Herb-Scented Roast Leg of Lamb

easter lamb new.jpg

Photo by Maria Robledo

From Sally Schneider's full menu for Easter at the next-to-last minute.

After many years of cooking legs of lamb, this is the method I return to time and again. Cooking lamb at a slow 325°F ensures a truly tender, uniformly rosy roast without the usual extremes of well-done outside and raw at the bone.

The rosemary-thyme-and-lavender salt is a fragrant seasoning that carries the mellow Provençal flavors into the flesh. The lamb is best seasoned a day or two ahead, but even a few hours ahead is fine; if the interior of the meat is slightly undersalted, simply sprinkle a few grains of fine sea salt on each slice. You can use this basic method with other flavorings, from Moroccan-style mixes of cumin, coriander, and cinnamon to anchovies and garlic.

Serves 8 to 10.

Rosemary, Thyme and Lavender Salt:
    • 1 medium garlic clove, peeled
    • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 2/3 cup loosely packed fresh rosemary and thyme leaves, in any combination
    • 1/4 teaspoon dried lavender flowers or minced fresh leaves (optional)
    • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    • 6-pound leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat
    • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • Rosemary, thyme, and/or lavender sprigs for garnishing

On a cutting board, mince the garlic with the salt. Place the rosemary and lavender in a mound and coarsely chop them. Add the garlic salt and the pepper and chop them together finely to make a rub.

Rub the lamb with the herb salt to coat completely. Wrap in freezer paper or simply set the roast on a platter. Refrigerate, preferably for 48 hours, although even a few hours will do.

Bring the leg to room temperature about 4 hours before roasting. Position the oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 325' F. Blot the leg dry with paper towels.

Massage the whole leg with olive oil (this will help it to brown as it roasts).

Roast until an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads 125' to 130' for medium rare, 10 to 12 minutes per pound (the temperature will rise about 10 degrees out of the oven).

Remove the roast from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and let rest in a warm place 20 minutes before carving. This will allow the juices in the roast to redistribute, making for a much more tender roast.

Slice the meat against the grain, at right angles to the direction of the faint striations or muscle fibers. In a bone-in leg of lamb, because there are several different muscles, the grain will shift. Hold the shank end with a towel with the meaty part of the leg facing up. Using a thin, sharp knife, begin at the shank end making thin vertical slices down to the bone.

Then cut the slices free from the bone by cutting parallel to, and against the bone. Continue from end to end, rotating the leg to carve the meat from all sides. If you can, keep an eye on the changes in the grain, changing the angle of your knife accordingly to keep cutting at right angles to it.

Variation: Rolled, Boneless Leg of Lamb

Boneless legs of lamb take seasoning more quickly than bone-in ones and are easier to slice, though they don't have quite the richness of flavor. They are usually rolled into a slightly bulbous shape with one thicker end, that makes even cooking difficult. I devised this simple method to roll boneless legs into a uniform log, which insures even cooking and easy slicing.

Spread the lamb skin-side-down on a work surface with the grain of the meat running from right to left (or parallel to the edge of the counter). Season as desired, using the Rosemary, Thyme and Lavender Salt (from Herb-Scented Leg of Lamb) rubbing it into both sides of the meat). Alternatively, spread the lamb with an Crushed Olives with Herbs.

Working on a slight diagonal, roll the lamb lengthwise into a uniform sausage shape about 5 inches in diameter. Cut off the small, sinewy flap of skin left at the end that you have no way of tucking in. (Sauté it up as a snack or light meal.) Tie the rolled lamb with cotton string at 1-inch intervals.

Marinate, bring to room temperature, massage with oil, roast and rest as directed in Herb-Scented Leg of Lamb (above).

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.

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