Oddly, my most vivid memory of a leg of lamb comes from my years of living in France and not my childhood kitchen. I was strolling in an open-air market and stopped in fascination in front of a rotisserie. There, in the midst of tables of fresh vegetables, I stood, transfixed. An enormous leg of lamb was slowly turning and was the deepest golden brown. At the bottom were various fingerling potatoes and onions that clearly had been cooked in the drippings. I honestly wasn’t sure what looked better, the meat or the vegetables.
I have been imitating that experience ever since. I save the rosemary to be mixed in with the vegetables and the cooking juices once the meat is cooked. I find that when rosemary is cooked too long, it tastes medicinal instead of herbaceous and fresh.
Easter Leg of Lamb
1 leg of lamb (ranging from 8 to 10 pounds), bone in
1 small bunch thyme, stemmed
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon chili flakes
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
10 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
2 “stalks” fresh rosemary, completely stemmed
2 pounds small potatoes
2 pounds small onions
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Prepare the meat: Place the leg of lamb on a flat surface and trim any excess fat. Remember that a little fat is good for long-term roasting. It keeps the meat from drying out (and it tastes delicious).
In a small bowl, combine the elements of what is, in essence, a dry rub. Combine the thyme, salt, chili flakes, cumin and coriander. Mix to blend and rub all around the outside of the lamb. Use a small knife to cut 20 shallow incisions all around the leg and insert a half a clove of garlic in each one.
Place the meat in a roasting pan. If you have a rack, place the meat on the rack inside the roasting pan. Arrange the small potatoes and onions around and under the meat. Add the white wine (the liquid will create steam and help to prevent burning). The vegetables will be “basted” by the drippings as the lamb cooks.
Finish the meat: After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Cook for an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature at the thickest part of the leg. An ideal internal temperature is about 125 degrees F. That way, the meat will rise a few degrees as it rests to 135 degrees F and be a perfect medium rare.
Cook a little less if you’re looking for rare and a little more if you want closer to medium. When the meat is cooked, remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool slightly. Stem the rosemary and mix it with the vegetables and the mustard. Baste the meat with the juices. Allow it to rest for about 15 minutes before carving. That will give you ample time to pick off a crispy edge of skin and nibble on it when no one is looking.
Every week, Alex Guarnaschelli, host of Alex’s Day Off, shares with readers what she’s eating — whether it’s from the farmers’ market or fresh off the boat, she’ll have you craving everything from comfort food to seasonal produce.