I grew up thinking that eating lamb was akin to eating Lamb Chop, the sock puppet-like companion to Shari Lewis whom I loved and whom my parents found grating. In other words, it would have been like eating one of my own fuzzy stuffed animals.
I had also learned somewhere that lamb was typically served with mint, something that sounded similar to eating toothpaste, lending little appeal to the entire idea.
Thankfully my tastes have matured. There is absolutely excellent lamb available here, so I’ve begun to experiment with both cooking it and eating it, enjoying everything from ragout and gyros to one of my favorites, a braised lamb shank with polenta at a favorite local restaurant.
In honor of Trailing of the Sheep coming up next weekend, it seemed like the time to experiment a little more seriously. The lamb ragout I made last winter was certainly good, but it was made with ground lamb, something that seemed like a “gateway” to working with an actual cut of meat.
I started with a butterflied leg of lamb after reading an old food column by Mark Bittman, food writer at The New York Times. A mixture of parsley, rosemary, lemon zest and garlic is smeared all over the inner surface of the butterflied leg. The leg is folded in half with more herbs smeared on top, then roasted until medium or medium-rare.
Yum, is all I have to say. About as far from stodgy mint jelly as one can get, the herbs—which Bittman calls a persillade, a combination of parsley and garlic typically used on the outside of meat—bring lightness and bite to what could ostensibly be a pretty dense, boring slab of meat.
This recipe is not at all as complicated as it seems—much of it is exactly how to use the persillade and how to arrange the leg in the pan.
I did increase the amount of garlic in the filling, and I have also increased the amount of rosemary, as I felt the parsley needed something else to balance it out a little.
When I went to roast the leg, it was not as neatly butterflied as Bittman’s obviously was, and it worked its way out of its fold and flattened. It was still good, but I’m going to recommend that you tie yours if there is any doubt that it might not stay together.
If you happen to notice yours has unfolded halfway through the cooking process, shorten the cooking time just a little, as it will take less time for the flattened meat to reach the appropriate temperature.
Otherwise, this is a pretty dumb-proof recipe, perfect to throw in the oven after a long day of Trailing of the Sheep festivities. Serve with a spinach-lemon salad and buttery smashed potatoes like I did, and you have a perfect fall meal to share with friends.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inside-out Lamb Persillade
Adapted from Mark Bittman
Butterflied leg of lamb, 3 to 4 pounds
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cups parsley leaves
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves or 2 tsp dried rosemary
5 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Trim excess fat from lamb. In a food processor, make persillade by puréeing olive oil, parsley, rosemary, garlic, lemon zest and some salt and pepper.
Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper on both sides, then turn so the side that had been on the bone, the one with the more irregular surface, is facing up, with the wider end facing you. Smear the surface of lamb with most of persillade mixture, then fold it in half (there will be a kind of natural hinge, as you’ll see) with persillade on the inside. Tie if desired, to keep everything compact. Smear the remaining persillade on outside of the lamb and sprinkle with more salt and pepper.
Put lamb in a roasting pan (I used a cast iron skillet) and cook for about 35 to 40 minutes for rare meat, or until an instant thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 130 degrees. For medium rare, 135 degrees.
Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and let it rest for a few minutes; slice, and serve to eight very hungry people.