The tradition of having lamb on Easter dates back prior to actual celebration of Easter, when our European ancestors (and I mean most of them) ranging from Scandinavia to Eastern Europe and down through the boot of Italy and every Greek island, feasted on lamb to welcome the coming of spring. Lamb has always been much more popular in Europe than in America, where ham seems to have the edge. Ham, in the days before refrigeration, was smoked or cured during the winter and it had aged just enough to be ready to eat in the spring, thus making it both economical and celebratory and a large enough main course of the family holiday table.
Lamb should be a dark cherry red in color and well marbled. Handle it like you would beef, but lamb pairs much better with many more seasoning profiles than beef. It’s a friend to almost every herb imaginable; you can have it zesty, savory, sweet, spicy, floral or crispy and refreshing. From mint to curry, to chili to tarragon — you can’t have a more diverse flavor than those! Lamb goes fabulously with everything in between.
Try lamb. You owe to yourself, if not for Easter try it as a Sunday dinner. I have two recipes both of which are sure fire successes. Pair the cold left overs with arugula, or spinach and a dollop or two of plain Greek yogurt for a wonderful sandwich lunch wrap.
Lamb Shoulder Roast
If you can find a lamb shoulder, buy it and slow cook it! It’s half the price of a leg of lamb. Think of it as a pork picnic roast, and you can prepare it in the same manner, since both cuts come from the same part of the animal. Slow cooking breaks down the meat and makes it fork tender. If you can’t get a shoulder, buy the leg, and follow the same directions.
- 1 Lamb Shoulder (weight determined by what your butcher has available, usually 3 to 5 lbs.)
- 1 Head of Garlic
- Olive Oil (enough to coat the meat)
- 1 Bunch of Fresh Rosemary (still in stalks)
- Kosher Salt and Fresh ground pepper to taste
1. Pre-heat your oven to its highest possible temp, around 500 F.
Score the fat side of the lamb randomly with a knife. Let the lamb come to room temperature.
2. Smash the head of garlic and toss some of the cloves in the bottom of a heavy roasting pan. Place half the rosemary stalks in there too and set the lamb on top.
3. Slice the remaining garlic cloves and slide into the slits you made in the fat. Place rest of the rosemary on top of the meat and, then lightly coat with olive oil and salt and pepper. Cover with tin foil and set in the oven.
3. Reduce heat to 325 F and cook for 4 hours. By setting the oven so high in the beginning you sear the meat straight off and as the heat reduces to the set temperature the oven does all the work slow cooking your roast.
4. After approximately 4 hours remove from the oven and let the meat rest. You will know it’s done if the meat falls off the bone when you pull at it with a fork.
5. Gravy: Place the pan over low heat. Remove the rosemary and discard. Remove and use the garlic cloves (which are now roasted to a wonderful essence) to flavor mashed turnips or potatoes. Use the pan juices to make gravy by adding a little flour and water (mixed into a slurry before putting in the pan). Bring to a soft boil and stir until thickened. Season to taste.
Grilled Butterfly Leg of Lamb
Have your butcher butterfly a leg of lamb and remove the bone. They will do it for you if you ask. Keep the bone if you wish to make stock. A butterfly leg is no longer columnar, but lays flat thus making it perfect for the grill. Again the ingredients are the same as in the shoulder roast with the optional omission of rosemary, which will burn up completely on the grill and make pretty little flames as it burns.
1. When the meat is at room temperature, Coat the meat with salt, pepper, olive oil and (I use garlic powder in this application because of the grill–cloves don’t do well here– but DON”T TELL MICHELLE). You can add any other dried spice combination you wish to the meat and rub in on.
2. On a blazing hot, flaming grill set your prepared leg. Let it sear on one side for a few minutes, until it comes off the grate easily but don’t burn it. Sear the meat other side, then reduce the flames to medium and shut your grill. Check every few minutes. Cooking Time Will Depend on how hot the grill is and how thick the leg is, but you want to remove it when it is medium rare or medium, not sanguine but still bright pink in the middle. If you have to — check it by making a tiny incision, not a wide slice or you’ll lose all the juices. A meat thermometer works too, but remove from the grill before taking the temp. (Medium-rare is anywhere from 130 F to 140 F, but remember the temp will rise as the meat rests)
3. Let rest and serve.