In the past few years at our house, the focus at Easter has - thankfully - shifted from the delight in the pursuit of chocolate to that of the main event, dinner. (Of course, the ritual egg hunt is still demanded by my children, of whom even the youngest is old enough to know better!)
For someone growing up near the South Downs in England, lamb was invariably on the table for Easter. Sheep have been grazing on the chalk hills of the Downs for centuries, destined for the tables of London and southern England. Carrying on that tradition, I always cook lamb for our feast.
Ontario produces some very good lamb, and fresh cuts are becoming easier to find. When buying lamb, look for meat that has a fine grain and is light to dark pink in colour. The fat should be white and firm. There may be a thin papery skin over the leg meat: This is called the fell and can be left on, depending on how papery it feels. On larger cuts, it is generally not noticeable enough to bother removing it and will help keep the joint moist while it is roasting.
If you are buying a whole leg with the hip and shank bones and removing them yourself, keep in mind that this will result in about a 20-per-cent loss of weight. The resulting trimmings and bones will make an excellent jus to serve along with the roast.
If you are uncomfortable boning the leg yourself, ask your butcher to do it for you. Removing the bone is best done by tunnelling with your knife through the inside once the hipbone is removed (this is also known as corkscrewing). This technique has advantages over the butterfly method as there is less damage to the large muscles, and it makes for a more uniformly shaped joint for roasting when tied.
I love to serve Gratin dauphinois potatoes and fat green asparagus with the lamb, along with a simple jus from the roasting juices. Rich, I know… but then, I don't spoil my appetite with chocolate. Happy Easter.
Roasted leg of lamb
1 7-pound boneless leg of lamb (makes 10 servings)
At least one day in advance, season the meat with salt. If you have had your butcher debone and tie the leg, untie it so that you can season the inside of the meat as well as the outside. Salt the thicker parts of the leg more heavily than the thinner sections. (I use about 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat.) Re-tie the leg as evenly as possible and return to the refrigerator.
The day you plan to roast the leg, remove from it the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. This will take 3 to 4 hours. I cannot emphasize too much how important this is in producing a moist, evenly cooked roast.
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Smear the leg lightly with a little vegetable oil and place on a roasting pan. Set it on the middle rack of the oven, leaving it to cook for about an hour. No need to turn or fiddle with it at all.
Take the temperature at the thickest section of the leg. It should read somewhere around 100F. Return it to the oven and continue cooking a further 15 minutes.
Read the temperature again; once it is 115 F to 118 F remove it from the oven. The meat will be beautifully rosy and moist in the thicker section, with the thinner and end pieces containing less pink meat (for those who prefer it that way) but still juicy.
Cover the leg and allow it to rest in a warm spot for about 20 minutes before carving. Do not rush this last step; the juices will slowly flow back out from the centre of the meat for an evenly moist roast.
1 tablespoon soft butter
3 pounds peeled Yukon Gold potatoes
2 cloves of garlic, peeled, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1½ cups 35-per-cent cream
½ cup freshly grated
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Butter an 8x10x2-inch deep baking dish with the butter.
Using a mandolin (or, if you must, a food processor), slice the potatoes crosswise into thin disks about 1/ 8th of an inch thick.
Arrange an even layer of potatoes over the bottom of the dish in an overlapping fashion, sprinkle with some of the garlic, salt and pepper. Continue layering in this manner, finishing with a layer of potato.
Using a flat spatula, press firmly down on the layers to compress. Pour enough cream overtop to just submerge the potatoes.
Cover with foil and place in the oven. (It is a good idea to place the dish on a baking sheet as it invariably bubbles up and over, causing smoke alarms to sound, dogs to bark and general consternation to break out.)
Check the potatoes' progress after about an hour. At that time, press them down again with the spatula. Re-cover with foil and continue cooking for about another 30 minutes.
As soon as the potatoes are tender when pierced with a small knife, remove the foil, sprinkle with the Parmesan and return to the oven to brown and crisp the top. If the lamb is out of the oven and resting, you could increase the heat to speed this up.
Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes in a warm spot before serving.
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