Nothing says “celebration” like a ridiculously expensive piece of meat. No, that’s not really true, but this is certainly the time of year for splurging, both in terms of dollars and eating. And few things (notwithstanding all of the vegetarians and vegans out there!) are as impressive an anchor to a festive meal as an extravagant cut of meat.
A leg of lamb is one of the quintessential splurgy cuts of meat that are featured in many a holiday celebration. If you are lucky and keep your eyes open, you can often find them on sale during the holidays. Check the online circulars of your favorite markets, or if you have a butcher in town, you may want to ask them to alert you when leg of lamb goes on sale. The love in my family’s eyes, however, makes any splurge worth it.
As many of us try to buy meat that is grass-fed, pasture-raised, and/or ethically handled, we now have to accept the higher price tags that come along with this effort to eat meat more responsibly.
So, you do NOT want to mess this up. It’s a smart idea to invest a little time in planning out your cooking method and timing to make sure you get the best results in all the land.
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How to Cook Leg of Lamb: A leg of lamb is a quintessential starring main dish featured in many a holiday celebration.Tweet This
Pick the Right Cooking Method for Leg of Lamb
For leg of lamb, roasting or grilling is pretty much the answer, and as the weather gets colder, roasting tops the list since we are cooking indoors. The dry heat method caramelizes the exterior and allows for even cooking throughout. Sometimes, a recipe will tell you to sear the lamb before roasting, which seals the exterior and encourages a more browned exterior while preserving the tender interior.
Cooking Methods for Leg of Lamb
There are three good ways to look leg of lamb in the oven.
- The first is cooking it low and slow, at a low temperature for a long time. This method creates an end result that falls apart in your mouth.
- The second method is blasting the leg with heat in the beginning, which allows it to develop a crusty exterior, then lowering the heat for the remainder of the cooking time.
- Finally, you can also cook the leg of lamb fast with all high heat. This is the fastest method and the most unreliable. If you do this, you need to monitor the cooking time very carefully, since the temperature rises quickly at the end, and you can easily go from medium rare to medium well in a matter of minutes.
Bring the Meat to Room Temperature Before Cooking
When you take the leg of lamb out of the fridge and warm up a bit, the outside will not cook too quickly before the inside has a chance to lose the chill and cook. Yes, of course, the outside will be browner and more cooked than the inside; that’s intentional. But bringing the meat to room temp before roasting will prevent a too-overcooked exterior or too-raw interior.
Choose The Cooking Temperature Wisely
There are different schools of thought on this. Some people sear the lamb first, some cook it slow and steady, and some switch from high to low heat during the roasting process. All of these methods can work very well; make sure you find a recipe from a reliable source (there are a few below!) and follow it precisely. And make sure the oven is fully preheated to the temperature you chose before putting the meat in.
Use a Meat Thermometer
If you are investing in an expensive cut of meat, you want to make sure you are taking it out at the exact right desired doneness. This is really only achievable if you use an internal thermometer to assess the innermost temperature of the meat at its thickest point, making sure the thermometer is not touching any bone. There are a variety of internal thermometers available, from ones you can check remotely to instant-read versions.
Here are some good meat thermometers to consider (which, by the way, make a really good gift for meat-loving cooks):
- Thermapen One
- ThermoPro Ultra Fast Thermocouple Digital Instant Read Thermometer
- ThermoPro Large LCD Digital Thermometer with Stainless Steel Probe
- Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo Digital Instant Read Thermometer
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Allow for Carryover Cooking
This might be the most important takeaway of all. Carryover cooking is the fact that almost all foods continue to “cook” after they’re removed from direct heat, so the internal temperature will continue to rise. This is extra significant and relevant with meat.
So, if you want your lamb to be rare/medium-rare, which would be an internal temperature of 125 to 130 degrees, you want to take the roast out of the oven when the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees. This is also true for other cuts of beef or lamb, such as steak and rack of lamb. Then, the temperature will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees as it sits, depending on its size.
Let the Leg of Lamb Rest Before Slicing
You want to let the meat sit after cooking for two reasons. One, because of the carryover cooking above. The second is because the fibers of the protein change while the meat is cooking and need to relax post-cooking in order to reabsorb the juices of the meat.
If you’ve ever had the experience of cutting open a leg of lamb to see perfectly rosy meat and lovely juices, only to have the meat turn tough and gray a bit later, that’s because you cut into it too early. The juices ran out of the meat onto the cutting board, instead of being reincorporated into the meat. Patience is more than a virtue here, it’s a necessity. A leg of lamb should sit for 20 to 30 minutes before you cut into it.
Leg of Lamb Recipes
Here are some recipes for those showy cuts of meat!