Chef Alex Levine of Whole Earth Center is known for his delicouos, wholesome food. At home Chef Alex makes this long-roasted leg of lamb, just perfect for a wintery weekend.
Alex is not just a fabulous cook but also a great writer. So here is the recipe, in Alex's own words. Read through, and savor every spark of fresh ingenuity.
7-hour Leg of Lamb
(For a local version of this recipe, please visit princetoneats.org)
The classic “7-hour” leg of lamb, braised all day, probably descends from preparations more appropriate for lamb that was on its way to being mutton. The roasts were bigger and tougher and may well have needed 7 hours to become tender.
This recipe, when made with either the shank half or sirloin half of a bone-in lamb leg roast, requires about three hours in the oven. If you use a whole leg with the shank removed, plan on closer to four hours.
The “extra-special” part of this recipe is the additional cooking of the meat, uncovered, at very high temperature. This final touch yields a roast meltingly tender on the inside but crisp and even crackly on the outside.
Don’t count on leftovers.
1 bone-in leg of lamb roast, half or whole. There should be some fat on the roast.
Olive oil for browning the leg
1 large onion, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 carrot, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 celery, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup white or red wine, per your preference
1 ½ cups crushed or diced canned Jersey Fresh tomatoes (available at WEC)
A couple of teaspoons of herbs: some combination of thyme, oregano, rosemary, fresh or dried, or perhaps some Herbes de Provence.
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Remove lamb from refrigerator, uncover, and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack positioned to fit the lamb.
In a large casserole that can go into the oven, heat up a little olive oil. Sprinkle the lamb with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and brown from all sides. Remove from the pan to a platter and add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables start to soften.
Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any leftover brown flavorful bits. Mix in herbs and tomato product. Return the lamb to the roasting pan with any pan juices. Cover the pan.
Cover the casserole and place in the oven. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees, and roast for 3-4 hours.
Remove pan from oven and increase oven temperature to 450. Transfer lamb to a plate and cover to keep warm. Be careful moving the roast, as it may try to fall apart. Remove the vegetables from the casserole with a slotted spoon; rinse them and reserve them for the sauce. Strain cooking liquid into a fat separator or glass measuring cup; spoon off any fat that rises to the surface and discard.
Rinse out the casserole and spread a bit of olive oil on the bottom, and return roast, uncovered to the hot oven.
Make the sauce: combine the cooking liquid and reserved vegetables in a small saucepan and purée with a hand blender. Add a tablespoon of butter or heavy cream, if that’s the sort of cook you are. Keep sauce warm.
When the lamb is crisped up and – if there’s a layer of on it – sizzling, remove it from the oven. Carve lamb (it will be melting tender and falling apart, so you won’t be able to to carve neat pieces) and arrange slices on a large warm platter. Drizzle with sauce before serving, or serve the sauce on the side.
If the whole carving thing is too elegant, place the meat, right in its casserole, on a trivet on the middle of the table, and have your family or guests remove hunks of meat from the roast with a pair of tongs. Yes, it’s that tender.
A delectable variation:
Try making this dish with a rub of puréed onions (just a bit), garlic and jalapeños, with some salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, and lime juice added. Omit the browning in oil, just put the seasoned roast straight in the oven with a few onions around it and a cup white wine and a little water. The result?.. Lamb “carnitas,” for out-of-this-world tacos or burritos.