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March 28, 2013

How to cook the perfect leg of lamb for Easter dinner

Photos/Ellen Fox Emerson
Leg of lamb looks, smells and tastes best when served rare or pink.
Fresh asparagus, roasted potatoes and Yorkshire pudding round out the perfect plate.
This leg of lamb at the Marshall IGA came from nearby western Loudoun County.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Lamb ranks as my favorite meat. In my youth, we could get lamb only in the spring, which made it that much more special. These days, however, one can buy lamb almost any time of year.

My mother always served leg of lamb for Easter dinner, a tradition that continues at my brother’s home. Along with the lamb, she served roasted potatoes and fresh asparagus, another springtime treat that modern, global agriculture makes available all the time.

Recently I read that lamb had relatively few fans in America because it generally got overcooked – until grey in color and without flavor. It tastes, looks and smells best when served rare or pink.

In my search for lamb, the Marshall IGA has the most beautiful leg I’ve seen so far. It looks like the leg of lamb my mother always served. Beautifully trimmed, pasture-raised, without antibiotics or hormones, it came from Fields of Athenry Farm in Purcellville. Unfortunately, I found it after I already had cooked mine for this column.

Many of the grocery stores have semi-boned legs of lamb, with the shank (lower part of the leg) removed. Of course, they’re smaller and fit more easily in a roasting pan. It’s whatever you prefer.

Leg of lamb is easy to prepare. I believe the two key things to do for the perfect roast:

• First, to bring it to room temperature before cooking. Let it sit on the counter for perhaps two hours.

• Then, allow the meat to “rest” for 20 to 30 minutes after taking out of the oven.

Traditional leg of lamb with roasted potatoes
Serves 6

5- to 7-pound leg of lamb (bone-in) at room temperature
8 cloves of garlic peeled and cut in slivers
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons of dried rosemary, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
6 white potatoes, peeled and halved
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Sprigs of rosemary for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°. Make 10 to 12 one-inch cuts over the top of the lamb with a sharp paring knife. Push the slivers of garlic into the slits. Then rub the lamb all over with the olive oil and then lemon juice. Season with the rosemary, salt and pepper.

Place the lamb in the roasting pan. Coat the potatoes with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place around the lamb.

Roast for 1¼ hours and then check the temperature with a thermometer. Typically it takes are 15 minutes per pound for rare meat, 17 minutes per pound for medium-rare, 19 minutes for medium. Rare lamb is 125°F, medium-rare is 130°F, medium 140°F and medium-well 140°.

Cooking the lamb above 140°F will completely ruin it.

Take the roast out of the oven when it is about 10 degrees away from the temperature you desire; it will continue to cook. Cover the leg of lamb with foil and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes. This allows the juices to settle and the lamb will be easier to carve.

While the lamb is resting keep the potatoes in the oven on warm and prepare your side vegetable. Place on you’re the lamb on your carving platter, surround with roast potatoes and garnish with fresh rosemary.
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