Spring is a time of rebirth and festive celebrations. It's often associated with spring lamb, although lamb is available year-round.
You can hardly go wrong with a classic leg of lamb, cooked to perfection for a holiday showpiece, as long as you cook it properly. Its shape — larger at the top and narrow toward the shank end — means you can cook it to varying degrees of doneness.
So, if leg of lamb is on your holiday menu, here's a guide.
Buying: Many grocery stores sell bone-in, semi-boneless or boneless legs of lamb. The latter is the easiest to carve and takes less time to cook, but it costs more. You can buy a semi-boneless leg and have the butcher remove the bone for you. It's less expensive that way.
Preparing: Many butchers will cut the bone away from the meat, season the meat and then reroll the meat around the bone. Kitchen string holds the roast in place. You also can marinate or season the lamb to your liking.
Cooking: Have an instant-read thermometer ready. Bring lamb to room temperature before cooking.
For a bone-in or semi-boneless leg, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place the lamb on a roasting rack. Make sure there is liquid (wine or broth) in the bottom of the pan. Roast 20 to 25 minutes or until browned. (If the leg is small, sear it until browned on all sides in oil in a large skillet and put it in the oven at 350 degrees.)
Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting about 1 to 1½ hours more. When it reaches 130 degrees in the thickest part, take it out.
Slicing and resting: Tent lamb with foil and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. The thickest part of the meat should be medium-rare. Slice into ¼-inch-thick slices.
Leg of lamb with parsley garlic crust and honey mint sauce
1 semi-boneless leg of lamb (about 7 pounds), trimmed of excess fat, at room temperature
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
4 large cloves garlic
2 cups coarse bread crumbs from about 4 slices firm bread or, for Passover, crushed matzo
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth or water
2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup fresh mint leaves
6 green onions
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1⁄3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Place leg of lamb, fat side down, on work surface. Cut meat partially away from bone on each side, leaving bone attached to the bottom. In a small bowl, combine coriander, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Rub half the spice mixture on inside of the meat. Roll meat back onto the bone tightly and tie with kitchen string. Rub remaining spice mixture all over lamb. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a food processor, pulse parsley leaves and garlic until coarsely chopped. Place in bowl and add bread crumbs or crushed matzo and 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil just to moisten. Mixture should be loose.
Add wine and broth or water to bottom of roasting pan. Place seasoned lamb on rack in roasting pan, fat side up. Place in oven and roast 20 minutes or until it starts to brown on all sides.
Carefully turn lamb over and pat crumb mixture on top. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue cooking 1 to 1½ hours for medium rare, or until instant-read thermometer registers 130 degrees in the thickest part of the leg without touching the bone. Remove lamb from oven, tent with foil and allow it to rest 10 minutes before carving.
Meanwhile, prepare sauce. In a food processor, purée all ingredients until almost smooth. The sauce should be the consistency of a thick vinaigrette.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Adapted from Real Simple: Easy, Delicious Home Cooking by Real Simple magazine (Real Simple Books, $24.95).