How to Stop Being Afraid of Cooking Lamb and Become a Boss
We know it’s expensive and you don’t want to mess it up. We’re here for you.
For those of us who don’t live in New Zealand, lamb is a meat generally reserved for a special meal. For one, it isn’t usually the lowest-cost option in the butcher’s case. For two, cooking lamb can be tricky, precisely because you don’t practice and gain confidence.
But lamb is a delicious meat, it’s a showstopper for a reason, and you can do this. Here are the easiest, most forgiving ways to prepare and cook lamb (and learn to debone your own cut, saving money at the same time!).
RELATED: Cooking Lamb 101
Start With the Right Cut of Lamb
To start, I always buy the largest leg available, since the meat-to-bone ratio will be better, and you will actually get more meat with a larger leg, since the bones tend to be a static size. Anywhere from 6-9 pounds is good. The leg you buy will either be the thigh portion, from the knee to the hip joint, with one large bone to remove, or the full leg, with the shank still attached, which is effectively the calf muscle. I always buy the full leg, because the shank becomes a bonus. It is a terrific cut for braising, so I always remove it and wrap it well and freeze it, and either collect a bunch of them for a dinner party, or sometimes indulge in a great solo meal!
RELATED: Grilled Lamb Recipes
Debone the Lamb (You Can Do It!)
Here’s how you can save some money on that lamb meal: The best value in lamb is the bone-in leg, which can then be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Once you know how to debone a leg of lamb, you can either roast or grill to perfection with ease.
1. Find the knee joint by manipulating the leg until you feel the knee and the fat cap covering it.
2. Place the leg with the fat cap resting on your cutting board.
3. Use a sharp boning or paring knife to make a small slit into that knee joint to begin to detach it from the larger thigh bone. Once you find the way into that joint, just keep using small strokes to cut all the way through.
4. Once the joint is detached, you can cut straight through the meat to remove the shank whole. Wrap this thoroughly in plastic wrap and put into a zip-top bag and freeze until you have collected enough for the braised lamb shank recipe you can make another day.
5. Now with the shank removed, you should be able to see both ends of the thigh bone you are trying to remove clearly.
6. Make small cuts that trace the top of the bone until you can feel the whole length of the bone with the tip of your knife.
7. Working carefully and still making small cuts, work around the bone, keeping your knife as close to the bone as possible, to cut the meat away and reveal the full length and width of the bone.
8. Once this is done, cut around the larger hip joint to fully reveal the joint, and give you a handle to hang onto.
9. Hold this joint, using a paper towel if it feels slippery, and pull upwards with light pressure, while making small cuts underneath the bone to remove the meat. As you cut the bone should start to lift upwards slowly out of the meat.
10. Once you get to the bottom knee joint, turn the leg around and cut carefully around that joint freeing the bone, being sure to also remove any cartilage or connective tissues you can feel.
How to Roast a Leg of Lamb
1. Season the meat well on both sides with salt and pepper, adding any herbs or other flavorings you might like.
2. Tie the roast with butchers twine back into a football shape, essentially just rolling it back up tightly into its natural shape minus the bone.
3. Brush with olive oil, and roast on a rack over a pan at 275°. Roast 2½ to 3½ hours for medium rare (130°).
4. Let rest for 30 minutes while you let your oven crank up to 500°.
5. Return to oven for 15 minutes to brown, then carve and serve.
How to Butterfly a Leg of Lamb for Grilling
Antonis Achilleos, Food Styling: Margaret Dickey, Prop Styling: Missie Crawford
1. Lay the deboned meat on its back and remove any large pockets of fat.
2. Look for a large muscle and a smaller muscle connected with a flap of meat. You are trying to get this to a more even thickness all the way across.
3. Holding your knife at a 45-degree angle, make a cut about halfway through the smaller of the two muscles and pull it open like a book. Press down to ensure it will stay open.
4. On the larger muscle, again holding your knife at a 45-degree angle, you will cut about 2/3 of the way through before opening like a book. You should now have a large relatively even piece of meat that is ready for marinating or seasoning and grilling.
Note: If you find the size unwieldy, you can cut this in half for easier manipulation on the grill.
How to Grill a Butterflied Leg of Lamb
1. Prepare your grill with a cool zone and a hot zone.
2. Cook over indirect heat (on the cool side), turning every 15 minutes until a meat thermometer reads 125°-130° (expect about 20 minutes per pound).
3. Move the cut, fat side down, to the hot zone and cook about 2-3 minutes per side to brown and crisp.
4. Rest 15 minutes before carving.
Inside Tip: How to Make Three Meals From One Leg of Lamb
Now that you’re in charge of the butchery here, make that investment in the leg of lamb go even further. Start with the deboned leg: Separate it into the two muscles, and the small thin meat flap. Depending on how large your leg was, the largest muscle will usually serve four to six people as a roast, the smaller muscle two to four as a roast, and the center flap is a great grilling item for either a steak for one or two, or to turn into kebabs.