When you’re “on the lamb,” you’re definitely hiding from something. And if you’re “on the lamb” (from learning how to properly roast a leg of lamb that is), it’s time to turn yourself in, because I have some simple lamb-roasting tips for what could surely become one of your most memorable Easter dinners–ever.
Now, I know you have many choices for your Easter dinner centerpiece. Among them are ham, turkey and beef. But of all those choices, lamb is perhaps the most traditional, dating back even before Christianity as the traditional meal of the Jewish Passover.
As lamb goes, the most popular cut is the leg, either bone-in or boneless, with boneless as the favorite among Nino’s shoppers. Our butchers here are on double duty in the days leading up to the Easter holiday, trimming, boning and then carefully netting each leg before sealing it in an air-tight wrap.
From there, it’s all up to you, so let me give you the most important tips you need to know so that your lamb will be a spectacular centerpiece on your dinner table. These tips apply to both bone-in and boneless legs of lamb, but let me start with the BONE-IN version. First, you might ask yourself, why in the heck would you buy a bone-in leg of lamb? Well, I must admit that a bone-in leg of lamb comes with particular (albeit small) challenges. Not the least of which is making sure you choose one that’s suitably sized for your oven (most are). Secondly, I recommend searing the outside of the meat in hot oil before roasting, and that too can become a bit more problematic when you have the extra length of the leg bone to contend with in a bone-in leg of lamb.
Still, all of that isn’t much of an issue when you consider the upside, which because of the bone, is (or can be) more flavorful and juicy. Not to mention the way-cool factor of carving the meat off the bone at the dinner table rather than slicing from a loaf like thick lunch meat. While I’m on this, if you do choose a bone-in leg of lamb, let’s talk about how you should carve it. Keep in mind that the leg of any roasted meat, whether lamb, beef or pork, is less tender than the rib, loin or tenderloin. So to ensure that your leg eats as tender as possible, follow these tips: 1. Let the roast rest about 10 to 15 minutes after it comes out of the oven, which will allow the meat to reabsorb some of the juices. 2. Wrap a piece of foil and then a decorative napkin around the narrow foot/shin area. That will be your handle while carving. 3. Hold the leg vertically, resting the meat end against a service platter. 4. If possible, use a sharp, non-serrated knife. Serrated knives tend to shred the meat and give you a less-clean cut. 5. Slice ¼” thick slices of meat off the bone at a right angle to the bone. This 90-degree angle to the bone will ensure a tenderer piece of meat.
Lastly, as it turns out, the leg is two different muscles running up and down on either side of the leg bone. One is the inside muscle, or top round, and it’s more tender than the outside muscle, or bottom round. So, as you are carving slices off the bone, it will turn out that some slices will inevitably be more tender than others (I tell you this so that you don’t think it’s something you did wrong if you hear this comment). Now, let’s talk about the boneless leg of lamb. First, if it comes from Nino’s, it will be: • Completely trimmed and boneless • Netted with elastic netting • Sealed in an air-tight plastic pouch
It will also be unseasoned, which is one of the very few things you have to do. Lucky you! To roast your boneless leg of lamb, all you have to do is: 1. Carefully remove the plastic pouch while leaving the netting on. 2. Sear your roast on all sides in hot oil until it is nice and brown. (Olive or vegetable oil is fine.) 3. Season your roast (I prefer to use chopped, fresh garlic; fresh rosemary; fresh thyme; fresh oregano and lemon pepper). Season liberally. 4. Place your roast on a roasting rack above the roasting pan. 5. Place in an oven pre-heated to 300 F to 350 F (no more). 6. Roast to your preferred doneness. (See my Roasting Guide Tips.)
Now, please, please, please, do yourself a favor and have an insta-read thermometer handy. It’s the only way you’ll truly know how done your roast is. This “how many pounds at whatever temperature for whatever time” is for the birds. It doesn’t take into account what temperature the roast was when it went into the oven, that you actually know its correct weight, or that your oven is calibrated to be as hot as the dial says it is. Having said that, if you are roasting a bone-in leg of lamb, DON’T insert the thermometer needle near the bone. It will give you a false (high) reading. Instead, insert it into the thickest part of the meat only. There you have it! Follow these simple tips, and you’ll be surprised how easy a roasted leg of lamb is to prepare.
If you’d like roasting and seasoning tips, click on these helpful guides: Nino’s Roasting Guide