Petey, this one’s for you! For everybody else, my dear friend Peter called last week looking for advice. His Easter Leg of Lamb should have come out a masterpiece, but, instead, it was ‘toast’. More precisely, in his words: Shoe Leather. However, there are lots of ways to avoid overcooking Lamb…
There’s a widespread belief out there that you have cook Lamb well-done to ensure that it’s safe to eat. Nonsense. Like any other meat, you cook it until it’s properly done. And there are several factors, all working together, that determine the ‘done’ point.
First, there’s the size of the roast. You have to consider the total weight, whether the bone is in or not, and the width of cross section at the widest point.
Total weight of a Lamb leg will tell you something about how long to cook it. But this cut is one that’s long and narrow. It’ll cook faster than a roughly-square roast of Beef or a Ham.
If the bone is in, the Leg will cook faster than if it’s out. That’s because the bone will conduct the heat into the centre of the Leg at the same time as the outside cooks. It’s sometimes difficult to measure the overall internal temperature of a bone-in roast, too, because it’s hard to insert a meat thermometer in the correct manner without getting too close to the bone or too close to the surface of the roast. Either error will produce a faulty reading.
If you have a boneless, rolled, tied Leg roast, you can use a thermometer in the usual way.
It’s important to keep the roast moist, which beings us to tier two in the Lamb techniques pantheon.
Do you plan to put some liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan? Will you be cooking the Leg covered or uncovered? How much fat is on the outside of the roast? Should you add more?
I always put some liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan. Beef Stock, Red Wine and a little Tomato Paste go well together. Make up enough liquid to fill the roasting pan at least half an inch up from the bottom. Which gently to dissolve the Tomato Paste in the other liquids. You’ll probably need a litre/quart of Stock plus half a bottle of Red Wine for the average roasting pan. Add enough water to fill the pan to the appropriate level.
I always start the Lamb Leg at 425 F or 450 F, for about 20 minutes – just until the outside gets nice and brown – then turn it down to 350 F for the remainder of cooking. The high heat also starts the fat cap rendering and dripping down onto and into the roast. This is important. If your Lamb Leg is not very well clothed in fat (and chances are it’s not), a favourite technique among Lamb lovers is to bard it – that is, wrap the top and sides in strips of sweet-cured, smoky Bacon. This not only ensures that the roast will remain moist, it adds a beautiful smoky edge to the flavour which works unbelievably well with Lamb!
Covered or uncovered?
I always start the roast uncovered, to assist the browning, then cover with foil or the roasting pan lid and turn the temperature down. I check the roast at the 45-minute mark to test its doneness. Double-check the thermometer by poking the road in the thickest part of the meat with your finger. If it feels slightly soft and bounces back smartly, it’s probably done just right!
Also… To enhance the colour of the roast further and help ensure moistness, baste liberally with the pan juices every 15 minutes or so. This can really put your Leg of lamb over the top, flavour-wise…
So, Peter: Call me and we’ll talk. It’s been too long, bud!
~ Maggie J.