast to insulate the meat and keep it tender while cooking.
If you’re working with a boneless roast, next season the inside of the meat. Then tie it back around the bone using culinary twine.
Do not marinate your leg of lamb
The purpose of a marinade is to break down fibers in tougher cuts of meat. Leg of lamb is a naturally tender cut of meat and marinating may actually make it tougher. Stick with a simple seasoning of herbs, garlic, and mustard, or your favorite spice rub.
Lamb is good rare and well-done
Leg of lamb is naturally tender and juicy. So regardless of how rare or well done you like, it will still be delicious when you take it out of the oven. Just remember, always remove your roast (beef, pork or lamb) when your meat thermometer says it’s 10 degrees less than your desired doneness. Loosely tent the roast with foil and let it sit for 15-20 minutes after coming out of the oven. It will continue to cook to the desired internal temperature while the juices soak back into the meat. The results are superior to simply leaving the roast on the cutting board while you finish the rest of your preparations.
Roasting Temperature: 325°F
- Rare: 125°F (about 15 minutes per pound)
- Medium-Rare: 130°F to 135°F (about 20 minutes per pound)
- Medium: 135°F to 140°F (about 25 minutes per pound)
- Well-Done: 155°F to 165°F (about 30 minutes per pound)
Again, as with all other cuts of meat, it’s important to let the roasted leg of lamb rest for about 20 minutes after coming out of the oven. This lets the juices redistribute back into the meat instead of running all over the platter or cutting board.
When serving, remember to slice your lamb against the grain. This means look at your meat (before roasting) and determine the direction of the muscle grain, which in a leg of lamb, should be along the length of the roast. You want to cut across the leg, or roast, to ensure the retention of moisture and for uniform slices that don’t shred and are the most tender.
Always bring your roast to room temperature before cooking. This allows for even cooking. If the center is still refrigerator cold, and the outer layer room temperature, the roast will not cook evenly.
What You Need
Gather your roasting pan with rack, aluminum foil, culinary twine, a boning knife and a chef’s knife and instant-read thermometer
Traditional Leg of Lamb recipe (serves 8-10)
- 1 (5 to 7 pound) bone-in leg of lamb
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- Leaves from 3 fresh rosemary sprigs, chopped
If you are cooking a 7 lb. roast it will take approximately 30 minutes per pound to roast to rare (133 degrees). Remove lamb from the refrigerator one hour before cooking. While the leg of lamb is very cold, cut along and around the bone, remove, but retain.
Rinse the meat and pat dry with paper towel. Rub the meat, inside and out with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Wrap the meat back around the bone and tie.
Either using the broiler or a very hot, large skillet braise the exterior of the roast on all sides. Your goal is to sear, or brown, the outside of the meat, creating a nice brown “crust” that will help keep the juices in.
Retain any drippings.
Move the lamb to the roasting rack and rub your mix of garlic and rosemary into the roast. Be careful: it may be very hot from searing.
Heating the oven to 325 degrees, place the lamb, loosely tented with foil, on a center rack. If your oven temperature is not reliable, add an oven thermometer to your tools, placing it on the rack to the side of the roast.
Let cook for one hour. Then take the temperature of the meat, avoiding the bone.
If not at 133 degrees or above, return to cooking. Fifteen minutes before it’s done (yes, it’s a bit of guesswork), remove the foil, drizzle with retained drippings from the searing process and sprinkle with fresh rosemary and garlic. Cook uncovered for remaining 15 minutes.
Very important: Let your roast sit for a minimum of 15 minutes. The temperature of the meat should increase by about 10 degrees. If you want your roast medium to well-done, adjust your temperatures accordingly.
Chef Mary’s Honey Glazed Leg of Lamb:
Serves: 3 to 4 Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
3 pounds of boneless leg of lamb
½ teaspoon paprika
½ cup of chopped parsley
2 tablespoons oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 cup red wine
½ cup water
¼ cup honey
Salt and pepper
Cut the fat off of the leg of lamb, cut along the bone and open it up, fat side down.
In a bowl mix chopped parsley, oil, paprika, salt, and pepper. Smear the parsley mixture all over the inside of the lamb.
Roll the lamb back up and tie it with butcher’s twine or put the netting back on the meat.
Season the meat with salt and pepper and then dry it.
Heat a sauté pan with oil and sear all four sides of the lamb.
Then add a little more oil and the shallots to the pan. Sauté them lightly.
Turn the fire off and add the wine.
Turn the heat to low and simmer the red wine until all the alcohol has evaporated.
Add the honey and the water to the pan.
Place the lamb in the oven and baste it every 10 minutes.
Cook the lamb for 40 minutes for a medium rare.
Remove the netting and cut the lamb, keep the sauce and serve it with the lamb.
Watch Chef’s Mary’s how to video:
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Roasted Leg of Lamb: Image by Pixabay
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