So far we’ve had about one twelfth of a lamb and made 11 plates of food. Last Sunday we had a family get-together and so I decided to use one of the joints. I was once told by a butcher that the front part of most beasts is sweeter and more tender than the rear. As someone who likes simple messages I’ve used that ever since. If I’ve bought lamb I’ve tended to have a shoulder rather than the leg.
The butchered carcass comes with the bone in on all the joints. Although I am happy boning most joints I am terrible at tying and the joint just looks like it is trying to escape when I have finished (another skill I’d like to add to my list). As a result I tend to have the joint boned and rolled for me.
Great lamb needs a little nudge to draw out the sweetness, cut through the fat and temper the gaminess. There are some classic combinations – rosemary, mint, garlic, redcurrant and lemon spring to mind. I am very fond of the marvellous Simon Hopkinson recipe where the joint is studded with rosemary sprigs, anchovy fillets, and garlic slices.
This time I decided to test myself a little and so I chose a leg joint with the bone in. The recipe I went for was from Cara Nicoletti on the Food 52 website. It is all in a good article called The Best Way to Make a Roasted Leg Of Lamb – about choosing and cooking lamb in general and is a very good read. The recipe uses what I have heard described as Merguez spicing. I made the marinade of lemon juice, garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, lashings of pepper, cumin and coriander and sat the lamb in it overnight.
I then scraped off the excess and used a roasting bag (a very tight squeeze) so that all the flavour would be kept in and the steam effect is much better than with a foil cover. With a 4.5lb joint I gave it 15m at 220 degrees and then dropped it to 180 degrees for another hour. I really like the temperature test with joints and, although the recipe recommends 140 degrees for medium rare, my guests like medium and so I went for 150 degrees using my meat probe thermometer and it worked a treat. I could just prick the roasting bag to test without disturbing too much. I left the joint out of the oven in the bag to rest for half an hour before carving.
I sought out advice on carving too and the trick with a leg of lamb is to carve perpendicular slices down to the bone and then run the knife along the bone to release them. I’m not the most confident carver wither but it worked well enough. The lamb was just cooked with a hint of pink and the joint just had enough for 6 healthy appetites. The merguez mix worked but the strongest flavour was the garlic. I would have upped the cayenne pepper next time.
Although it’s a heady mixture the marinade is only going to lift the flavours – this isn’t going to turn it into a Mediterranean dish and so I could still choose the vegetables of choice. In this case I went for mashed potatoes, roasted winter vegetables (squash, parsnip, tomato, red onion, and capsicum) and a broccoli and cauliflower cheese bake. All of this was served with a mint gravy with some of the merguez juices running through it.
The dish takes my running total to 17 plates of food from the half a lamb so far.