I can hear you thinking: Why on earth would you cook lamb for 8 hours? MB, isn’t that a bit excessive? Won’t the poor lamb be torched beyond recognition? Wouldn’t the only thing left be a charred hunk of charcoal smoking in the oven?
Let me assure you the answer is a resounding “no.” Stud a leg of lamb with a generous amount of garlic and rosemary, drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle it with freshly ground salt and pepper. Eight hours of low and slow roasting turns the lamb into a succulent wonder, so tender and silky that it falls off the bone (or simply falls apart). It melts in your mouth. I have relied on this recipe for nearly a dozen gatherings - to friends and students and VIPs and PIPs (that would be “previously important people”) and there are never, ever any leftovers.
I adore this recipe because I am constantly searching for things to serve to dinner guests that require precious little last-minute preparation. I hate to miss a thing when friends come around, so I tend to serve stews and roasts and pies and soups that are done or nearly done before the guests walk in the door.
The thing is, while people have been asking for the recipe for ages, I’ve struggled on multiple occasions to get a good photo of the dish - let’s just say it ain’t gonna win any beauty contests. This one, which I shot yesterday, will have to do.
While the lamb is roasting away, filling the house with the gorgeous smell of gamey meat and garlic and rosemary, prepare a simple tangy herb and lemon dressing. The combination of parsley, basil and mint pulsed with some lemon, capers, dijon, sherry vinegar and olive oil elevates the dish (note: this recipe is adapted significantly from a recipe in the gorgeous James Beard award-winning cookbook What Katie Ate. When Katie ate it, she added anchovies to the mix, but House Morell is a strictly anchovy-free zone).
When the lamb comes out of the oven, let it cool a bit, shred it, and place the shredded meat onto a large platter or shallow serving bowl. Drizzle the lovely dressing over it, then scatter it with feta and lemon wedges.
I have been tweaking this recipe over many years, and I’ve found a that a boneless leg of lamb works very well, as you can stuff the cavity with some of that garlic and rosemary, and it takes a bit less roasting time. I’ve also found that putting the creation in a dutch oven instead of a roasting pan covered in foil is preferable - much less of the steam leaks out.
Add this to your list of favorite dishes when hosting a crowd.
A few things I’ve been crushing on lately:
Julie Turshen’s new podcast Keep Calm and Cook On is a gem. She has been introducing me to a host of fascinating figures in the culinary world on my way to work every morning. Love, love the conversations. Warning: serious temptation to buy more cookbooks may follow listening to this pod. Coconut & Collards by Von Diaz is now on my list.
Speaking of tempting cookbooks, Food52 has released their list of cookbooks for this year’s Piglet tournament. The only one I own is How to Eat a Peach, by Diana Henry. Do you have any faves? I must say that I much prefer the Food52 Community Picks list (Sister Pie! Now and Again!) to the Piglet list this year. #cookbooknerd
8 Hour Roasted Lamb with Feta and Herb Dressing
3 medium onions, halved, then sliced into thin half-moons
1 bunch rosemary
5-6 pound boneless leg of lamb
2 garlic bulbs (roughly 24 garlic cloves), peeled and cut into halves lengthwise
2 1/2 cups white wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Herb and Lemon Dressing
1 cup packed fresh basil
1 cup packed fresh Italian parsley
1 cup packed fresh mint
2 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons salted capers, with a bit of juice
juice and zest of one lemon
1 cup good quality olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta cheese (or more to taste)
lemon wedges and lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Toss the onion half-moons of large dutch oven or roasting pan. Scatter a few of the rosemary springs over them. Pour the white wine into the bottom of the pan.
On a large cutting board, open up the lamb. Cut 12 (or so) slits into the lamb and push a garlic clove into each slit. Season generously with salt and pepper and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Close up the lamb and place it with the fattiest side up in your dutch oven or roasting pan. Now cut 12 (or so) slits into the lamb and push a garlic clove into each slit. Season generously with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little more oil. Place a few more rosemary sprigs on the top of the meat, and along the sides. If using a dutch oven, place the lid on top, or if using a roasting pan, cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.
At note on cooking time. If you are using a bone-in leg of lamb, I have found you need 8 hours. If you are using a boneless leg, the meat is done in closer to 6 and a half hours. After 4 or 5 hours, check the meat occasionally, adding a splash or water or more white wine if it’s looking dry.
Once the roast is done, remove it from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes before shredding the meat.
A note on shredding the meat: sometimes the lamb will have a few pockets of fatty bits that you wouldn’t want ending up on one of your guest’s dinner plate. Be sure to pull them out as you shred.
To make the herb sauce: place the herbs, mustard, vinegar, capers, lemon juice, zest, and olive oil in a food processor. Process until a paste forms. Add more olive oil as needed. The consistency should be a little runnier than a traditional pesto.
Arrange the lamb and crumbled feta on a platter and drizzle over the dressing. Serve with lemon wedges and sprinkle with lemon zest. It can be served piping hot, or closer to room temperature.
I have served this dish with mashed potatoes or creamy white beans in the winter or with grain salads (israeli couscous or farro) during the spring and summer.