Friday, October 2, 2009
Roast lamb worth the gambol
We have a wonderful variety of seafood and meats here in the States. For instance, beef here is so good, I used to pack a rib roast and bring it to Blighty to share with my folks. They just loved it! That being said, I must confess, I do miss English or Welsh lamb. Sadly, Americans are not big lamb eaters. And no wonder. Most American lamb is derived from sheep that ceased to gambol a long time past. The lamb here is a bit long in the tooth, a bit tough, and it smells gamey. The other lamb widely available is Australian lamb but, though better, this too tends to be a little tough and just a bit too gamey for my taste.
Now, I’ve long been brining turkey and pork. So I thought, why not give the lamb a brine bath? So I did. And the result? Beyond my wildest expectations. The meat was moist, with the aromas of thyme and rosemary. The color was wonderfully pink, and it was a joy to carve. The meat tasted delicate and not a bit gamey. In short the brining turned American mutton into a sweet facsimile of the young, tender English lamb I fondly remember.
Preparing the meat
First, let’s make the brine. This is good for any size leg, small or large. You need 1 cup of sugar, ¼ cup of salt, 15-20 peppercorns, bay leaves if you must, fresh rosemary, and stalks of thyme or oregano. You can, of course, use dried herbs if you haven’t got the fresh ones. I’ve also used a couple of lavender stalks in this recipe, but don’t use many as the flavor is quite pronounced. Combine all these ingredients into a saucepan with a quart of water. Boil up. When the sugar and salt have dissolved, pour the contents into a glass, Pyrex-type dish with 3 quarts of cold water.
Now put the lamb in the brine. Don’t worry if it isn’t completely submerged. Just turn the meat every few hours, and don’t forget to turn it once before going to bed and again in the morning. You want the lamb to brine for 24- to 36 hours, then drain and proceed as you would for any roast lamb recipe.
Roasting the lamb
As we’re going for the English thing, proceed as follows. Coat the lamb with a little butter, mixed with bits of apricot. Mind you, if you have Provencal leanings, you might prefer to anoint the beast with olive oil, garlic, and herbs but…that’s your choice.
Pop the lamb into a 425 F oven at 10-12 minutes per pound for medium rare or 15 minutes a pound for medium. We prefer lamb on the rare side of medium so I go with 10 minutes a pound.
Greek-style brined lamb on the grill
This year I decided to barbeque the lamb Greek-style, with great results. It goes like this. Keep the herbs from the brine. String up the lamb with butcher’s string, and thread and weave the herbs around the leg so it looks as if the beast had a greenish coat. Then skewer the lamb with two spear-like sticks.
Using a Weber-type grill, bank up a good stack of coals on either side, then forage about for a couple of bricks. Now place your bricks opposite each other on the grill, by each of the two banks of coals. Set coals afire and wait until the coals turn white hot. Position the lamb so the ends of the skewers rest on the bricks and the lamb hangs suspended between the coals. I do this for two reasons: I don’t want the lamb to touch the grill and risk burning, and I really want to try and duplicate the Greek fire thing even though I do not possess a turning spit.
Barbecue the lamb for 15 minutes, covered. Because you pronged it with two skewers, you’ll be able to turn the beast over quite easily. Lacking asbestos fingers, I use gloves to execute this maneuver. I suggest you do the same. Then lightly baste the cooked side of the lamb with a little of the brining mixture you so cleverly retained.
Cover the grill and cook for another 15 minutes. Uncover the lamb and let it roast for another 20 minutes or so. The heat will be intense, and you do not want to overcook the meat. Check for doneness at this point. I had a big leg of lamb and the whole thing was cooked in less than an hour (this little roast in the photo took 40 minutes on our indoor grill, which gives off considerably less heat than the trusty old Weber). For medium, grill the lamb for no more than an hour. Remove from the grill, tent it with foil and let it rest for at least half an hour. Actually, you can leave the lamb to rest for as long as an hour without ill effects. Lamb can be barely warm and still be delicious and succulent.
With all that heat residual heat in the grill, go head and grill up a heap of summery veggies to garnish your wonderful English/Greek style lamb.
Do try grilling your lamb outdoors if the weather holds—it’s quite spectacular and tastes superb. But however you decide to cook your lamb, do brine it first. The brine will rejuvenate a lamb and put the spring back in the step of even the most muttony beasts. So do take a gambol on brining! Believe me, you’ll be roasting a winner.