20 February 2011

Roast leg of NZ lamb

I didn't really end up cooking the New Zealand leg of lamb the way I thought I would. My initial idea was to cook it as I would cook an expensive French leg of lamb — basically plain, with maybe a light sprinkling of dried thyme, salt, and black pepper over it, and several cloves of garlic in the roasting pan to give it some of their flavor.

Instead, in looking around at all kinds of recipes and methods for cooking leg of lamb, I found a couple of recipes for marinades that sounded good. I had all the ingredients on hand, and I also decided that giving the lamb some smokiness would be good. There was plenty of smoked paprika in the spice cabinet, and some liquid smoke too, so I put those in the marinade with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and mustard, among other ingredients.

The roasted 4 lb. gigot d'agneau

We decided to cook the lamb at a high temperature, at least to start. And to keep the juices and stray marinade from burning in the bottom of the roasting pan, we poured in a cup or so of water at the beginning and kept adding a little water as the lamb cooked. We ended up with a nice sauce.

Score the meat pretty deeply so that the marinade can soak in.

Walt kept an eye on the lamb, turning the oven temperature down as it cooked so that it wouldn't burn on top. And toward the end, he covered it with a sheet of foil. When the internal temperature of the thickest piece of meat reached 135ºF, or about 60ºC — which was after about an hour of cooking — we turned off the oven, opened the door slightly, and just let the roast sit there under its foil for about half an hour, to rest.

A simple but satisfying meal, with bread and wine of course

Resting lets the heat distribute itself inside the meat and even out the cooking, so that the roast is not burned on the outside and raw on the inside . Here's the recipe for the marinade and a description of the cooking method:

Marinated, roasted leg of lamb

For the marinade:
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, crushed or pressed into puree
  • 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. liquid smoke, if you have it
  • salt and pepper, generously
Mix all the marinade ingredients together well.

Trim off the roast as much fat and silver skin as you want.
Score the meat with a sharp knife so that marinade can penetrate.

Spoon on the marinade.

Let the roast marinate in the fridge for an hour or two,
or cook it immediately on a rack in a 450ºF/230ºC oven.
Pour a little water and/or white wine in the bottom of the pan
to keep it from burning. Cook for 15 minutes per pound of meat,
until the internal temperature of the meat reaches at least
125ºF/52ºC for rare, or at most 140ºF/60ºC for medium.

Fairly rare — a little redder than rosé, I think

Then let the roast rest for 20 to 30 minutes so that the
residual heat will penetrate intto the center of the meat,
making it evenly done. The temperature
inside the meat will continue to rise as it rests.
(Medium rare is called rosé in French.)

Store-brand beans — excellent

All we ate for lunch was some slices of roast lamb and a serving of the pale green French flageolet beans. To cook the beans, I followed the instructions on the can: heat them up slowly in their liquid, either in a saucepan or in the microwave oven. Then drain them and add a lump of butter and some seasonings.

Follow the directions (more or less)

Well, I didn't do exactly that. I chopped up two cloves of garlic and cooked it on low temperature in the microwave in butter for 10 minutes. It didn't color at all, but it cooked and flavored the butter. Then, when the beans were heated up, I drained them and put them in the bowl with the garlic and butter and tossed them around with some salt and pepper. They were delicious.

Nice garlicky beans

One of the ways I had considered cooking the leg of lamb was what the French cookbooks call « à l'anglaise » — English style — which means boiling it in a large kettle of water with some aromatic vegetables. You can cook it that way until it's just rare, medium rare, or well done, just as you can cook it in the oven.

I think I'll try that next time, since I've never cooked lamb that way before. For the time being, we have lots of leftovers.


  1. It looks delicious, but where did you get liquid smoke from in France? I have looked in the UK and France and I have never see it, or smoked paprika for that matter!!!

  2. I've wanted to cook a whole leg of lamb for a long time, this looks like a good method, perhaps I'll try this next weekend. Usually I buy some of the boneless leg meat cube it, marinate, and grill it on skewers and then make a Niçoise type salad with it.

    The beans sound real good too. I like the way you flavored the butter sounds very clever.

  3. Diane, the liquid smoke comes from the U.S., I'm afraid. I've never tried to find it here in France. Smoked paprika we get from a shop in the Marais in Paris.

  4. Oh my my my... delicious looking!


  5. I really don't think that boiling a leg of lamb is at all English.....
    we roast them. And by the way the best lamb in the world comes from Wales!!

  6. This looks lovely! Make me want to roast some lamb as well!

  7. Those beans look good. I don't think I've ever had them.

  8. Your lamb and beans looked absolutely delicious. I've cooked New Zealand lamb and it's very tasty,but I have to say Scottish Lamb from the highlands of Scotland is exceptional, only problem is it's hard to get even in Scotland, wonder were it all goes?

  9. Last time I bought a leg of lamb, the butcher offered to cut out the bone. He then slipped it back in for cooking (for taste), but I could slide it out again before carving and that really made life easier. I like your idea of marinade. I think I'll try that.

  10. Ellen, I wonder if you too pay 30 to 40 euros for a leg of good French lamb where you live. Maybe our butcher is just very expensive. I should try another one I guess.

    Patricia, where I come from, N.C., people don't eat much lamb. Or at least they didn't when I was growing up there. I don't know Scottish (or Welsh) lamb but I'd love to try it.

    Starr, you wonder where these ideas come from, don't you? But there must be a basis for it, because nearly all the French chefs and cookbook authors include a recipe for boiled (poached sounds better) leg of lamb and call it à l'anglaise.

    Starman, those beans are available everywhere in France, either in tins or in dried form. If you ever have leg of lamb in a Paris restaurant, the flageolets will probably be served with it.

    Judy, craig, D.O.P., :^)

  11. Diane: you should be able to get smoked paprika easily in British supermarkets. For smoke flavour, use finely ground Lapsang Souchong tea if you can't get smoke essence.

    Ken: I don't think your butcher is particularly expensive. I have to wait for the specials and buy a side or quarter to get an affordable French leg of lamb.

    Starr & Patricia: I agree - British lamb is the best I've ever had.

  12. Well I made this exact recipe today and the result was awesome, the lamb had a very good flavor. While it was cooking the liquid smoke reminded us of smoking turkeys. I had to use navy beans instead of flagolets but the result was still very good.

    The only problem... we have a ton of leftover meat and I'm not sure what to do with it.

  13. I made the exact recipe today and the result was awesome. While the lamb was cooking the liquid smoke filled the house with a very nice smell that reminded us of when we smoked turkeys (a la Justin Wilson). I used Navy beans in place of the Flagolets and they were very good.

    The only problem... we have a ton of lamb leftover and I'm not sure of how to use it up.

  14. Craig, we kept the leftover lamb in the fridge for a few days. One day I cut off a few slices, wrapped them in foil, and heated them up slowly on very low temperature in the toaster oven until they were just warm. We ate them with pasta and a tomato sauce. Another day, I cut off some of the rarer slices, sort of basted them with the leftover lamb marinade/juices, and cooked them, again in a slow oven but a little more this time. Leftover lamb is good eaten cold, with a home-made mayonnaise. You can also make a hash of the lamb with onions, herbs, etc. and then make a shepherd's pie. Or cut some lamb into cubes and cook them with curry powder and cream for a nice Indian-style dish. The curry or the slices of lamb wrapped in foil would freeze well for later.


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