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Roast leg of lamb
Identifying good lamb
The secret of buying lamb is quite simple: not too much fat on the outside of the joint, as few white pieces of sinew as possible, and then, the absolute lamb buying mantra.... Pink... Pink...Pink ! The meat should be pink, not red and the joint should be firm to the touch.
If you're planning your Lamb for a Sunday lunch, please remember to buy the joint by Thursday lunchtime. Most butchers sell out fast thereafter; to efficient housewives on a Friday, to us less efficient mortals on a Saturday morning!!
The quality of a Lamb joint generally is, it seems to me, more uniform than, say, Beef, but of course it is best to buy your Lamb joint from a source when the lambs have been allowed to frisk about joyfully, are fed good grasses and, as in France, fresh herbs. The latter is a relatively new phenomenon and adds significantly to the flavour of the meat.
Contrary to my recipe for Roast Beef, where I suggest the larger the better is terms of joint size, with roast lamb I suggest (and many will disagree) that a very large leg of lamb will have significantly less flavour than a small one. I also suggest that cold Roast Lamb, and almost anything made from it - apart from possibly lamb and mint sandwiches - is not nice. So, buy according to the number of people you are expecting.
When you get your lamb joint home, place it in the fridge, if possible wrapped in silver foil. Add a few tablespoons of Olive oil, some Rosemary, some Thyme, and even some fresh Lavender inside to foil and fold the edges together. If you like garlic, stab the skin of the joint with a small, sharp knife in at least 8 places, and insert a peeled garlic clove into the hole. This process will add a delicious flavour. Try and remember to turn the joint occasionally so the herbs infuse into all parts of the joint.
Preheat the oven to about 180 - 200 C. If possible, use a roasting tin with a lid and before putting in the joint place as many herbs (see above) as you can on the bottom of the dish. Pour over some Olive oil and leave for a few minutes.
Season the joint well, not being too restrained with the salt, and place in the roasting tin on its bed of herbs. I personally do not "seal" lamb before roasting it.
At this point add slightly less than 1/2 pint (say 400cc's) of cold water to the joint, and a similar amount of white wine. The purpose of this is to keep the meat moist as it roasts, otherwise there can be the tendency for the meat to dry out during cooking. Don't worry, the liquid will evaporate.
Basting is not as important as with other meats, as the garlic and the herbs already in the meat will contribute their own flavours, and the water/wine will keep the meat moist, but it is worth checking the joint every now and then, and slopping some of the liquids over the meat.
Cooking times vary a little with lamb. Lamb which is cooked rare is predominately the way the French do it, with blood oozing all over the place and turning their roast potatoes red.
I have always had my doubts as to whether people who eat rare lamb, actually enjoy it or rather feel it contributes to their air of gallic sophistication, but if you like your lamb rare, give it about 17 minutes per pound (450 grams).
In my humble opinion lamb should be pink in the middle, with the meat cooked to a nutty brown colour around the outside. To achieve this, give the meat about 20 minutes per pound (450 Grams) with an extra 15 minutes for luck.
An alternative way to roast lamb: slow roasting
I tried this out today and have to say the results were wonderful. If you are aiming for lunch at say 1pm, haul yourself out of bed at 7am and turn on the oven to about 70C (160F) and place the lamb, wrapped up in foil, into the oven. Leave for 3 hours, and then turn up the oven a little to about 140C for another couple of hours, and then finally turn up again to 180C and at this point open the foil package to expose the meat. Leave for the final hour and then remove from the oven, recover in foil and let rest (see below) - the meat will be so wonderfully tender and moist. It is a wonderful alternative ! Enjoy
Letting the meat rest
Once the cooking has completed, take the joint out of the roasting dish and place it on its own separate dish, cover it loosely with tin-foil and leave it to “rest” for about 15 minutes in a warm part of the kitchen. This is absolutely essential as the juices, which has been drawn towards the surface of the joint will “relax” and diffuse back into the joint. The resting time also gives you time to make a delicious gravy.
Gravy for lamb
Gravy for lamb is not quite the same gravy as the one for Roast Beef. Place the roasting dish on the stove (if need be light 2 rings onto a very low heat, one for either end) and allow the juice to heat up a little.
Add a cup of a dry white or red wine (white wine makes the gravy more subtle, red wine more potent) to the roasting tin, and thoroughly deglaze it on a high heat. This will also evaporate the alcohol from the wine.
Add a little water (if you are cooking vegetables, add a little of their water!) and, if to hand, some Worcester Sauce or Maggi, and a flat teaspoon of store bought mint sauce, and once again bring to a low simmer.
Now add 1 generous teaspoon of orange marmalade, or sweet jelly, a small teaspoon of mustard, and a generous scrape of Nutmeg, and stir in. If you are really feeling naughty, you can add some crème fraiche!
Continue to heat everything on the stove, adding small amounts of water (or cream or more wine, depending on taste) waiting til the gravy begins to thicken on its own (please don't add cornflour!) - Lamb gravy is actually more of a Jus - and then carefully sieve the lot, with the gravy reserved in a bowl (don't do what I once did and, without thinking, sieved the gravy over the kitchen sink).
Remember you need enough gravy for the number of people at the table, and they will take loads of gravy... it's that good.
Well, I am an Englishman so for me, a few hand-torn mint-leaves, mixed with a little warm Greek honey and a good quality vinegar is a delightful addition to Roast Lamb, but... there are those that don't like the idea, and are very vociferous in their sneering opinions.
My suggestion is in the same vein as the instructions on the side of a packet of spot-remover. Try a little to see if it works for you !! If you don't like it, then... don't have it !
However where I draw the line is at those who proceed to slosh it all over the lamb, as I am afraid some of my fellow countrymen do. I prefer to delicately dip the lamb into a tiny dish by my plate containing mint-sauce en route to my mouth.