Leg of lamb is always the featured entrée in our home on Easter Sunday. I must admit, however, that my first experience with lamb could have been my last. That inedible dish was prepared in the time-honored and assertively bland tradition of English gastronomy. It was roasted in its own pungent juices, devoid of any spices and then served with huge dollops of mint jelly to obscure the gamy taste.
Unfortunately, we Americans do not often eat lamb because of this gaminess. When it comes to meat, we prefer beef, chicken or pork, and we are unaccustomed to gamy-flavored meat, except for venison. But venison is usually made palatable by the addition of flavoring spices and/or marinating – which is what we’re going to do in the recipe I’m sharing with you below.
Thank goodness that one of my Italian aunts later shamed and nearly force fed me into trying her version of lamb. Her rendition featured a boned and butterflied leg of lamb marinated in a heavenly bath of olive oil, wine and lemons with copious amounts of garlic and other spices happily swimming in the liquid.
So, in honor of my late Aunt Notie, who never met a garlic clove she didn’t covet, I’ll share her recipe for the absolutely best leg of lamb you will ever prepare! And to truly elevate this transcendent culinary experience, I’m going to suggest two round, rich and supple red wines to accompany the dish.
I’ve eaten lamb raised in the U.S. and from other countries such as Italy, France, Australia and New Zealand. I’m convinced the folks from the two Down Under nations produce the best tasting lamb, especially from the leg and rack of lamb cuts. The leg of lamb I used for this recipe was raised in New Zealand.
Wherever you purchase the lamb, you’ll need a boned leg that is opened up (butterflied) and which lies flat. Butterflying the leg allows it to absorb the spicy marinade more completely, and it insures more even roasting. If you have a Sam’s Club or Walmart nearby, you won’t need to worry about boning and butterflying the critter’s shank since the product they sell is already packaged that way. Simply open the package and remove the netting from around the leg. If you find a leg of lamb that is only available as a whole piece, ask the store butcher to bone and butterfly it for you. It is worth the effort.
My favorite wines to accompany leg of lamb are big and red, and you should try one (or both) of these bottles.
2019 Ridge Geyserville ($45) – This mostly zinfandel (71%) is blended with carignane and petite sirah and is a delicious mouthful of dark berry flavors with hints of vanilla on the finish. The richness of the wine makes it an absolutely spectacular pairing with the grilled lamb.
2018 E. Guigal Gigondas Rouge – ($38) – Gigondas is village near the renowned Chateauneuf du Pape appellation and its red wines are on a par with its more famous and expensive neighbor. This blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre delivers full-bodied red fruit flavors, hints of licorice and a very spicy finish that compliments the smoky flavors of the grilled lamb.
Aunt Notie’s Leg (of lamb)
One five to six-pound boned and butterflied leg of lamb
One half bottle of good dry red wine
Eight ounces extra virgin olive
Two ounces of red wine vinegar
Eight garlic cloves, chopped finely
One tablespoon of Dijon mustard
Three tablespoons of fresh rosemary chopped or two of dried rosemary
Two teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper
One tablespoon of salt
Four lemons juiced and cut into quarters
Trim some of the thickest fat from the lamb
Score both sides of lamb making cuts diagonally across the meat
Combine the salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary and mustard into a mixture
Rub the mixture all over both sides of the lamb
Place lamb in a large container or gallon plastic bag
Add the wine, lemons, vinegar and juice and pour in and cover lamb
Put in the refrigerator overnight or for at least eight hours
Prepare a charcoal fire or heat up the gas grill
Remove meat from the marinade and pat dry
Place meat directly over the fire four minutes per side until seared
Cook meat indirectly for 30 minutes until inside temp. reaches 130F
Allow the meat to sit covered loosely with foil for 20 minutes
Slice and serve immediately
John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book Augie’s World, which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War, is available online at Amazon. You can find out more about his novels and wine columns at wordsbyjohnbrown.com