How To Roast a Leg of Lamb

“Pete’s Dragon” is a movie I hadn’t seen since childhood. I remember being terrified of Shelly Winters, covered in all that mud, and bored by the Helen Reddy boyfriend-lost-at-sea subplot. But when my friend Chris Dufault stated recently that “Pete’s Dragon” is one of his favorite movies, I felt a sudden need to see it again. And so we made a “Pete’s Dragon night”: Chris would bring the DVD and his boyfriend Jonathan and I’d cook something appropriate that’d complement the viewing experience. What would that be? Why leg of dra…I mean lamb, of course!

The movie, I’m glad to say, held up after all these years; and songs like this one, which lived in some box in my brain, covered in dust, reemerged as good as new:

Chris’s favorite song from the movie is “Bill of Sale” which I’ll link to here. Isn’t Shelly Winters scary?

Now, then, the lamb.

I’ve always been intimidated by big cuts of meat: prime rib, pork roast, leg of lamb. What’s funny is that roasting big cuts of meat doesn’t require that much work at all; it really comes down to seasoning and equipment.

Take this leg of lamb, for example. I followed a recipe in “Ad Hoc at Home” and it’s very similar to the recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (which I cooked for the final chapter in my book.)

You buy a leg of lamb (6 1/2 pounds, preferably, but my butcher only had an 8 pounder, which I bought). Ask the butcher to french the leg (that means shave down the bone so it’s like a clean handle) and to remove the fell, “the membrane covering the fat, because it has a very gamy flavor” (that’s Thomas Keller talking.)

Here it is, fresh from the butcher, resting on a roasting rack:


You take five cloves of garlic and cut them in half:


Make 10 1/2- to 1-inch incisions into the thickest parts of the leg and insert a piece of garlic in each. Make another incision in the meat just above the frenched bone and insert 1 sprig of rosemary in the incision. Lay another 2 sprigs in the groove of the sirloin.

Now rub the leg all over with 1/2 cup of canola oil and sprinkle very generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Scatter rosemary leaves over the roast and place it in the roasting rack in the roasting pan:


Now let it sit. It says to let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour or until it has reached room temperature; I let it sit like that for a few hours and I think that really helped it (both flavor-wise and temperature wise.)

Preheat the oven to 325 and roast it in there for 1 hour.

Then turn the pan around and roast for 30 minutes more, until the very center of the top round registers 135.


That’s my digital thermometer display. You can set an alarm to go off when it reaches the temp you’re going for, and mine started beeping at 135.

Here it is when it came out of the oven:


The key step, now, is to let it rest for 45 minutes.


It’s hard work because it’ll smell just so outrageously good, but be patient. After 45 minutes, you carve it by holding the bone and standing the lamb up on the cutting board, cutting down vertically, against the grain, until you reach the bone. You do that all the way around the lamb until you have a plate full of carved meat:


Look at that color! And you can see the garlic in there too. Thomas Keller says to “sprinkle it with gray salt” which I did. I also served it with this mint sauce from Food52.

Here it is close up on the plate (some might say this constitutes food porn):


As you can see, the “Pete’s Dragon” fans were very happy:


There was also asparagus, which I made according to a recipe on Elise’s site. Plus, Chris & Jonathan brought some pretty excellent wine:


Let this be a lesson to you, then: big cuts of meat aren’t hard to cook and they’re incredibly satisfying to make. Should a red-headed orphan boy show up at your lighthouse with an invisible dragon, tell him to slice the garlic and you get busy with the rosemary. He’ll be so glad to have a mommy, he won’t notice he’s eating his best friend.

Kidding! Unless, that is, his best friend’s a lamb. Hit it, Helen Reddy….

Let's dish!

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