Grand-slam lamb
How to prepare the popular Easter and Passover meat

SUSAN M. SELASKY
Detroit Free Press
Modified: April 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm •  Published: April 2, 2012
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photo - Sales of lamb jump 50 percent around the spring holidays of Easter and Passover, according to the American Lamb Council. Here, a leg of lamb is prepared. (Romain Blanquart/Detroit Free Press/MCT)
Sales of lamb jump 50 percent around the spring holidays of Easter and Passover, according to the American Lamb Council. Here, a leg of lamb is prepared. (Romain Blanquart/Detroit Free Press/MCT)
Spring is a time of rebirth and festive celebrations. It's often associated with spring lamb, although lamb is available year-round.

In many parts of the world, lamb is as common as chicken is in the United States. But we associate lamb with celebratory meals, which is why sales jump 50 percent around the spring holidays of Easter and Passover, according to the American Lamb Council. The season accounts for 20 percent of total U.S. lamb consumption, the council says.

You can hardly go wrong with a classic leg of lamb, cooked to perfection for a holiday showpiece, as long as you cook it properly. Its shape — larger at the top and narrow toward the shank end — means you can cook it to different degrees of doneness.

You can gussy up lamb with herbs and spices. Rosemary, thyme, garlic, coriander, cumin and paprika are natural fits for lamb. It also takes well to marinades and rubs.

So, if leg of lamb is on your holiday menu, here's a guide. Buying: Many grocery stores sell bone-in, semi-boneless or boneless legs of lamb. The latter is the easiest to carve and takes less time to cook, but it costs more. You can buy a semi-boneless leg and have the butcher remove the bone for you. It's less expensive that way.

Preparing: Many butchers will cut the bone away from the meat, season the meat and then reroll the meat around the bone. Kitchen string holds the roast in place. You can also marinate or season the lamb to your own liking.

Judi Hannewald of Hannewald Lamb Co. in Stockbridge, Mich., recommends keeping the bone and not removing any fat before cooking. "You can trim it (the fat) away as you like after you cook it," Hannewald said. "The fat helps keep the meat from overcooking and moist."

Cooking: Have an instant-read thermometer ready. Bring lamb to room temperature before cooking.

For a bone-in or semi-boneless leg, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place the lamb on a roasting rack. Make sure there is liquid (wine or broth) in the bottom of the pan. Roast 20-25 minutes or until browned on the outside. (If the leg is small, sear it until browned on all sides in oil in a large skillet and put it in the oven at 350 degrees.)

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting about 1 to 1 { hours more. After 1 hour, start checking the temperature. When it reaches 130 degrees in the thickest part of the leg, take it out.

Slicing and resting: Tent lamb with foil and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. The temperature will increase another 10 degrees. The thickest part of the meat should be medium-rare. Slice into ¼ inch-thick slices.

___ LEG OF LAMB WITH PARSLEY GARLIC CRUST AND HONEY MINT SAUCE

Serves: 8 (generously with leftovers) / Preparation time: 30 minutes / Total time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

To substitute a boneless leg of lamb, brown lamb on all sides in a large skillet, about 15 minutes total, depending on size. Pat crust on top and transfer to a preheated 400-degree oven. Cook about 25 to 30 minutes for medium-rare (internal temperature of 125-130 degrees).

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