For the love of lamb try roasting it two simple, different ways

Posted: Thursday, April 03, 2003

I have a friend, we'll call her Ms. Mostly Meatless, who claimed to have a particular distaste for lamb. You may know people like Meatless - it's not that she is a vegetarian, she just doesn't usually go for red meat.

Ben Bohen is a local chef and food writer.

In Meatless' world of chicken breast and fish filets, lamb seemed to represent all that could be distasteful about red meat.

Naturally, when I decided to prepare a leg of lamb for Easter dinner one year, Meatless was the first person I invited. To her surprise, she discovered what lamb lovers know - when well chosen, seasoned with care and simply roasted, lamb is among the most satisfyingly tender and full flavored of all farm-raised meats.

Of the many cuts and preparations of lamb, a whole roasted leg is an ideal choice for a traditional Easter or Passover dinner. It's easy to prepare, large enough to serve a group and delicious with a variety of seasonings.

The fact that the whole leg encompasses several muscles means you get different textures and flavors depending on the area of the leg you carve. The rough "drumstick" shape of the leg results in meat that is more well done on the ends even when the thicker areas are still medium rare, allowing one leg to suit various tastes.

When buying lamb, look for firm, bright pink flesh with creamy fat.

Lamb is complemented by bright, potent seasonings such as mint, rosemary, sage, garlic, mustard and coriander. If you are marinating the leg or making a sauce for it, the earthiness of the lamb will be well-complemented by ingredients that are fruity and somewhat acidic such as red wine or lemon juice. Fruity condiments such as jams, compotes and chutneys will also accent the meat's taste while adding to the variety of flavors and textures in your meal.

Since lamb is well loved in an array of cultures that span Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, traditional recipes for roasting a leg of lamb come from a number of distinct cuisines. To highlight the diverse settings in which lamb can comfortably appear, the recipe given here offers two possibilities for seasoning the lamb.

The accompaniments you choose for your leg of lamb will depend on which set of seasonings you choose. Appropriate complements for the Provenal-inspired lamb with rosemary and thyme include potatoes, asparagus, artichokes and black olives, as well as sauces that include the roast's own pan juices along with red wine or Dijon mustard. The more North-African-inflected lamb with coriander is excellent with cous cous, dried apricots or raisins, eggplant, and perhaps a lemony yogurt sauce.

Roasted leg of lamb two ways

1 leg of lamb (5 to 7 pounds)

olive oil to coat

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons minced garlic

Seasoning Option 1

2 tablespoons coriander seeds, coarsely ground

1 tablespoon cumin seeds, coarsely ground

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

Seasoning Option 2

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

14 cup chopped parsley

1. Make small slits in various places all over the leg. Rub the leg all over with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and the seasonings from either option #1 or #2, making sure to push some of the mixture into the slits. Let the lamb stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, or refrigerate it for up to 8 hours ,making sure to bring it to room temperature before roasting.

2. Roast the leg fatty side up, uncovered, in a preheated 450 degree oven for 30 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and roast for an additional 30 minutes. Begin testing for doneness. This is best done with a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the leg. At 130-135 degrees the lamb will be medium rare in its thickest areas. This should take about 12 minutes per pound, or between 1 and 112 hours total. 145 degrees will result in medium meat throughout.

3. Allow the cooked leg to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before carving.

Ben Bohen is a local caterer and food writer.

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