When I was a kid—or should I say “several years ago”—we probably had lamb several times a month. It could be lamb stew or chops, but more often it was a succulent leg of lamb. And it was rare that we grilled anything in our little brick outdoor fireplace, so it was an oven roast.
Dad was a meat and potatoes kinda guy, and with that background it’s no wonder I learned to love lamb and why I felt an acute sense of lamb withdrawal during my two years on active duty in the army, mostly in post-war Korea. I don’t remember ever having lamb in the Mess (such an appropriate name, eh?) And, friends, in those days there weren’t any Indian, Greek, or Middle European restaurants in Seoul, let alone near the DMZ where they plunked me. And there was no “soul” food in Seoul. (I’m talking the late ’50s. The photos of Seoul today blow my mind.)
While on an R & R trip to Tokyo nostalgia kicked in, and I even managed to find a German restaurant and went nuts trying dishes our family loved at home, thanks to my grandmother’s nurse/housekeeper.
Back to BAAA Land
I’m writing about lamb because I’ve noticed a notable lack of this meat on area menus. I imagine it just doesn’t prove popular with diners—because so often the lamb would arrive on the table overcooked, grey, and dry. And, let’s face it, with the price of lamb escalating it will probably be saved by home cooks for big occasions. Wonderful thick lamb chops—when you can get them—might require you to take a home equity loan, but, boy, are they delicious. I must tell you, though, I phoned a local market, one that is noted for their meat, to order lamb for a special dinner. The butcher explained that they didn’t carry it as people rarely asked for it, and he was loathe to order it (and charge the going rate). I was shocked.
You can find some cuts of lamb in other area markets—thank goodness. A friend of mine who is a terrific cook has found several cuts of lamb and butchers who are willing to cut what you need in our local Tops market. Call ahead and check on the availability of the cut you want, and they will probably order what you need. I’ve had good luck with getting ground lamb—as I am addicted to lamb burgers. I often go Greek and stuff them with feta cheese and a little finely chopped rosemary and mint. But let me give you a favorite—and easy—recipe for leg of lamb (it’s a little further down the page).
On the Web Market
As a treat, I’ve ordered lamb from a wonderful source in Pennsylvania, www.JamisonFarms.com in Latrobe. Google their Web site and you’ll find every cut available (I have a trove of the shanks in the freezer), as well as lamb sausages (perfect with a mess—in the good sense—of lentils and beans). There are lots of options, and you can buy prepared foods made with their lamb, such as grill-ready burgers. Their well-packaged offerings will last up to six months in the freezer. And, might I add, I found out about Jamison from chef friends here, who source their lamb from them, and often proudly cite the company as supplier on their menu listings.
Shake a Leg
What could be more festive than leg of lamb for an anniversary or birthday or christening or…almost any celebratory dinner? This is the way my mom made the dish and I remember it well as “guess who” was allowed to stuff the slits even back when I needed a stool to reach the countertop. Actually, little fingers are a great help here. Mom or dad can make the slits with a sharp knife and the kid gets to do the garlic and rosemary bit. I love it when young ones are allowed to help in the making of a dish. Remember that commercial with the little darlings proclaiming “AND WE HEPPED” that said including kids in the cooking process instills such pride when the final dish is presented to the family/guests? At least I remember such feelings to this day.
Leg of Lamb with Rosemary
Start working on the lamb well ahead of the oven time: season the leg and insert the garlic and rosemary, then let this sit for a few hours (figure an hour on the countertop at cool room temperature, but for a longer pre- cooking nap it should be refrigerated). Bring to room temperature before roasting.
Please, please don’t overcook the lamb. I think it’s done when an instant read thermometer registers about 130-135 F (it will be deliciously rare). And for Pete’s sake (who was this Pete?) don’t worry about the pinkish hue of the meat when you carve. But suit yourself.
And don’t forget to let the roast stand, lightly tented with foil, for about ten minutes after you pull it out of the oven. For easier slicing you can use a semi-boneless or a boneless leg; just adjust the time and use that thermometer to determine doneness. Obviously, these will take less time to cook.
- 1 (4-5 lb.) leg of lamb (buy a bigger leg for more than 6 diners)
- 3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into slivers
- Several sprigs of fresh rosemary
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 to 4 slices of thick-sliced bacon
- Champagne or sherry vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Trim the excess fat from the lamb, pat it dry, and, using the tip of a sharp knife, cut slits all over it, the more the merrier (to coin a phrase).
Fill the slits with garlic and bits of rosemary. Brush the roast with a little olive oil. Place the bacon in the bottom of a roasting pan; add the lamb, fat side up.
Bake, basting from time to time with a few tablespoons of vinegar; 20 to 25 minutes per pound should do it, or until a meat thermometer registers about 135F. Do not let the thermometer touch the bone.
Remove the roast to a cutting board, cover lightly with foil, and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. The aroma will be wonderful. This serves six.
A Little Poem for Dessert
Here’s a poem I learned when I was a sassy teen and came across a bunch of “twisted” nursery rhymes. I never forgot it and, though I may have gotten some words wrong, I now present it to you:
Mary had a little lamb, some beets, and then some prunes,
A glass of wine, a bowl of soup, and then some macaroons.
It made the naughty waiters laugh to see her order so,
And when they carried Mary out her face was white as snow.