On the Thursday before Easter, we always have a leg of lamb as part of our evening meal, a tradition that started before my husband and I were married–when we were young and foolish. We bought our first leg of lamb on impulse at a butcher shop in Greenwich Village, New York, on the Wednesday before Easter (we happened to be visiting NYC). We sprinkled some herbs over it, doused it with a bottle of wine, wrapped it up, refrigerated it overnight, and then drove it to Washington, DC the next day in time to roast it for dinner. It was a slightly boozy, but very delicious lamb we ate that evening; the excess alcohol probably helped preserve it, unrefrigerated, during the 4-hour trip.
Though we have very fond memories of that lamb, I have since refined the recipe, ensuring proper food-safety techniques and (unfortunately) eliminating the need for any road trips.
Roast Leg of Lamb with Red Wine and Herbs
Note: This lamb needs to marinate overnight (or for at least 8 hours) prior to roasting.
1 bone-in leg of lamb (6-8 lb.)
salt and pepper
4-5 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
fresh rosemary, separated into small sprigs
1/3 c. olive oil
1/4 c. red wine of your preference
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. each dried basil, oregano, parsley, mint, etc.
1/2 tsp. sugar
1. Rinse lamb and pat dry. Then, using a sharp knife, cut off as much of the top, papery thin layer (the “fell”) as possible; it is not necessary to remove all of it. (Some cooks prefer to leave it on to help keep the lamb moist. Others remove it because they think it has a strong flavor. I remove it for aesthetic reasons; family members don’t like seeing the fell on the lamb.)
2. Trim off excess fat, but make sure to leave a nice layer to ensure moistness and to help carry the flavor of the rosemary, garlic, and marinade.
3. Using the same sharp knife, make deep slits into the meaty portions of the leg.
5. In a bowl, combine marinade ingredients.
6. Place lamb in 2-3 layers of clean, plastic grocery bags (or other large sealable bags) on a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold the lamb. Holding the bags open, pour the marinade over the lamb, taking care to pour some of the marinade into each of the slits filled with garlic and rosemary.
7. Tie the plastic bags together tightly so that the marinade cannot leak out, then place the lamb (still on the baking sheet) in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least 8 hours). If you are so inclined, feel free to massage the marinade into the lamb every so often.
8. In the morning (or after about 4 hours), turn the lamb over so that the other side of the lamb can soak up some of the marinade.
9. Preheat oven to 450 °F. Remove the lamb from the bags (reserving the marinade), pat dry, sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper, then place the lamb on a rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet or pan. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the lamb, but not near the bone. Cook lamb at 450°F for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 °F. Roast lamb until meat thermometer reaches between 145 °F (medium rare) and 160 °F (medium), basting periodically with leftover marinade. For a 6 lb. leg of lamb, total cooking time should be about 2 hours, depending on preferred degree of doneness.
10. Remove lamb from oven, then let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.