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Recipes and Stories

17 April 2014: Easter III—Paschal Lamb

Boned and butterflied leg of lamb, roasted with thyme and oregano
For many Americans, Southerners in particular, the centerpiece of the Easter feast must be a fat, pink ham. Why and how ham came into this role is lost in time. The older, and more easily understood tradition, is lamb.

The ancient sacrificial lamb of the Passover came to be associated directly with the Christ’s sacrifice at the Crucifixion (“Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast.”), and in the early church, roast lamb was at the heart of the Easter feast.

A roast whole leg of lamb is my own tradition at Easter, but unless you pot-roast it, as the Romans do, or serve your feast late in the afternoon, roasting a whole leg after spending the entire morning in church can be a challenge. Boning and flattening the leg makes it roast more quickly and evenly, and even makes it possible to grill it, so it can be quickly cooked after you get home without inciting a riot in your hungry family.

Roast Butterflied Leg of Lamb
Though bones add flavor to a roast, the time and last minute fuss saved by boning and butterflying the leg more than makes up for it, and you can use the bones to make broth for the gravy, so their flavor won’t be completely wasted.
Serves 8-10

1 whole leg of lamb, about 6-7 pounds or 1 boned leg of lamb
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
2-3 whole cloves garlic cut into slivers
Madeira Pan Gravy (recipe follows)

1. If using a whole leg, remove the fell and excess fat, if it hasn’t already been trimmed (nowadays they’re often over-trimmed), and trim shank bone if desired. Find the bones and make a slit along line of the bone between the lobes of the leg muscles on the inside of leg. Cut away meat, scraping it from the joints, and keeping each lobe muscle intact. Trim any excess inside fat. Flatten it. If the meat is already boned, remove the netting that is often wrapped around it and open the meat out flat. Sometimes the muscles are still connected in a round, as they were on the bone, if so, find the narrowest connection and cut through it. Flatten the meat and trim any excess fat.

2. Lightly pound the thicker muscles with a mallet to even thickness. Wrap the meat, cover, and refrigerate until 1 hour before cooking.

2. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450° F. Make slits at regular intervals in the lamb and insert slivers of garlic into each one. Rub it all over with salt and pepper and cover with chopped thyme and oregano. Rub bottom of a roasting pan with olive oil and put in lamb, fat side up. Drizzle it lightly with oil and roast 20 minutes, or until well-seared. Reduce temperature to 375° F. Roast to the desired level of doneness (an internal temperature of 115 degrees for rare, 135° F. for medium—keeping in mind that the temperature will continue to rise at least 10 degrees as it rests).

3. Remove the meat to a platter, loosely cover it with foil, and let it rest 15 minutes while you make the gravy and take care of last minute things. Just before serving, transfer it to a cutting board, thinly slice it across grain of the muscle, and rearrange it on a platter, garnishing if you like with sprigs of herbs.

Madeira Pan Gravy
Makes about 2 cups

½ cup Madeira
2 cups lamb broth (made with the leg bones or 2 pounds neck bones) or beef broth
Degreased pan juices from the roast
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

1. Put the roasting pan over direct, medium high heat. Add the Madeira and bring it to a boil, stirring and scraping the pan to loosen any cooking residue. Let it boil for 1 minute and add the broth and pan juices. Bring the broth to a vigorous boil and cook until it is reduced by about half, about 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Turn off the heat and swirl or whisk in the butter until it is incorporated. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve the chicken with the sauce passed separately.
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