It is rare that I am intimidated by a piece of meat. But this past weekend, when I was entrusted with a beautiful, three-and-a-quarter-lb. leg of grassfed lamb to prepare for dinner the following evening with the good folks from White House Meats, I'm not going to lie: I was nervous.
Mostly, my concern was that I would mess it up. I mean, sure, I have cooked quite a bit of lamb in my day. But it was always in stews or curries. And this leg, oh, it was not meant to be cubed and slathered in an intense marinade. It was meant to be grilled and served rare. And me without a decent meat thermometer. (There you have it: a confession. "Forgive me father, for I have overcooked....") Whenever the esteemed Leg Of Lamb was prepared in my family, it was always dad or my brother out searing it on the grill. Now, I'd thought the guys might pick me up a roast or something that I could cube up for a lamb curry, but no: after the butchering demonstration they attended in Front Royal over the weekend, the guys handed me one of the most gorgeous pieces of meat I've ever laid eyes on. (Yeah, I probably need to get out more.) Ah. Stunning.
So what did I do? Well, after flipping through my copy of the Niman Ranch Cookbook (and cursing at myself for returning to dad the copy of The Grassfed Gourmet cookbook... yes, that I had given him as a gift, but still....), I put in a call to my best friend. Felicity and I talked through a number of potential recipes -- all kinds of dry rubs and wet marinades inspired by cuisine around the world -- before settling on a simple North African chermoula. Flavorful, but not something that would mask the distinct terroir of the meat. Yes, that would do nicely.
Along with Adam's lovely kale salad, a somewhat respectable variation on pulao prepared by yours truly (a rice dish that only very narrowly resembled the North Indian staple, as mine featured cilantro, toasted almonds, and grated sweet potatoes), and a few bottles of wine (and a bit of bubbly) from Jon, Seth, and Wolf, the lamb was simply delicious. Wrapped up with a freshly baked chocolate torte -- my, it's been awhile since I've made one of those -- it was a meal that I will not soon forget. I mean, look at Seth's masterful carving job here:
In case you get your hands on a good leg of lamb, here's roughly how to make your own
Roasted Leg of Lamb with Chermoula
Combine in a small bowl: 1 large handful of chopped fresh cilantro, 1 large handful of chopped fresh flatleaf parsley, 1 small minced onion, juice from 1 lemon, 1-2 T olive oil, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika powder, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, 4 minced garlic cloves.
Rub mixture all over a 3-lb. leg of grassfed lamb. Place lamb in a plastic bag (this can be the one it came in) and marinate in the fridge for 24 hours.
Heat a pan on the stove until it's hot. (I mean really hot. I like my roasting pans like I like my lovers: smoking hot. Heheh.) Wipe off as much marinade as possible from the leg of lamb, then sear each side of it in the pan. You may want to disconnect your smoke alarm temporarily...
Let the lamb rest under a towel on a cutting board while you preheat the oven. Once it reaches 350F, put the lamb on a roasting pan (or in my case, a metal cooling rack on a cookie sheet) and cook in the oven for about 45 minutes (for rare). Let meat rest under foil on a carving board for at least 15 minutes.
Carve and devour.