Cookbook titles can be seductive: “Great” this or “Best” that. Or just generic: “Sauces” or “Chocolate Cake.” Those are unexciting but fine, and you know what you are getting. Sometimes, I need to be motivated. I need an active title. So when I saw a book called How to Roast a Lamb I just had to pick it up. And it was hard to put down. The book came home with me, and I did not leave my attention until that lamb was actually roasted.
The subtitle of How to Roast is New Greek Classic Cooking, and this book will be part of that classic tradition. Author Michael Psilakis is a prominent New York City chef and restaurateur who applies his Greek heritage with absolute deftness. This book is filled with ideas you’ve probably never encountered. Combinations that immediately make you want to head for the kitchen. How about Braised Quail with Fennel and Apricots. There is a basketful of recipes here to keep you busy for many nights.
But Easter is upon us, lamb is the tradition, and lamb is what this book promises. So Suzen and I tried this stuffed leg of lamb recipe and knew on the first bite that this is a winner. Lamb is not a favorite meat for Americans. Often overcooked, it’s the main reason people buy mint jelly. There is no need for jelly with this lamb. Here basic Greek flavors — olives, garlic, tomatoes, rosemary — grace the lamb yielding a dish that you will savor one forkful at a time.
This recipe calls, ideally, to let the lamb sit over night in the refrigerator, then come to room temperature before you sear it in a skillet and then roast it. We followed those steps and that patient investment in time was important. The stuffing flavors really penetrated throughout the meat. A bite got you flavored meat, not just an herby crust flavor followed by the standard lamb taste. There is an honest melding of flavors here that creates culinary elegance.
Roast Leg of Lamb
Yield: serves 6 or more, family style
Ingredients for the Stuffing:
1 ½ cups large, plump sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
¼ cup oil-cured black olives, pitted
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
Leaves only from 3 small sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon dry Greek oregano
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup garlic puree or 15 cloves garlic confit
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon crack black pepper
Ingredients for the Lamb:
3 to 3 ½ pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied to flatten, some the fat trimmed off
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups water
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon garlic puree or 2-3 cloves garlic confit
3 large sprigs rosemary
3 tablespoons blended oil (90% canola, 10% extra-virgin)
In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients for the stuffing and puree to a smooth, thick paste, about 45 to 60 seconds. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the stuffing.
Lay the lamb out on a work surface with the fattier side down. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper and spread an even layer of stuffing over it, pressing the stuffing down in the crevices. Drizzle with a little olive oil and roll the lamb up in a spiral, seasoning the fatty side with salt and pepper as you roll. Tie in 3 or 4 places crosswise and 1 or 2 places lengthwise (twist the string around itself 3 times instead of just once before you pull it tight, so it won’t loosen as soon as you let go). Ideally, allow the meat to sit on a rack, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight, to dry the surface well and develop all the Greek flavors.
Bring the lamb to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 375° F. In a small roasting pan, whisk the reserved stuffing with the water, mustard, and garlic puree. Throw in the rosemary sprigs. Place a rack in the pan; the rack should not touch the liquid.
Again, season the lamb on all sides very generously with kosher salt and pepper. In a large, heavy skillet, warm the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, sear the lamb well on all sides, using tongs and leaning the meat up against the sides of the pan to sear the thinner sides and cut ends. Transfer the lamb to the rack seam-side up, and roast for about 1 hour, basting every 15 minutes with the pan liquid. When the meat is medium rare — 140° F — a skewer inserted at the thickest point should feel warm when pressed against your lower lip.
Rest the meat for about 15 minutes. Slice into ¼-inch thick pieces, drizzle with the pan sauce, and finish with a little extra-virgin olive oil.
Source: How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis