October 26, 2012

A Leg of Lamb, Trussed and Tied

There are few things that are as satisfying as holding a large piece of meat in your hands, brushing your fingers over the thick layers of fat and marbleized cartilage, feeling the cold flesh give way as you prod and pull, shaping the hunk this way and that. It is primal and animalistic—it reconnects you to some deep, instinctual part of the soul that sees and feels meat and knows that hunger will soon be sated; that you have proven, with that piece of meat between your fingers, that you can survive and nourish and care for yourself.

It is good to be reminded of this from time to time. And, as someone said to me recently, you have to do what works for you.

For some, I imagine, it would be other things. For me, it’s the food that I prepare and consume—the way in which it reminds me of the primordial instincts in us all—how it takes me out of my head and puts me in the realm of fur and earth and soil and sand.

It’s a very different realm from the one that I inhabit when writing. But this is why food and writing are so interesting when placed in proximity to one another. They call up a series of satisfying opposites: lofty and grounded, ethereal and substantial; they transport, but they also keep us firmly planted on the ground, in that place where our primal urges—hunger and thirst, passion and desire—are allowed to reign.

I like it very much there.


This past weekend, I made a leg of lamb with my roommate. I rubbed course salt and pepper into the flesh; I drizzled olive oil and I pressed the oils of rosemary sprigs into the thick layer of fat; I made incisions all over the surface and pushed crushed garlic cloves into the meat. We roasted it slowly, and then halfway through, slathered it with a mustard rub containing thyme, Dijon, olive oil, and more rosemary. We let it sit in its own juices as it roasted. We tented it with foil when it was done.

I decided after I went through this process, that I had forgotten how much I need cooking as a part of my life. I become oddly disconnected and misaligned without it—I feel somehow severed within; and sometimes, in these moments, I feel like I will never make my way back.

But then one finds oneself rubbing salt into a cold piece of meat. And one begins to feel good inside: conjoined, self-possessed.

At least that’s how it was for me this weekend.

I’ve made another leg of lamb now, just for you. I will eat it with someone close to me. I imagine that we will slurp the juices, and moan audibly as our forks hit those pieces of meat that have garlic nestled lavishly between. We will feel sated, in that primal, animalistic sort of way.

We won’t even need words to describe it.

Leg of Lamb with Garlic, Mustard, and Herbs
Serves a large crowd (and one hungry, overeager orange cat)

1 boneless leg of lamb, trussed and tied (3-4 pounds)

1 tablespoon chopped rosemary, plus more torn sprigs 
2 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
10 garlic cloves, crushed lightly with the side of a knife
Kosher salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the meat in a large roasting pan. Make small, 1-inch, incisions in the surface of the meat, all over the roast. Press the crushed garlic cloves into these incisions and into the center of the roast where the boneless leg has been tied. Rub the meat with olive oil, a generous amount of salt and pepper, and several torn pieces of rosemary sprigs. Let the meat come to room temperature, approximately 45 minutes. 

Roast the lamb in the preheated oven for approximately one hour, or one half of the total cooking time. You should estimate about 30 minutes per pound for medium-rare, or 140 to 145 degrees internal temperature. While the lamb is beginning to roast, whisk together the chopped herbs, mustard, and olive oil. Halfway through the roasting time, remove the roast from the oven and slather the surface with the mustard mixture. Return the lamb to to the oven until a cooking thermometer reads 140 or 145 degrees. 

Let the roast rest for 15 minutes before carving. The lamb is delicious hot, right out of the oven, with some potatoes and a small salad. It is also incredible cold, sliced thinly on a sandwich, with a little aoili, the very next day.

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