My mother had two ways of cooking lamb: roasted, over a bed of vegetables with a herb and goat cheese topping, or marinated and grilled. On Easter, we often had the roasted version because it was more complex and, therefore, more special for a holiday meal.
The first time I made this recipe, on my own, I felt like such an accomplished cook as I had never made anything with so many layers of flavor. My success inspired me to experiment with new ingredients, especially with a variety of herbs and vegetables. Even today, as I taste one last spoonful of the creamy broth leftover in the bottom of the storage container that held this lamb meal, I am reminded of one of the reasons I love to cook — when it works, when what you have cooked is delicious, it is thrilling.
My mother’s cardinal rule for cooking lamb was that I had to trim off as much fat and connective tissue as possible. I never thought to ask her why. Serendipitously, as I was writing this post, my friend and fabulous cook, Lou Ann Brown, suggested I listen to a podcast from Sunday’s The Splendid Table titled “Why does lamb taste like lamb?” It was perfect timing for this post and helped me understand why Mom insisted on trimming off the fat. The quick answer to the question, according to Molly Birnbaum of America’s Test Kitchen, was “it all comes down to [lamb’s] fat and a particular type of fatty acid that lamb has that beef doesn’t have. It’s called branched-chain fatty acids, which humans can detect at tiny levels. It’s what gives lamb this gamy, and more earthy taste than beef.” If you ever needed the motivation to spend a little more time trimming fat, this is it.
There are three layers of ingredients in Mom’s recipe for roasted lamb: the bottom layer which consists of a bed of vegetables and herbs, the middle layer which is the lamb meat, and the top layer which is an herbed goat cheese topping. This top layer helps keep the meat moist while it cooks since most of the fat has been trimmed.
The first step is to prep the lamb and get it started marinating. You can do this step up to one day before. I’ll walk you through trimming the fat in the Instructions section.
1 3 to 5 pound boned leg of lamb
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
20 twists of cracked pepper
Bed of Vegetables:
4 potatoes (1½ pounds), sliced
4 carrots (½ pound), sliced
6 cloves garlic (½ oz), smashed
1 medium onion (½ pound), diced
5 fresh sage leaves
1 stem fresh rosemary leaves
1 cup beef stock
salt and pepper
Herb and Cheese Topping:
⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1½ cup plain homemade breadcrumbs
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
the leaves of 8 stems of parsley
6 garlic cloves (½ ounce)
5 ounces goat cheese
½ cup grated Reggiano Parmesan
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
FYI: Lamb Cuts 101 (from my 1942 manual — I like the graphics):
This is a 4½ pound boned leg of lamb. After trimming it of fat, it weighed 3¾ pounds. The netting is used to keep the meat together once the bone has been removed.
Once you remove the netting and unroll the meat, you’ll have two sides of meat to trim of fat and connective tissue.
Trimming off fat is a little time consuming and a bit of a pain, but as I described earlier, it is necessary if you don’t want that gamy taste that tends to be a turn-off for many when it comes to eating lamb.
I removed 11 ounces of fat.
My husband trimmed a leg of lamb, too, and did a much better job!
How to Prepare Each Layer:
In a medium-sized bowl, mix the marinade ingredients: oil, salt, and pepper, with the lamb. Stir and make sure every chunk of meat is well-coated with oil. Set aside for an hour, or up to 24 hours.
Prep the vegetables and herbs for the bottom layer and set aside.
Using a food processor, prep the topping layer: first, add the garlic, Parmesan, and parsley and pulse.
Next, add the breadcrumbs, goat cheese, lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper and pulse until the mixture is well blended, but still has lots of texture. Set aside.
Putting It All Together
Layer 1: The bed of veggies moistened with a cup of beef broth and a few shakes of salt and pepper.
Layer 2: The marinated lamb is spread out over the veggies.
Layer 3: The herb and cheese topping is spread out over the meat with a spatula.
Bake in a 5-quart roasting pan in a preheated 400º oven for approximately one hour and 15 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest chunk of the meat reads 140º. Take the roasting pan out of the oven, cover, and let the meat rest for 20 minutes before serving. *The lamb will continue to cook to 145º (for medium).
If the topping isn’t lightly browned enough, you may want to leave the roast in the oven for five more minutes until it browns. If you are worried about overcooking the meat, put the roast under the broiler for a few minutes. One of the nice things about roasting a leg of lamb is there will automatically be some pieces of meat that will be well done, some that will be medium-well, and some that will be medium, due to the varying degrees of thickness of the meat.
*If you need a little refresher course on the concept of heat transfer when cooking meats, look no further than here.
Here’s how the roast looked when served for dinner. The potatoes were amazing, per my family. The goat cheese infused broth is delicious!
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