Sunday, March 16, 2008

Easter Special Request

Maybe it's the image of all those sheep hobbling around on crutches that gets to me, but I just don't like leg of lamb. If that weren't enough, all year we consider sheep symbols of gentleness and caring, but Easter Sunday rolls around and they go from representing Peace on Earth to being the ultimate Piece. Sheep need a better agent.

When people say they don't care for the taste of lamb they're almost always talking about the leg. The fat surrounding the leg gives off a very gamy flavor. As far as I'm concerned, leg of lamb with the fat still on is the gamiest meat out there. The only possible exception is if you overcook actual game (i.e., venison, elk, etc.). Combine this overpowering flavor with all the sinew and tendons in the leg and you end up with a pretty unappetizing meal.

Sea Shell Sal loves leg of lamb.

The horns of a dilemma. For her birthday she wants leg of lamb. For a celebration dinner she wants leg of lamb. For Easter she wants leg of lamb.

What to do?

After years of fighting it, I finally found a grilled leg of lamb recipe that actually tastes good. Whenever someone who tells me they don't like lamb, this recipe brings them around. I have no pictures of this meal (yet) but I wanted to get it out to you before the holiday. As always, the recipe is fairly simple, though you do need to prep and marinade the meat the night before. The good news is, come Easter Sunday, you only have to worry about grilling the meat and making the sides.

For a smaller crowd I get half the leg, usually the sirloin end, but either will do. This recipe assumes the entire leg is being used.

Grilled Hoisin-Marinated Butterflied Leg of Lamb
(from the July 1994 Gourmet Magazine)

1/3 cup hoisin sauce (found in the asian aisle at your supermarket)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar (preferably not seasoned)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup minced scallions
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
a 6 1/2- to 7 1/2-pound whole leg of lamb, trimmed, boned, and butterflied (4 1/2 to 5 1/2 pounds boneless)

In a bowl whisk together hoisin sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, minced scallion, honey, and salt.

Trim as much remaining fat as possible from lamb. Place the lamb in a ziploc bag large enough to hold the lamb flat (gallon size) and pour in the marinade. Close the bag while squeezing out as much air as possible, massage the marinade into the meat. Marinate lamb, covered and chilled, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.

Prepare grill over high heat.

Bring lamb to room temperature (about 45 minutes). Grill flat on an oiled rack set 5 to 6 inches from heat source. If using a gas grill turn down heat to medium-high immediately after placing the meat on the rack. Grill 12 to 15 minutes on each side, or until meat thermometer registers 140°F., for medium-rare . Please, please, please do not over cook this piece of meat, it is the one guaranteed way to ruin this meal. (Alternatively, lamb may be broiled under preheated broiler about 4 inches from heat for approximately the same time on each side as for grilling.) Transfer lamb to a cutting board and let stand 20 minutes before carving.

Holding a sharp knife at a 45° angle, cut lamb across grain into thin slices.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Marinade Time: Overnight
Active Cooking Time: 2 minutes (How long does it take to turn the meat over and check the temp?)
Passive Cooking Time: 25 - 30 minutes

Keys to success with this meal:

Trim as much of the fat as you can reach. In fact if you get really aggressive trimming the fat the lamb will turn into 2 or 3 separate pieces that make the grilling go even faster (This takes a bit of practice though, so don't sweat it too much the first time). The more fat you get rid of ahead of time the milder the flavor of the finished product.

The grilling takes a little bit of watching. If the coals/burners are too hot, you can end up burning the hoisin sauce. If the lamb is excessively smoking while cooking move it to a cooler spot on the grill. This may extend the cooking time, so have an instant read thermometer handy to keep track of your progress.

Let the meat rest for twenty minutes under an aluminum foil tent, this is key for this meal.

Serve with some steamed buttered snap peas. some jalapeno pepper jelly and either a David Bruce Petite Syrah ($18) or your favorite California Merlot.

That's it. Peace in the household with a piece of grilled lamb, maybe next year we'll go after rabbits. Until next time, remember, you can do it, you can cook.

1 comment:

ajuno said...

We had Grilled Hoisin-Marinated Butterflied Leg of Lamb this Easter. It was very good! It's the best lamb the family has ever had, but then again, it's the only lamb they've ever had. (My kids, now teenagers, God help me, weren't raised in the same kind of kitchen as Crabby and Sea Shell Sal's kids. They've been deprived. Just ask them.) Warnings: 1)"Boned" and "Butterflied" should be done by the butcher. I missed the comma-boned-and-butterflied" part of the ingredient list while shopping and spent some time hacking away at the poor little sheep leg. After a while, I felt like a caveman, which was okay I guess. 2) Grilling on Easter Sunday sounds reasonable enough, except when Easter is unreasonably early and it's the snowiest year on record. There was a dry path to the grill when I bought the lamb, but I had to put boots on and off and on and off on Easter Sunday. 3) Unwatched hoisin sauce will burn. I did not heed Crabby's advice and let some of the lamb char a little, much to my dismay. It still tasted good.

The marinade was extremely easy to put together. Fun even.

Crabby, any suggestions for the leftover lamb?