Saturday, August 14, 2010

How to Roast a Lamb

I have a friend who loves cookbooks the way other women love new clothes. She falls for one fast, bringing the conquest into her kitchen and making it at home, fawning over its pictures and marking promising recipes with Post-Its. She brings it to tea and boasts of its merits, even leaving it for a while if she is not cooking something from it that very night.

So needless to say, when she champions a book it is very hard not to fall for it too.  Such was the case with Michael Psilakis' How to Roast a Lamb, which I had to buy myself as the first week she owned it, as she brought it over to share what she was currently cooking, then left with it as there were too many tempting dishes to try to leave it even for an hour. After two minutes with it, I was hooked.

Psilakis is Greek, a culture for which I have a tremendous penchant. His father, when they left their native land, brought seeds from the family garden which he perpetuates year after year. When a food is fresh and growing, that is the best time to eat it, seems his philosophy, and so finds simple yet enchanting new ways to keep the food central. He doesn't obscure with too much technique, lengthy ingredient lists or precious spices. Yet to survive in the Manhattan restaurant scene, he must spin tradition into his own generation. These are all foods we know of and love, prepared as his mother taught him, and beyond.

I started with the eponymous recipe; there will be more in these pages as time goes on. The night I made this we had a dozen for dinner, a common summer occurrence, so I doubled the size of his lamb leg, but had plenty of stuffing. We still had left overs, which made killer panninis when pressed with melted sharp cheddar.

Roasted Leg of Lamb
adapted from "How to Roast a Lamb"

1.5 cups large, sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
leaves from 3 small sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
15 cloves Garlic Confit (recipe follows)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
cracked black pepper

5 lbs boneless leg of lamb, butterflied and some fat trimmed off
kosher salt and black pepper
olive oil
1 1/2 cup water
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
2-3 cloves Garlic Confit
3 large sprigs rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all stuffing ingredients in a food processor and puree to a smooth paste, about 1 minute. Reserve about two Tablespoons of the mixture.

Lay the lamb out with fat side down. Season with salt and pepper and spread stuffing mixture over it, pressing it down in all the cracks and crevices of the lamb. Drizzle with olive oil and roll the lamb up, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Wrap a string around the lamb several times and tie off, or tie in 3-4 spots crosswise and 1-2 lengthwise. Ideally allow the meat to sit on a rack in the refrigerator over night, to allow the  flavors to develop.

Bring lamb to room temperature while preheating oven to 375 degrees. In a small roasting pan, whisk reserved stuffing, water, mustard, garlic and rosemary. Place a rack in pan over the liquid. Season lamb with salt and pepper on all sides. In a large heavy skillet heat oil to very hot, then sear lamb well on all sides.

Roast seam side up over pan liquid, basting every 15 minutes. When the meat is medium rare, a thermometer inserted at the thickest point will register 140 degrees. Let meat rest for 15 minutes. Use pan juices for saucing, or peel and half some roasting potatoes in the pan and roast while meat rests.

Garlic Confit
3 cups garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leafs
8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper
2 cups oil

Put cloves in a heavy, covered braising pan, add bay leaves, thyme and a scant tablespoon sea salt, 15-20 black peppercorns. Barely cover with the oil. Cover and braise in 300 degree oven until pale golden and tender, about an hour. Cool to room temperature. Keep in jar in fridge and use liberally in sauces, vinaigrettes, on vegetables and sandwiches.


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