For decades I’ve made the same Easter dinner. Every year I read about new, trendy combinations, fresh starts. Yet I return time and again to the now almost sacramental supper of the lamb. It’s a once a year feast, the whole leg, stuffed with garlic and rosemary, cooked on the bone, roasted medium rare and thinly sliced lengthwise into rippling pink ribbons. It’s a meal so ancient no one knows its origins: desert herders or mountain farmers? We step back in time when we come to this table.
Last year before Easter I waited for my leg of lamb. Bill, my butcher, promised to hold a small one when it came in and sure enough at almost the last minute I picked up my slender 8 lb (from shank end to hip) leg. I sawed off the bonier sirloin end, cut the meat into kebabs, and saved the bones for stock. My final “gigot” weighed 6 lbs. I trimmed off mini-bits of excess fat and studded the whole leg with slivers of garlic and tufts of fresh rosemary. Dusted with freshly ground black pepper, the wrapped lamb waited in the fridge until noon the next day. Two hours before roasting I drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled it generously with kosher salt, and let it come to room temp.
Strawberry/rhubarb pie went into the oven first. Next came the pan of scalloped potatoes that when cooked waited under a towel when it was time to bump up the temp for the lamb. After exactly an hour and fifteen minutes the lamb was done and ready to rest half an hour before carving. I scraped the browned mirepoix into a saucepan, added a quart of good stock and set it to simmer for the sauce while we drank a bottle of champagne in the afternoon sun. Green beans tossed with butter, warm potatoes dauphionoise, rosy sliced lamb, and a dark brown sauce. Dinner is served, everyone inside, time for the Easter lamb.
French Style Roast Leg of Lamb
5-7 lb. bone-in leg of lamb with shank attached.
3-5 cloves garlic
sprig of fresh rosemary (or dry rosemary)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
large onion, carrot, 2 celery ribs and extra garlic cloves
24 fl. oz. (3 cups) lamb or chicken stock
1-2 tablespoons roux
fresh lemon juice to taste
Trim lamb of excess fat. Cut peeled garlic cloves into splinters and remove rosemary needles from sprig. Use small, sharp, paring knife to make deep holes in meat. Widen each hole with finger, and push sliver of garlic along with 3 rosemary needles in each hole. You will need to insert 15-20 slivers of garlic all over leg of lamb. Rub lamb with olive oil; sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Set aside at room temperature 2 hours before roasting. Slice onion, carrot and celery; add a few unpeeled garlic cloves. Place vegetables diagonally over base of 10-by-14-inch roasting pan.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Insert meat thermometer into thickest part of leg. Place seasoned lamb fat side up on bed of vegetables and roast for 20-30 minutes or until sizzling and beginning to brown. Reduce heat to 375°F and roast 30-40 minutes. Remove lamb promptly when thermometer reaches 130°-140°F. Do not roast longer unless you plan to serve well-done lamb; temperature will rise 5-10 degrees as lamb rests for 20 minutes before carving. [To test lamb for doneness without a thermometer, insert long metal skewer into thick section. Hold in place to count of 10; remove skewer and place it just above your upper lip. If skewer is warmer than comfortable, lamb is done.]
To prepare sauce: Lift lamb from roasting pan and pour off excess fat. Remove any vegetable bits that have burned. Pour in stock to soften all browned bits. Scrape cooked vegetables and stock into saucepan. Bring to low boil and simmer 5-10 minutes to intensely flavor stock. Crumble in roux, whisk to dissolve, and simmer to richly flavored sauce. Add fresh lemon juice to taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Strain sauce through a sieve before serving. Carve lamb in thin slices lengthwise in direction of the bone. A 6 lb. leg of lamb will serve 10 and still have leftovers.