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On a meat driven whim, my husband came home with two ginormous legs of lamb.  Last New Year’s Eve, we very successfully made a braised leg of lamb following Melissa Clark’s (New York Times) recipe, “Seven Hour Lamb, in About Five” – a great write-up explaining why and how to shrink cooking time for perfectly tender meat.  With the onset of cooler weather, we decided to give the leg of lamb another go and invite some guests over to enjoy.  What we didn’t plan for, however, was the size of the legs and our single-not-big-enough dutch oven.  After some plotting as to whether to try to engineer another pot or hacksaw one leg shorter, we agreed on the safer route of making the second leg on the grill.

Lamb, part one.

Braised Leg of Lamb With Olives (adapted from New York Times Grilled Leg of Lamb with Olives and Celery Root Puree)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Shank end leg of lamb (4 1/2 pounds), bone-in, rinsed and patted dry
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon, plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bottle fruity white wine
  • 3 small onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 3 large carrots, peeled, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • 2 sage sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup pitted and coarsely chopped green olives
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

I had some problems finding the listed herbs at the Spanish mercado and thus, substituted three big heaping tablespoons of Herbs de Provence in place of the rosemary, sage and bay leaf.

To prepare the lamb, heat oven to 450 degrees F (232 degrees C). Rub the lamb with 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh ground black pepper.  I used a nice amber colored smoked sea salt.

In a medium sized pot over medium-high heat, bring the chicken stock and white wine to a boil; allow to reduce for 10 minutes; remove from heat.

Warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions (diced) and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in carrots and parsnips (all cut into cubes), 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and herbs. Turn off the heat and add just enough stock to cover the vegetables. Place the lamb, fatty side up, on top of the vegetables.

Transfer the pot to the oven, uncovered, and cook for 25 minutes. Next, add the remaining stock, cover and reduce heat to 325 degrees F (162 degrees C). Cook for 1 1/2 hours (should be just simmering). Turn the lamb over and cook for another 1 1/2 hours.  Turn the lamb over again, add in the olives, and cook uncovered for another hour, turning the lamb one last time after 30 minutes. The lamb should now be soft enough to cut with a serving spoon. If not, cover the pot and continue to cook until it is.

Right before serving, mash finely chopped garlic and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to form a paste. Stir it into the lamb’s pan juices.

Remembering the fantastic sauce that the leg of lamb created last time, we kept things easy and simply made some plain red rice in the handy rice cooker to accompany the meat.

Now onto lamb part two….

Grilled Leg of Lamb (adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties!)

As we hadn’t specifically planned on grilling the second leg, I scoured the internet for a relatively easy recipe that more or less fit the arsenal of ingredients we had on hand:

Ingredients:

Original recipe:

  • 2 pounds (2 pints) plain yogurt, regular or low-fat
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil, plus more for brushing grill
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 3 lemons
  • 3/4 cup fresh whole rosemary leaves (2 large bunches)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (5-pound) butterflied leg of lamb (9 pounds bone-in)

Modified to ingredients on hand:

  • 1 1/4 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 3/8 cup regular olive oil, 1/8 cup lavender infused olive oil
  • juice of 1 large unripened lemon picked prematurely from our garden tree
  • 3 tablespoons Herbs de Provence
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary infused sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bone in leg of lamb

Combine the yogurt, olive oil, lemon zest/juice, herbs, salt/pepper in a large non-reactive bowl. Add the lamb, making sure it is covered with marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator, covered, overnight or for up to 3 days.  We put everything into a large ziploc bag to ensure that the leg was coated and marinated for about 6 hours.

Next, bring the lamb to room temperature and prepare the charcoal grill. Scrape the marinade off the lamb, wipe the meat with paper towels, and season it generously with salt and pepper. Brush the grill with oil to keep the lamb from sticking (we oiled the meat instead).

The recipe directions call for the leg of lamb to be grilled on both sides until the internal temperature is 120 to 125 degrees for rare (40 minutes to 1 hour), but we found the grill to be too hot and the meat beginning to burn after only about 10 minutes.  Instead, we lined the rack with a piece of aluminium foil and moved the meat on top, out of direct heat, letting it cook for about 40 minutes.

And the winner is….

Of the two recipes, the braised leg turned out wonderful – tender, extremely tasty, with a nice marriage of ingredients.  The grilled leg was… passable.  The meat itself came out okay, but it missed flavor and required the addition of sauce or chutney after the fact.

It’s a bit unfortunate to have to claim a clear winner for the afternoon; we usually aim for a menu with components that are all equally successful or on par.  At the same time, however, it was fortunate to have a winner that felt like an old friend and exceeded all expectations… again and again.

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