Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Roast Leg of Lamb {with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon}

Easter came early this year. We wanted to celebrate a nice Easter lunch with my hubs' family, but feared the actual weekend might prove to be a time conflict. So last Friday the hubs picked up our pre-ordered leg of lamb from our local Halal butcher (it was the first time we'd tried anything from them, and if you are in Brno, I'd highly recommend!) He called me at work laughing that it barely fit in our little half-fridge. We wondered if it would even fit in the oven (it eventually did, with a bit of pressure to get the door to properly close.) 

Nothing is as intimidating as a 650 kč ($30) piece of meat meant to feed, in part, my mother-in-law who (as I later discovered) had never eaten lamb before. Add to this a generally negative view about lamb held by many of my Czech friends and students (most complain of a strong smell/taste that they just don't care for, and many have never eaten it as it's not available in regular butchers.) So I nervously spent those precious post-Friday-work hours figuring out what do with the thing!

I found these bloggers particularly helpful on the lamb leg front:

After a few hours of on-line perusal, and a late night run to the supermarket (once deciding an overnight marinade was the way to go), we busied ourselves with the midnight chopping, grating, and mixing of the marinade. It was worth it. The lamb cooked in two hours the next morning and was as tender as one could hope. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

The in-kitchen time needed was minimal by the time they arrived. We served it with a big salad of mixed greens with a basic citrus/olive oil dressing, and oregano lemon roast potatoes/parsnips. For those with room for dessert there was a hot rhubarb-strawberry compote to slurp up over some vanilla ice cream. I can see asparagus fitting nicely in the meal, but I've only just started to see local asparagus (Slovakia actually) this week.

Recipe: Roast Leg of Lamb
Eat with a robust red (Malbec or Syrah)
Time 2.5 hours

8 lb (3.7 kg) bone-in leg of lamb

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tb dried rosemary (or 2 Tb fresh)
1 tsp. dried thyme 
2 Tb olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup red wine

2 cloves garlic, halved

1) Get started the night before so it can soak up the nice marinade while you slumber. Whiz together the garlic, herbs, olive oil and lemon together in a food processor (or by hand.) Set aside while you get to work removing some of the excess fat and the fell. It took me no more than 20 minutes to work a long thin knife under this thin pale layer covering the lamb. It's not really necessary, as I've read that this 'membrane' can assist in holding the meat together while roasting. Leaving it there, however, can add a strong flavour found unpleasant to some (although, in a large leg piece this should be barely noticeable. I was, however, cooking for guests who had never eaten lamb before and wanted to wow them. They also happen to be my in-laws. Hence the drive for perfection.) Myself, I would just as soon leave it on, but the choice is yours.

2) Rub the marinade all over the meat. Generously salt and pepper. Place in a large plastic bag without any holes (my stress stems from experience, and wine all over the counter) and pour in the red wine. Squish it around the meat a bit, tie the bag shut, and place a second bag over for security. Place in the fridge overnight, or at least a few hours.

3) Heat the oven 425°F/220°C. Cut a few vertical slits into the meat and stick the 2 halved cloves of garlic into it. Salt/pepper a bit more if you wish, stick in a meat thermometer and set on a wire rack with a pan below to catch the drippings. Cook for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 300°F/150°C. Cook for another 1.5 hours, or until the thermometer reads from 135° (for medium-rare) to 150° (for medium/medium-well.) Remove from oven, cover with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.

4) To slice, hold the end of the bone upwards and cut medium slices in a downward motion, cutting across the grain. Eat immediately (as we found it cooled quickly once sliced, or keep warm in the turned-off oven.)

Recipe: Lemony Oregano Roast Potatoes and Parsnips
Serves 5
Adapted from Dinner with Julie

3 lb (1 1/2 kg) potatoes, cubed into large bite-size chunks
1 lb (500 g) parsnips, cut into large bite-size chunks
2 Tb olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
juice of half a lemon

Pre-boil the potatoes in a big pot of water for 15 minutes until a bit soft. That way, you can stick them in to roast while the meat is resting and it won't take so long in the oven that the meat'll get cool. Dump into a colander and shake the water off. Pour in a large baking pan. Add the parsnips and everything else. As soon as the lamb is out of the oven, increase the heat to 425°F/220°C.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Lemon Salad Dressing
Serves one big salad for 5 people

1 Tb lemon juice
2 Tb olive oil
pinch of salt and sugar

Shake together in a jar. Use immediately.

If you're wondering what to do with all the lamb leftovers, might I suggest:
- Nigella Lawson's Anglo-Asian Lamb Salad
- Wrapping it in pitas with tzatiki (yogurt and cucumber dip)
- Serving along side a saffron-infused couscous mixed with raisins and toasted almond slivers

We had enough to do all three in the following days. If you're going for just one, steer yourself towards Nigella's salad and I promise it won't disappoint. Yum!

Sitting around the table, we spoke a mixture of Czech and English to discuss the traditional focus of Czech Easter: the Pomlazka. This braided willow switch is made/purchased by most Czech males so they can run around the village willy-nilly whipping their female friends in return for eggs, sweets, and liquor. A few regions play fair and allow the girls to douse their attacker with water if it's after 12:00 noon (it starts in the morning.) But I've heard that this form of justice is not common.

To be honest, I'm not so keen on it. Most of my Czech female students complain about the pain, and the boredom, as soon as their male classmates are out of earshot. When it's a mixed group, the girls say it's quite nice to spend time with their mum and granny in the kitchen preparing treats while awaiting for the next group of men to descend upon them. As soon as I get a group of girls alone they let loose with their tirade filled with stories about the drunk neighbour who wouldn't stop hitting them and so on. The story told by Tanja of Czechmate Diary vividly brings this perspective to light.

Pomlazkas make nice decorations though, what with their colourful ribbons and all. My hubs family brought us a nice modest one freshly braided with the greens still intact. Their village, Němčičky, has got the record for the longest pomlazka in the country (take a peek at the pictures here, it got pretty long, enough to whip a whole line of girls!)

Whatever you eat, however you celebrate, have a happy Easter!

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy.
-- Jo


  1. Hi Josie,

    nice to meet you! I found your blog via Czechmate Diary. I love your recipes and oh! the pictures! They are so cool!!! You must have some fancy camera ;)
    BTW did you also make those 'venecky'? If the answer is yes, maybe you could guest post on my blog and tell us the 'secret'recipe. What do you think?


  2. Hi Tanja,

    How very nice to meet you too! I've been checking out your blog quite a bit since I found it a few months back. I can't get enough of the reverse perspective...Czech girl in the States. I am forever searching for the odd cultural tid-bits you write about.

    Oh, and I wish I made those Venecky! Nope, they are from my mother-in-law, but now you've given me motivation to get together with her and hammer out a recipe in English. Will let you know if anything comes from it :)

    And yes to exchanging links! I've posted yours up as I know a fair amount of my Czech friends wander over here, I'm sure they'll get a kick out of your stories!

    Cheers! Josie

  3. I could only imagine the smell of that lamb. Great work on the meal.

  4. Thanks for stopping by Mark, and the virtual pat on the back :)


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