Meat the Butcher: Leg of LambMarch 23, 2012
Colored eggs, matzo and even bunnies may come to mind when thinking of traditional Spring holiday foods, but you cannot forget about one of the most versatile and flavorful cuts of meat for spring: the leg of lamb! According to some beliefs, lamb symbolizes rebirth, rejuvenation and sacrifices made. For some of us, our sacrifices included months of cold weather and snow covered grills or not eating chocolate or drinking alcohol. And now, we’re celebrating the rebirth of backyard parties and grilling season! So that we can all celebrate our sacrifices, we’re setting you up for a perfect lamb dinner. We’re giving you the low-down on the leg of lamb, from choosing your cut to cooking tips and an awesome recipe for Herb Crust Leg of Lamb!
The leg of lamb is the largest cut of the whole animal and one of the most versatile. Lamb is not cheap and the leg is the most economical and flavorful cut. It is made up of several different muscles and bones, each with its own properties. Some cuts, like the lean and tender top round, are best cooked fast and served rare. This makes it an excellent choice for the grill. Other cuts, like the shank, have quite a bit of connective tissue and need to be cooked a long time in order to break down this connective tissue into tender collagen. This is the best cut for braising or making Osso Buco. But nothing beats a whole leg of lamb, cooked nice and medium rare, carved right at the table!
When you select a whole leg of lamb there are a couple of quality control factors that you, the consumer, should look for.:
- First, choose a lamb leg that is properly dressed. Avoid a leg that has the tail and the hip bone (or “aitch bone”) still attached. There is just too much fat and bone here to be of much use to the normal cook (and not to mention it adds a couple of pounds of weight to this already pricey cut!).
- Next, know how to buy lamb and not mutton. A whole spring leg of lamb with the bone, properly dressed, will weigh approximately 9 lbs. Mutton is a sheep older than 1 year of age and tends to be gamy and tough. Its leg will be significantly heavier, roughly 14 lbs., and the meat will be almost purple – not that beautiful rosy red of a younger lamb.
- Also, the USDA grades lamb the same as beef. A leg of lamb should be stamped with a blue-purple stamp across the outer fat. Choose lamb that has been graded “USDA Choice” or “USDA Prime” for the most tender, flavorful leg.
When selecting a leg of lamb first decide how you will be preparing it:
- If you would like to stuff it or marinate it, opt for a leg that has been deboned completely (sometimes called “rolled” or “butterflied”). This preparation makes the whole leg flat and evenly shaped, allowing it take a marinade or to be stuffed and rolled up like a jellyroll.
- If you are serving a traditional oven roasted lamb leg, opt for a leg that has been semi-boned (sometimes called “partially deboned” or “semi boneless”). This means that the butcher has removed the larger hip and femur bones but left the shank bone attached. Getting rid of the bones allows the meat to be compacted into a more uniform shape and aids in cooking.
- If you are making a traditional spit roasted leg of lamb get a leg that has not been fabricated at all. The bones will help it holds its shape on the spit (and it makes a pretty cool presentation as well).
Of course, our butchers are more than happy to cut the leg to your specifications!
For a beautiful lamb dinner suitable for a crowd, try this recipe for Herb Crusted Leg of Lamb.
Herb Crusted Leg of Lamb
2 cups panko bread crumbs
½ cup parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp mint leaf, chopped
1 ½ Tbsp rosemary, chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
¾ cup Ariston olive oil
1 leg of lamb (boneless or with bone)
1 cup whole grain mustard
Mix together panko, herbs, salt, pepper and ½ the amount of Ariston olive oil and mix well.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and season leg of lamb with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Preheat a cast iron or heavy bottomed pan to medium-high, add remaining Ariston olive oil and brown lamb leg evenly on all sides (bone-less only). Evenly spread the mustard all over the leg of lamb and then gently press the leg into the bread crumb mixture. Place the leg in the oven and cook for approximately 40-60 minutes or until the inside reads 130 degrees (medium-rare) on a meat thermometer. Once done, let the leg rest on top of the oven for 10 minutes, then using a sharp knife cut the leg into single sized portions and serve with your favorite sides.
But if spring fever has got the best you and you’re really dying to bust out the grill for Easter, check out this recipe for grilled Rack of Lamb with Ancho & New Mexican Chiles.
For easy meal preparation, bring home some of our homemade sides like garlic butter asparagus, roasted sweet potatoes and green beans almondine. And don’t forget the fresh baked bread and colorful cupcakes to complete your springtime feast!