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For me, just hearing the word spring makes me think about lamb. Maybe that's because before improved animal husbandry made lamb available year round, lamb has always been associated with spring and called "Spring lamb." With the arrival of spring, even today, lamb lovers look to eat lots of lamb.
Today's lamb are tender creatures, except for the shanks, neck and shoulder, the rest of the beast is tender enough to be cooked by dry heat, like grilling and roasting. Even shoulder and blade chops can be grilled, although, I think they are always better cooked by moist heat, such as braising.
For roasting, nothing beats the leg, especially when coated with lots of garlic, mustard and rosemary. During grilling months, the leg can be bought butterflied. This boneless uneven hunk can be marinated and cooked on a covered grill, either over direct heat or indirectly.
Roast Leg of Lamb
Mustard-Rosemary Paste for Lamb
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 6-to-8 pound whole leg of lamb, shank intact, hipbone removed, OR 5-pound boned and rolled leg, OR a short leg (about 4 pounds), OR semiboneless shank half (about 3-1/2 pounds).
There is no more festive dish then a roast leg of lamb, accompanied by oven roasted herbed potatoes and barely cooked fresh green beans with garlic and walnut oil. We think Pinot Noir was made to go with lamb - try one from California's Russian River region or a Volnay from the Cote de Beaune in Burgundy.
If you're using the mustard-rosemary paste, mix the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Trim most of the visible fat from the lamb. If using a whole leg with the hipbone removed, skewer or sew together the flaps of meat where the bones were removed. Brush the meat with the mustard-rosemary paste or other coating and let it sit for up to two hours at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350oF. Roast the lamb in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. When the internal temperature of the thickest part reads 115o to 120 o F, remove it from the oven if you want beautiful, rosy, rare lamb. A temperature of 130 o to 140 o F will yield a medium roast. A shank half will take about 1 hour, a whole leg will take 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours, a bone and rolled leg, 1-1/2 to 2 hours and a short leg 1 to 1-1/4 hours. All these times are approximate; the most important determinant of doneness is the internal temperature.
It is very important that the roast rest for at least 20 minutes, loosely covered with foil, before carving and serving. A whole leg serves 6-8.
How to Choose a Leg of Lamb
The leg is the most versatile cut of the lamb. It is a tender cut, though not as tender as meat from the rib or sirloin. A whole leg may weigh 5 to 9 pounds, depending on how much of the sirloin is included and whether it has been cut in America, Australia, or New Zealand.
The leg can be completely boned; it is often sold butterflied for grilling or boneless, rolled, and tied (or netted) for roasting. This type of roast is perfect for stuffing; just remove the net, fill the cavity left by the bone with a savory dressing, and tie it up again.
Half legs of lamb are also sold; the shank end is less meaty and a bit chewy; the sirloin end has more meat and is more tender, making it perfect for kebabs or chops. Either makes an ideal roast for a family of four since the lamb usually weighs 3 to 4 pounds. The whole sirloin, in particular, can be cut off the leg, boned, and rolled to make a 2-pound roast, just right for a small family or dinner party. To cook these roasts, follow the directions for whole legs and adjust the cooking times, using internal temperatures as your guide. The short leg, which has the sirloin and hipbone removed, is also a good choice.
The most economical choice is a full leg of lamb; ask the butcher to cut three or four 3/4 to 1-1/4 inch thick sirloin chops off the sirloin end. This gives you some nice chops for one meal and the remaining leg to roast for another.
Bruce Aidells is the founder of Aidells Sausage Company & has written and co-authored nine cookbooks including meat and poultry chapters for The New Joy of Cooking.