Glam Lamb

I was an adult before I had my first bite of lamb. I had no idea what I had been missing. When exactly lamb entered my life is a blur, but I remember it was a lamb chop -- tender, petite and rich on the tongue. For years, I played it safe, nibbling only on chops over and again, while ignoring the tasting possibilities from the leg, the shank and the shoulder.

Leg of lamb, stuffed with tapenade. (Kim O'Donnel)

For years, the idea of cooking lamb was way off my radar, and then cooking school hit me over the head and sent me down some kind of yellow brick road full of adventure, just like Dorothy.

I did have a bit of Scarecrow in me, but on my way to see the Wizard, I learned how to braise lamb shanks and grill chops and serve them with a redolent chimichurri sauce (garlic, parsley, cilantro, oregano, olive oil, white wine, lemon and salt, all whizzed up), rather than that dodgy old mint jelly. Shoulder went into curries, ground lamb onto kebabs, and slowly I got the hang of it.

The big leg o' lamb was my one remaining challenge, and last year at this time, I brought my sheepish self to the task at hand. The recipe that brought about a change of heart, comes from "Simple Soirees," by longtime food writer Peggy Knickerbocker; details are below.

The lamb is boned and butterflied (opened like a book), something you can ask the butcher to do. The meat is stuffed with a pungent tapenade mix of olives, anchovies, capers and garlic, and then rolled and tied up with twine. For this arts-and-crafts-challenged cook, I find the twining part the most difficult and humbling, but I get better at it every time.

A little extra salt and olive oil on the outside, and then the lamb goes into the oven for roasting. An hour later, you've got glam lamb.

All sliced up, it looks like a roulade, pretty enough for a party -- and easy enough to do at the last minute. In fact, I didn't get started last night until after six, and dinner was served two hours later.

Got a favorite lamb story or tip to share? Do so in the comments area below.

Butterflied Leg of Lamb Stuffed With Tapenade
From Simple Soirees by Peggy Knickerbocker

1/2 pound pitted olives of your choice
4-6 anchovies, rinsed and chopped
4 tablespoons capers, soaked, rinsed and chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
Pinch of cayenne
1 tablespoon leaves of fresh thyme (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried)
1/4 cup olive oil

Place olives, anchovies, capers, garlic, cayenne and thyme into the bowl of a food processor (alternatively, use a mortar and pestle and pound ingredients) and pulse into a coarse puree. Add olive oil and pulse to combine. I also like to add the zest of a lemon or orange into the mix.
Makes about 1 cup tapenade; leftovers are likely.

1 3-6 pound leg of lamb, boned and butterflied (Ask butcher to do this. Estimate about one pound per person before bone is removed.)
Kitchen twine
1 bunch fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
A few tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Open butterflied lamb on flat work surface and salt the inside. Spread tapenade down the center, smoothing out so that middle portion of the meat is completely covered. Don't overstuff; leftover tapenade can be spread on baguette slices for a tasty snack at another time.

Roll meat lengthwise into a neat package with the ends tucked in. Wrap twine around the width and tie, repeating every few inches. Then wrap lengthwise at least twice. Spread thyme on bottom of roasting pan and place roast on top, cut side down.

Salt and pepper the outside and lather with olive oil. Cook lamb for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 and roast for about an hour, or until meat thermometer reads between 125 and 135 degrees in the middle (where it's thick) -- this is medium rare. If you want medium, let it cook until 140 degrees. For a smaller roast, check doneness after 30 minutes, then continue checking every 15 minutes.

Let rest for 15 minutes. Carve crosswise into 1-inch slices.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 28, 2007; 11:19 AM ET Dinner Tonight , Entertaining , Meat
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My favorite lamb dish is to marinate lamb - a shoulder piece or leg cutlet in plain yogurt --greek style if you have it--with fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley), lemon juice and minced garlic for several hours or overnight. Then grill till medium rare--yum!

Posted by: cindy | March 28, 2007 11:53 AM

I love lamb, and so do my kids. My husband, on the other hand, is not much of a fan. I have found 2 ways he likes lamb, though. I made an Irish stew, with beef broth, Guinness, potatoes, onions, leeks, carrots, etc, and chops marinaded in a mustard, maple syrup, garlic, soy mixture. He loves them both. My favorite way to make leg of lamb is to impregnate the meat with slivers of garlic, then roast. The garlic flavors the meat wonderfully. Hubby is luke warm on this last one, but I'm slowly winning him over!

Posted by: Sparks | March 28, 2007 12:30 PM

The easy leg of lamb recipe by Chef Jonathon Krim from the POST web site was delicious - and even easier than advertised. And I was able to get it cooked and on the table, with a sauce made in the cooking pan, in one hour. Bravo!!

Posted by: D Reed | March 28, 2007 12:32 PM

Try this... 'lard' the entire surface of leg of lamb by making holes every couple of square inches or so and filling them with mace, cinnimon, and a clove of garlic.

Put the joint into an oven bag with the bottom covered with a bit of flour and then sliced onions and a pile of black mushrooms, or other meaty, firm m,ushroom variety as a bed for the lamb.. don't forget to make a couple of small slits in the bag.

Put your oven on 250 and cook the hell out of it until the leg of lamb is falling apart.

Be sure not to first taste the finished leg of lamb while standing because you may fall and hurt yourself when your eyes roll back into your head...

Posted by: Long Beach, CA | March 28, 2007 1:02 PM

I did the Mediterranean leg of lamb from the Food Section for Easter last year. It was fabulous. And even though hubby was apprehensive, he did the grilling and really liked it, too.
Question about this one... if I don't like capers (at all), can I leave them out of the tapenade or sub with something different? And, could I cook this on the grill?

Posted by: sus | March 28, 2007 1:07 PM

Emeril Laggasse's leg of lamb stuffed with toasted pine nuts, apples and goat cheese is to die for!

Posted by: Anonymous | March 28, 2007 1:12 PM

Julia Child has an amazing marinade made of dijon mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, ground ginger (I used minced fresh), garlic, and pulverized rosemary. You paint over the lamb and let it sit for a while, then roast in a 350 oven until done (usually 1 hour or less). I like to coat with breadcrumbs and jack up the temperature at the end. The marinade is so good that we usually make a double recipe and reserve some for dipping at the table. Works well on a butterflied leg too, though I can never find twine, so I end up struggling with wet bits of dental floss, enough of a hassle that I prefe the bone-in leg is better.

Leg is also great cubed, covered in a puree of onion, olive oil, salt and pepper, then kebabed and broiled or grilled.


Posted by: Rita | March 28, 2007 1:33 PM

I would love to have the recipe for: Emeril Laggasse's leg of lamb stuffed with toasted pine nuts, apples and goat cheese. I couldn't seem to find it on the internet (of course, I may be looking in the wrong place).

We spent a month between New Zealand and Australia and were served lamb many times. Neither my husband nor I were that keen about what we had here stateside but loved it there. I would like to try it with this wonderful-sounding recipe.


Posted by: Peapod | March 28, 2007 2:19 PM

The Emeril lamb recipe is on the Food Network website ( Enter "lamb and pine nuts" in the search box.

Posted by: CY | March 28, 2007 2:48 PM

Found it ... thanks so much!!! Now I can get a leg of lamb and give it a try!!!

Posted by: Peapod | March 28, 2007 3:11 PM

My family is Australian so lamb is a family staple. Usually, we eat lamb chops, broiled and seasoned with rosemary, salt, and pepper, with mint sauce. Mint sauce, which is an Anglo thing, consists of even parts of sugar, water, vinegar, and chopped mint leaves (so, a half-cy. It's a syrup, not a jelly, and it's perfect for lamb--sweet, strong-flavored, a little sharp from the vinegar, and it soaks right into the grain of the meat.

That said, one of the best lamb recipes I've ever tried or tasted was one by Nigella Lawson: Warm Lamb Salad with Mint and Pomegranate. (

Posted by: lamb-lover | March 28, 2007 3:34 PM

I'm a simple girl. The best way for me to cook chops is a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic, let that sit and then throw them on the grill (pan). Easy, but so good.

Posted by: phan | March 28, 2007 4:17 PM

My mother-in-law made a gorgeous leg of lamb every year for Easter - never got her recipe, but it was crisp and garlicky outside and rosy inside. I've also learned to go with lamb chops at the steak houses clients often prefer. Much easier on the digestive system than a big old steak (if not on the wallet.) Finally, a couple of years ago I had an amazing lamb tangine with prunes and almonds in Morocco. I've been trying to reproduce it without success (but I plan to keep trying until I get it right!)

Posted by: Karen | March 29, 2007 2:55 PM

When I see new lambs just born all I can think of is lamb chops for the grill. They look so cute as they follow momma with my collies providing a little encouragement but not enough to upset mom. Sheep can be mean and nasty to both human and dog and they aren't stupid. Watch the intro of new sheep or younger lambs to a flock and watch who get pushed to the outside to be aten first. And the the original flock members arent nice about it. Sheep that dont behave and get with the program become dog food.

Posted by: vaherder | April 2, 2007 10:07 AM

Have eaten lamb all my life, but the recipes I like the best I learned on my own. One is a recipe I got from Southern Living. It's a boneless leg, rolled and tied, marinated and grilled indirectly. The marinade calls for Jalapenos, lime juice, tequila, garlic. Use Mesquite for smoke. It can cook in less than two hours, but it tastes better if you go a little slower. Serve with a mango salsa that comes with the recipe. It calls for four mangoes, 1/4cup of green onions, 1/2 cup of red pepper, 1/4 cup of cilantro, 1/4 cup of honey, 2 jalapenos, salt and pepper.

The other recipe is the standard leg of lamb in Julia Child's masterpiece "mastering the art of french cooking". Serve with the reocommended garlic sauce. It's fabulous.

Posted by: John | April 2, 2007 1:57 PM

This is a NO MISS recipe: Having spent a number of years overseas, where lamb is very popular, had opportunity to learn how to prepare Armenian Shishkabob, a most savory dish.
Cube the lamb and marinate for two days in a cabernet or other heavy red wine with lots of crushed garlic, red peppers, and sweet onions. The red wine will knock down the gamey flavor and some of the fat; the spices will do the rest. Skewer the meat with tomatoes, mushrooms, and zucchini. Salt and pepper to taste. Happy eating!

Posted by: LtCol George W. Murray USMC (ret) | April 4, 2007 3:26 PM

A basic question: butterfly lamb is rectangular shaped, and is rolled up on the longer side. When recipe states: "Spread tapenade down the center, smoothing out so that middle portion of the meat is completely covered." I do not know whether "down the center" means spreading it the short or the long way? Or does "middle completely covered" mean that it is spred all over, merely leaving a clean area along each side? Thnx for helping cl;ear this up. Fr a novice cook who loves lamb....

Posted by: Portland, Oregon | April 5, 2007 12:41 PM

My mom used to buy 1/2 a lamb from someone "in the county" when I was little, and though I'm not much of a red meat eater, I do love lamb.

Tonight I'm going home to morrocan stew recipe from Better Homes and Garden a few years ago. Lamb browned with ginger, cinnamon, tumeric and red pepper then slow cooked in broth with onions and garlic. Finally dried apricots and dates are added at the end. Serve with toasted almond slivers over couscous. Mmmm. My husband and I calculate our portions and rush to sneak the leftovers for lunch the next day. Don't know if a more precise recipe is available on the web.

Posted by: jen bruggink | April 5, 2007 12:56 PM

If you want the best lamb has to offer try the rib rack, it can be found in most mega-marts in those vacuums pack things that make it keep for 2-3 weeks depending on how long it's been in the store, so it's easy to stock up if there's not one nearby. The perfect recipe is to simply rub outside w/ coarse ground pepper, garlic salt, lemon zest, rosemary and chopped mint. Place on top rack of broiler {way better for grilling anything than those pans or even most outdoor grills, and you probably own one already] about 15-25 min. turning once halfway through. Don't forget to wrap ends of bones sticking out since it's usually been "frenched" or they will burn, ruining the handles on your "lambsickles". When done cut into chops and serve. 1 rack feeds 2 but I could finish off 3 racks myself, Yum

Posted by: Norman Campbell | April 5, 2007 1:05 PM

2 Granny Smith apples, chopped
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and black pepper
1 1/2 cups crumbled goat cheese
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup chopped mint
1 (5 pound) leg of lamb, butterflied
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Cut six 2-foot lengths of butcher's twine. In a small skillet saute apple and shallots in butter 1 minute or until lightly browned. Transfer to a small bowl and mix well with goat cheese, pine nuts and mint; season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange lamb on work surface, inside facing up. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over lamb and pound with a meat mallet to flatten meat slightly, if needed, until leg is a fairly even thickness. Remove plastic wrap and generously season inside and outside of lamb. Mound stuffing mixture lengthwise along one side of lamb; roll up lamb over stuffing, tucking in ends. Space 5 pieces of twine under lamb roll and tie them firmly, starting at outside and working in. Tie roll lengthwise with remaining piece of twine.

In a roasting pan set over 2 burners, heat oil over high heat. Add lamb roll and sear all over, about 6 minutes in all. Transfer lamb to a rack and set down in the roasting pan. Roast until brown and tender and an instant read thermometer reads 140 degreees F for medium rare, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, basting occasionally. Remove from oven and let sit, covered loosely with foil, 10 minutes. To serve, discard strings, slice in 12 pieces and serve 2 slices per serving with roasted rosemary potatoes.

Posted by: KLNobles | April 6, 2007 8:51 AM

You have affirmed my theory that lovely , rare, lemony lamb is a treat. For many years, since we all got together to cook our Thanksgiving Dinner early in the day, the "snack" was little bits of rare roasted lamb on small shole wheat rolls with cornichons and fruit ...and other goodies just to get us to dinner..I appreciate your help. When the children were just starting to eat food, I made them little lamb shops and boiled a carrot and potatoe and mashed them eat with the succulent little bits of pink lamb which had been cooked quickly....on top of the stove..

Posted by: Leatrice | April 14, 2007 8:50 PM

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