Sunday, March 20, 2005

Jacques' Roast Leg of Lamb

from Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home

Jacques: A whole untrimmed leg of spring lamb (domestic lamb is the best) usually weighs anywhere from 6 to 8 pounds. You can choose the size appropriate for your party, and prepare it as explained in the recipe. The most important step in preparing lamb, however, is removing the fat. The assertive taste that some people find objectionable in lamb is always in the fat, and when it is mostly trimmed away before roasting, they are surprised at how mild it tastes. For the same reason, it is important to pour off as much of the fat in the roasting pan as possible before you make your sauce and, if you are making lamb stock, to defat it well. When the leg is well trimmed of fat, you can also roast the lamb at a higher temperature, as I do here, and even a large leg will roast to rare in about an hour or a bit more. I like to turn the leg once while it's in the oven, and then there's no need for basting. If you prefer, you can baste the roast once or twice with the pan juices, instead of turning it. I remove the lamb when it is still quite rare--at an internal temperature of 125 to 130--but you can roast it to a higher temperature if you like. In any case, allow the meat to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

1 whole untrimmed leg of lamb, weighing about 6 pounds with shank and pelvic bone (trimmed of pelvic bone and most fat, about 4 3/4 pounds)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, stripped off the stem
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups lamb stock (recipe below)
3/4 cup white wine

Remove the pelvic bone from the lamb (this is the bone at the tope of the leg bone), and then remove all of the fat. Scrape the shank bone clean for about 2 to 3 inches so that you have something to hang on to when you carve (called "Frenching").

Chop the garlic cloves coarsely. Pour 1 teaspoon of salt on top of the garlic and mash to a paste with the flat of the knife, then chop together with the rosemary leaves until they are finely minced.

Thrust the tip of a sharp, thin-bladed knife into the thick top of the leg, about 1 inch deep. Push about 1/2 teaspoon of the seasoning paste into the slit with your finger. Make a dozen or more such incisions in the meaty parts of the leg, both top and underside, and fill with the seasoning. Rub any remaining paste over the boneless sirloin end of the leg.

The leg can now be roasted, or refrigerated for several hours or overnight, to allow the seasoning to permeate the meat.

Roasting and Resting

Preheat the oven to 400 , arrange a rack in the lower third of oven.

Just before roasting, sprinkle 3/4 teaspoons alt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper over both sides of the leg. Set it on the roasting pan topside up.

Roast the leg for about 30 minutes, then turn the roast over, grasping it by the shank bone (with a thick towel or pot holder to protect your hands). Continue roasting for another 30 minutes or so--1 1/4 hours total, depending on the size of the leg--until the internal temperature of the meat is about 125 to 130 when measured at the thickest part.

Remove the leg to a carving board or platter and res--topside up--for 20 minutes, allowing the meat to relax and reabsorb the natural juices.

Meanwhile, de-glaze the roasting pan to make a simple sauce. Tilt the pan and pour off as much of the fat as possible. Place it over medium heat, pour in 3/4 cup of the stock and 3/4 cup white wine, and bring to a simmer, stirring and scraping up the browned glaze in the bottom of the pan. Strain the sauce into a bowl and add any juices released by the resting meat. Reserving remaining stock for Cooked Curried Lamb (see recipe).

Carving and Serving the Roast

Carve by slicing into the top of the roast and cutting toward the shank, holding the knife blade at a flat angle. Remove the first slice and start the next cut a bit farther away from the shank, again slicing through the top and toward the shank. Continue slicing off the top of the roast, arranging the slices on the serving platter. Drizzle the pan juices over before serving.

Quick Lamb Stock with One Bone

Place the pelvic bone that you remove from the whole leg and any trimmed meat in a sauce pan with 1 medium peeled onion, 1 bay leaf, and 4 cups of water. Bring to a steady simmer, skim any foam that rises to the top, and cook for 1 1/2 hours. The stock will reduce as it cooks, but add water to keep bones covered at all times. Strain the stock and skim off as much fat as possible (if you have time, chill the stock and remove the congealed fat completely). In a small saucepan, reduce the defatted stock over high heat until only 1 1/2 cups remain. Use to de-glaze the roasting pan as in the recipe.

Serve with Ragout of White Beans (see recipe).

Serves 8 to 10

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