Sunday, June 17, 2007

Feeding Many: Grilled Leg of Lamb

Fire Island is starting to hit some form of peak in terms of number of people, with the weather good and the larger children still not shipped off to camp. For this reason, dinners can be quite large. Yesterday was one of those days, with about 16 adults and an equal number of kids (many of the "eat more than you can" size). Although we did make burgers and grilled portobello mushrooms (for the vegetarians), the main course was a butterflied whole leg of lamb. At about 7 pounds, the leg is large enough to feed a large number of people. However, it is also easy to prepare and cook. The result was a very successful main dish with only a moderate amount of grumbling from the cook.

There are three tricks for making lamb work. The first is a meat hammer. You don't need to pound the meat into oblivion, but it is important to try to make it all an even thickness. This makes cooking much simpler. The second is a dry rub. Although you vary the recipe I use to your own taste, the flavor imparted by the dry rub is extremely important to the meat. The third thing is a meat thermometer. Although you can cook lamb by feel, it is much easier to use a thermometer. I find that the meat is best when cooked to about 125 degrees and then allowed to sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Although this is a fourth thing, a little mini-prep (pictured) helps making a dry rub a snap.


Whole butterflied leg of lamb (about 7 pounds). Trim off excess fat on top, but don't go nuts

Whole head of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon of thyme
1 tablespoon of salt (or more)
lime juice from one lime
3 tablespoons of olive oil


Meat hammer
Grill (it should be about 500 degrees or so)


Pound the meat until its is even in thickness and set aside.

Put the garlic in the mini chop and chop until it is quite fine but not liquid. Add the thyme, lime juice, salt and olive oil and briefly mix. Taste: it should be rather salty and the lime should be rather obvious. Add a little more salt if you are unsure. Rub both sides of meat with the mixture. Roll up the meat and place in a bag. Put in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes and as much as all day.

Preheat the grill. Put the meat on (fatty side up) and cover the grill if you can. Let it mostly cook on that side and then flip. There can be some flame-up when the meat is turned because of the fat: reposition as necessary. Sometimes I flip it back: lamb is not designed for perfect grill marks! The lamb is ready when several thermometer reading are at 125 degrees. This actually gives you medium rare to medium meat after this large cut rests. I would not cook it higher than 130 degrees: it turns gray.

The meat is best sliced and served.

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