Following your nose to all the wonderful food scents of New York City is a pleasurable task. One of the best is found in the Greek section of Astoria Queens, around Easter and Greek Orthodox Easter. The air in Astoria is consumed with the tantalizing smell of lamb being cooked over coals. Maybe it’s the marinade dripping on the coals, or the fat of the lamb, but the aroma is intoxicating. Many folk believe they don’t like lamb. My father’s generation came to hate the strong taste of mutton during World War Two. But mutton and lamb are as different as night and day. Mutton comes from an animal over two years old and is strong, bitter, and tough. Lamb, which comes from an animal less than a year old, is tender, mild, and woodsy. When buying lamb look for rosy-colored meat. The leg is a wonderful cut to grill when butterflied and left open. Prepared this way, the leg is easy and quick to cook. Marinated in somewhat of a Greek style and cooked until still pink inside, confirmed lamb-haters (or even my father) will consume the charred, garlic-infused meat with a fervor.
An important step to this unique and delicious meal is having a discussion with your butcher. Finding a meat market professional that you can talk with and that you’ll be loyal to can pay off tenfold. Good butchers will understand your needs and introduce you to different types and cuts of meat and poultry. They can offer recipe secrets that are a part of meat-counter mystique. Also be fair. Special requests can take time. Butterflying a leg of lamb is time-consuming even in the most experienced of hands. Give your butcher a heads-up. Also ask for a close trim on the fat.
A little grilling ingenuity is helpful. Have a water-filled spray bottle handy. Lamb renders its fat, which can cause flare-ups in your grill. Using a direct-indirect combination cooking method will lessen the flare-ups, while cooking the lamb properly and not leaving the outside a blackened unappetizing mess. When building your fire (or preheating the gas), cover only half your grill with coals (with gas, leave a burner off). When the coals are ash-gray, sear the lamb over the hot fire, then move the meat to the side of the grill without the coals and cover. If your grill doesn't have a cover, a disposable roasting pan big enough to cover the meat can be used. Continue to cook as instructed in the recipe below. The idea is to have a beautifully caramelized outside against a juicy pink center. The great thing about this cut is when your 4-year-old or mother-in-law says, “I don’t like it pink”, the different thicknesses of a butterflied leg create a doneness that will suit everyone at the table.
Grilled Leg of Lamb Serves eight
Ingredients 1- 6 pound leg of lamb, boned and butterflied, left open 3/4 cup vegetable oil 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 1/2 cup chopped onion 10 cloves garlic, smashed 2 teaspoon Dijon mustard 2 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1/2 teaspoon dried basil 1 bay leaf 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Have your butcher dress the leg of lamb for you. Trim any excess fat. Combine all of the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Pour into a 2-quart zipper closure bag, and add the lamb. Marinate in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours. About an hour before you plan to cook the lamb, remove it from the refrigerator and from the marinade. Pat the lamb dry and let rest at room temperature. Build a fire in your grill to one side. If you have gas, leave one zone unlit. When the coals are ash-gray or the gas grill preheated, sear the lamb over the hottest part of the grill. This will take about 10 minutes per side, but turn frequently. Move the lamb to a cooler part of the grill, cover, and cook until you reach an internal temperature of 135º at the thickest part of the leg. This will give you some medium rare meat as well as some that is medium. Do not over cook. Let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
The Menu: To serve with the lamb; sautéed green beans with diced tomato, and oven-roasted new potatoes. Spoon any accumulated meat juices over the meat. For dessert a coconut cake.
To Drink: A Rhone is traditional, but Syrah would be my choice. Try an Australian Shiraz such as Rosemount. A good Californian Pinot Noir would too.
photo credit B.Ellis
FRED THOMPSON is a true renaissance man and would rather be standing beside a grill than most anywhere. Born in North Carolina (that's 'que country), Fred graduated from NC State University, with post graduate studies at Duke University and received culinary training at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY, and St. Helena, CA. He is the Weekend Gourmet Columnist for the News and Observer in Raleigh, NC, and is the author of six cookbooks. Hot Chocolate, (Harvard Common Press, 2006) was nominated by the International Association of Culinary Professionals as single subject cookbook of the year.He has also written for Fine Cooking Magazine,Wine and Sprits Magazine,Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle Magazine, Everyday with Rachel Ray, and Taste of the South. and the San Francisco Chronicle,to mention a few. Fred is a sought after cooking school teacher at CLASS at Southern Season, Institute for Culinary Education (ICE), Central Markets, and the Viking Culinary Center as well as food writing at the Greenbrier Professional Food Writers Symposium. A frequent guest on radio, including All Thing Considered, and Chef's Table, and television. Fred is regularly seen on WBIR's Style program in Knoxville TN. where he also stars in Kart to Kitchen.
Fred, when not on the road, divides his time between Raleigh, NC. Manhattan, and the hills of East Tennessee.
Fred is also a food stylist, and culinary developer. His client base stretches from North Carolina to Tokyo.
CONTACT US AT: fred [at] barbecue-nation [dot] com
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