A trimmed and tied leg of lamb

Meat Cuts 101: Leg of Lamb

NAMP Number: 233 (A-G depending on how you want it)
Muscle Name(s):  Tons, it’s a leg.
Other Names: Piernas, Sin Cana
Cooking Style: Roast or Braise  Certain cuts have certain connotations for me.  

Whenever I think of Porterhouses I think of Fiorentinas in Italy; whenever I think of London Broil I think of Saturday nights with my wife back when we were dating.  And whenever I think of leg of lamb I think of back when I was a Viking, sailing the heaving North sea with nothing but a flagon of mead and an haunch of rarest mutton to stave off the biting cold.  That last part didn’t entirely happen, but the fact remains that cooking and eating a leg of lamb conjures up something primal.  There’s no mistaking that you’re eating a part of a once-living creature when you can see a recognizable part of it’s anatomy right in front of you.

Most legs of lamb (can we abbreviate it to LOL?  I don’t think that acronym is in use) come composed of three principal parts:  The sirloin, the leg itself, and the shank.  The sirloin is the muscle group that connects the leg with the loin – it’s, essentially, the butt.  Sirloin is great on lamb though, nice and tender, but with enough fat to keep it juicy and super flavorful.  Because of the way in which the shank cooks, many butchers will remove that from the rest of the leg.
Most of the time you’ll get the option to have the leg boneless or bone in.  Keep that thing intact.  Keeping the bone in there holds the roast together, conducts heat into the muscle for quicker cooking, and keeps all the delicious juices firmly ensconced in their natural habitat.  For my money the best possible roast, especially when feeding a crowd, is done with the leg left intact, the sirloin boned out, and the shank frenched. If you are doing just the leg itself, have your butcher remove the aitch bone.  It’s just going to hang out and get in the way when you’re trying to slice the finished product.

Really lean leg from a young lamb.

There’s also the option to have the bone in leg cross cut into steaks.  If you ever come across a butcher willing to do this for you, jump at that opportunity.  There aren’t too many cuts from a lamb that are easily grilled.  Rather than flipping a million tiny rib chops to feed all of your buddies, you can just keep an eye on a couple big thick cut leg steaks.  They marinate great like this too, and there’s so much you can do with that to take your lamb to even greater heights.

There are two distinct schools of though relating to the cooking of a leg of lamb.  You can either roast a leg until it’s achieved your desired doneness (rare, medium rare, etc), or you can slow cook it until it’s falling apart tender.  Slow cooking a leg of lamb is, in my overly entitled opinion, a bit of a waste of time for such a great cut.  It certainly tastes fine slow cooked, but you’ll get such better results using that method if you went for my second favorite cut of lamb – the shoulder.  Most butchers charge much more for the leg than they do the shoulder, so you’re playing yourself out of a better meal and also actual money.

This being the most quintessential of British cuts I figured I’d pass along a simple recipe from the man himself.  It’s on page 239 of the Meat Book which I’m just going to assume you have at this point.

River Cottage Roast Lamb

1 leg of lamb (or mutton which we didn’t even talk about but oh my god if you can find it, do it!)
2 or 3 large garlic cloves cut into thick slivers
4 Anchovy Filets chopped into pieces 
Sprigs of Rosemary, broken up
Olive Oil
White Wine
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

1. Put the lamb into a roasting pan and cut slits in the meat three quarters to an inch deep

2. Push a piece of garlic, rosemary, and anchovy in each slit

3. Rub all over with olive oil and roast in a 450 degree oven for a half hour

4. Pour the white wine over the lamb, dial the oven back to 325 and let it chill out for another 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the size of the leg and how you like it cooked. 

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