Many of my parents’ generation don’t like lamb because it reminds them of growing up in a time when mutton was poor people’s meat.
They slathered it in mustard and molasses and vinegar, more to cut the woolly taste of old sheep than to enhance the delicate, pinkly luscious flavour that we recognize today in a spring lamb.
As for cheap, that couldn’t be farther from the truth anymore, but once in a while, on a special occasion, lamb can grace your table elegantly and very nearly effortlessly.
March came in like a lion this year, but no matter what the weather, I propose we toast it out with lamb.
Herbed and Spiced Leg of Lamb
Although young lamb is anything but gamey, it does hold up to fairly aggressive seasoning. This combination of fresh herbs, exotic spices and citrus is the perfect flavour enhancer.
If you’re lucky enough to have acquired a fresh local cut of meat, allow it to warm up at room temperature for half an hour before roasting.
If the leg started out frozen, thaw it completely in the refrigerator, then leave it out to warm up.
Don’t waste your investment by overcooking — temperature is critical here, so please use a meat thermometer.
Judging doneness using cooking time alone is impossible because everything from the age of the animal to the shape of the leg plays a role and you won’t be able to guess. Like any big cut of meat, allow the lamb to rest at least 20 minutes before carving.
One more thing, if you’re tempted to have the bone removed, don’t, because the flavour is incomparable in a simple roast like this one.
1 bone-in leg of lamb, about 6 to 7 lbs.
1 full bulb garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1-1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. olive oil
juice and zest of 1 whole lemon
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. each ground coriander an allspice
2 large carrots, scrubbed and quartered
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 large celery stalks, quartered
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup each unsalted butter and flour
1/2 cup fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley
Chop the garlic coarsely — sprinkling the salt on it before chopping makes it easier. Add oil, lemon juice and zest, thyme, rosemary, pepper, coriander and allspice.
If the fat layer on the lamb is thick trim some of it away, leaving an even, thin layer on the meat.
With a long, thin knife, make many slits about 1 inch into the meat all over the leg. Rub the garlic mixture vigorously into the meat, pushing as much as possible into the slits.
Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
Place carrots, onions and celery into a large roasting pan and place lamb on top. Roast at 325 F about 12 to 15 minutes a pound until a thermometer pushed deep into the meat (but not touching the bone) reads 130 to 135 F for medium rare. Remove leg from oven and set aside to rest.
Add chicken broth to roasting pan and bring to a boil. Simmer about 15 minutes, then strain and return broth to roasting pan.
Combine butter and flour and microwave until butter melts; stir to combine and continue to microwave until bubbling hot. Stir small amounts into the boiling broth, using just enough to achieve the perfect thickness. Add parsley and serve over lamb and buttery mashed potatoes.
Lamb Chops with Fruit Chutney
If you’re already barbecuing in spite of the leftover snow, then by all means grill these chops, but either way they are delicious, especially served on a bed of rice or couscous with a fresh green vegetable.
8 lamb chops, as thick as you can get them
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
2 tsp. olive or vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup each dried cranberries, cherries and chopped apricots
1-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Combine rosemary, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. Whisk into olive oil and rub briskly all over lamb chops. Refrigerate a couple of hours, up to overnight. Allow to warm up for 15 minutes before cooking. Dry thoroughly with paper towels and grill or fry in a lightly oiled pan just until brown on both sides — don’t overcook.
For the chutney, fry shallot in oil until soft but not brown. Add salt, dried fruits, water, orange juice, balsamic vinegar and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until fruit is soft and mixture is thick and smooth — about 20 minutes. Add pepper, taste and add salt if needed, and serve at once with lamb.
Lamb Shoulder and Pasta Ragout
Shoulder is a slightly cheaper cut, but brings massive flavour to the table. This is worth making your own fresh pasta for — if you are so inclined — but since it is available in lots of grocery stores, at least buy fresh for the best result.
You can parboil dried pasta and add that to the pot, but keep your eye on it and add a little more liquid if needed. It is a poor second choice, though.
1-1/2 to 2 lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into chunks
6 slices bacon, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1-2 cups good quality dry red wine
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth
3/4 lb. fresh fettucini or linguine
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Cook bacon until crisp in a deep frying pan or Dutch oven. Remove and set aside. Sprinkle salt and pepper on lamb and brown in small batches. Remove meat and set aside. Add onion, carrot and celery to pot and fry until just barely starting to brown. Add garlic and cook another minute. Return bacon and lamb to pot.
Add basil, wine, tomatoes and broth. Bring to a low simmer; cover and cook until lamb is very tender — 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Stir pasta gently into pot and cook over low heat about 5 minutes or until pasta is ready to eat. Add parsley and serve; freshly grated Parmesan cheese is delicious on top.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.