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Roast Leg Of Lamb

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With spring just days away, it's not to early to start thinking about renewing one of the season's most succulent dishes, roast leg of lamb.  You can go two ways with this roast, either bone-in or boneless.  As it turns out, both Chef Jerry Pellegrino and I prefer the flexability of the boneless cut, although there is a time and place for a big old bone-in leg of lamb.

The advantage to working with a boneless leg of lamb is that the removal of the bone essentially allows you to "butterfly" the meat, which gives you access to the interior of the cut.  What this means is that you can season the lamb from the inside out, which greatly enhances the finished flavor.

Open up the roast, and lay it flat.  Sprinkle it copiously with salt and pepper, then cut little holes with your knife tip for inserting slivers of garlic.  About a dozen is good.  You can also toss in sprigs of rosemary and thyme.

Fold the roast back up and lay it on a cutting board un-cut side up.  Now you want to get about 6 feet of kitchen twine to truss the roast up tight.  Trussing compacts the roast, pulling it together tightly, which seals in all the interior seasonings and helps give you uniform cooking.

You could just sort of spiral wrap the twine around the leg of lamb, but the professional method is more handsome and just as easy.  To see how to do this, go to YouTube and look for "Roasted Leg of Lamb with Chef Thomas Joseph".  This is as

good an instructional cooking video as I've seen, and it is very clear all the way through.

Once you have a trussed leg of lamb, you need to make a good marinade for it.  You want to mix your liquids such as olive oil, lemon juice or white wine, with your seasonings, such as salt an pepper, garlic or garlic powder, cut up rosemary or thyme, lemon peel zest, red chili flakes, capers or mint leaves.  Make about a cup and a half of your marinade.  Place the trussed leg of lamb into a large ziplock plastic bag, and pour in the marinade.  Seal it up tight, and refrigerate at least 8 hours, better yet, overnight.  Turn the bag around as often as you think of it to guarantee even coating.

Before roasting, take the leg of lamb out of the refrigerator for at least two hours to let it come up to room temperature.

Next you'll want to prepare your roasting pan.  Select a deep pan big enough to handle the roast, and pick out a wire rack that will fit the pan.  The elevated rack will allow air flow around the entire leg of lamb which will help even cooking.

Mix up a batch of mirepoix (chopped carrots, celery and onion) and cover the bottom of the roasting pan.  Pour in enough broth (beef, chicken or vegetable) to cover the veggies, and put the roast on top of the rack, fat side up.  The mirepoix will catch the juices from the roasting meat, which will contribute to a lovely sauce.  Pat the lamb dry, and sprinkle salt and pepper on it.

Pre-heat your oven to 450°.  Place the roast inside the oven and  let it go for about 20 minutes at this high heat.  Reduce the oven to 300° and roast for an additional 30 minutes.  You are aiming for a finished internal temperature of 135°, which should give you meat that is medium rare... you want it slightly pink in the center.  Once your meat thermometer reads 130°, take the roast out of the oven.  This will not only rest the meat, but allow it to continue cooking for that last 5° of temperature.

Pour the contents of the baking pan into a sauce pan, add a half cup of red wine and bring it to a boil, then back off to a simmer.  Cook for about 10 minutes, then let it cool down.  A layer of liquid fat should float to the top.  Skim it off the best you can, then strain the broth.  Put the clean broth back into a sauce pan, adjust the seasoning, and add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon of tomato paste.  Stir it all together.

I introduced a bit of mint flavor into the sauce by adding in a bit of mint jelly. Not enough to sweeten the sauce, per se, but to suggest a hint of mint. Now you can either reduce the sauce by additional boiling, or thicken it with a corn starch slurry.           

Remove the twine trussing from the roast, and present the roasted leg of lamb on a serving platter garnished with sprigs of rosemary.  Slice it thin and pass the sauce.  For side dishes, I would serve roasted potatoes and fresh asparagus.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.