Boneless leg of lamb makes a reliable main course for a sit-down dinner party. It’s elegant, it’s not at all fussy to cook, and it carves as neatly as a loaf of bread, according to chef/author Molly Stevens. Would I miss the rosy-pink interior of a roasted leg? This was Easter Sunday after all, and it is pretty much a given that we would serve lamb on this festive occasion, so why not give braising a try?
Supposedly, nothing matches the succulence of a braised leg of lamb. Here, the boned leg gets rolled up around a simple stuffing of herbs, garlic, and shallots to add flavor and color to the meat. And, the best part: the strained braising liquid turns instantly into a wonderful silken savory sauce that tastes as good as something you’d get in a fine restaurant. The Sauce was Boss IMHO!
Most food markets carry boned/rolled leg of lamb. In order to stuff the lamb, you’ll need to slip off the netting or butcher twine that holds it together. Then it’s simply a matter of rolling it back into a cylinder and tying it up with kitchen string after stuffing. Molly offers this tip: If you have a butcher who does bone the lamb for you, ask him to saw or chop the bones into 1-inch pieces so you can add them to the braising pan. They will add flavor and body to the sauce. We did not have this option.
While yes, this is a decadent entrée, consider that it’s also egg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, low carb, peanut- and soy-free. Of course, our side of cheesy potato gratin was none of those things! But then the fresh spring peas provided a nice pop of color while containing a fair amount of fiber and antioxidants.
Note — Working ahead: The lamb can be seasoned, rolled, tied, covered, and refrigerated up to 18 hours before braising (steps 1 and 2). Ours got happy in the herbed stuffing for nearly 15 hours beforehand.
Our accompaniments consisted of the best-ever Potato, Fennel and Leek Gratin by Jeanne Keeley from Fine Cooking. Jeanne claims the cheesy Gruyere topping will have you coming back for seconds! Believe me, I wanted more, but was just too full. I will post that blog soon, so stay tuned.
We also enjoyed Sweet Braised Whole Scallions (5 bunches worth!), a recipe also from Molly Stevens. If you’ve never had them, you’re in for a treat. As the scallions braise, the sweet anise flavor of the tarragon mingles with their oniony juices.
Finally, sweet fresh peas are a must on a Spring table. For this, we followed a recipe by Alton Brown, although his included adding cheese. We omitted that ingredient since our potato dish was brimming with it.
Herb-Stuffed Leg of Lamb Braised in Red Wine
- One 5-pound boneless leg of lamb (plus reserved bones, sawed or chopped into 1-inch pieces; optional)
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley; stems reserved
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, mint, rosemary, and/or sage (in any combination)
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion (about 8 ounces), coarsely chopped
- 2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, mint, rosemary, and/or sage (the same combination you used in the stuffing)
- 2 bay leaves
- Reserved parsley stems from the stuffing, torn into 4-inch lengths
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 cups lamb, veal, or chicken stock, homemade or store-bought
- Trimming the lamb: open the lamb out flat, fat side down, on your work surface. If there are any especially thick spots, make a lengthwise incision with a knife, without cutting through the meat, and lay it open like a book. You want to get the meat as even in thickness as possible while keeping it intact. Season the cut side generously with salt and pepper.
- The stuffing: in a small bowl, combine the parsley, mixed herbs, shallot, garlic, and allspice. Stir until evenly mixed together.
- Stuffing and shaping the lamb: spread the stuffing over the cut side of the leg of lamb with a rubber spatula. Press the stuffing into the meat with your hands to make it adhere, and spread it around so that it covers the entire inside surface. Roll the lamb up into a cylinder, and tie it neatly and snugly with kitchen string. Season the outside of the meat with salt and pepper. (The lamb can be prepared to this point and refrigerate for up to 18 hours before braising. When you are ready to braise the lamb, remove it from the refrigerator, and let it sit at room temperature while you heat the oven.)
- Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Browning the lamb: add the oil to a heavy lidded Dutch oven or braising pan just large enough to hold the lamb (5-quart), and heat it over medium-high heat until it simmers. Lower the lamb into the pot with tongs, and brown it evenly, turning to brown all sides, until mahogany in spots but not at all burnt, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer the lamb to a platter. Add the bones to the pot if you have them, and brown them as best you can without charring, turning them ever 4 minutes, for about 12 minutes. Set aside with the lamb. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot. If the bottom is at all blackened, wipe those bits out with a damp paper towel, doing your best to leave behind the caramelized juices.
- The aromatics and braising liquid: return the pot to medium-high heat, add the onion and carrots, and sauté, stirring, until beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir it in with a wooden spoon so it coats the carrots and onions. Add the teaspoon of herbs, the bay leaves, and parsley stems. Pour in the wine and bring it to a boil, stirring and scraping with the spoon to dislodge all those wonderful caramelized bits stuck to the bottom of the pot from browning the lab. Boil to reduce the wine by about half, about 2 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes allowing the flavors to meld.
- The braise: return the lamb to the pot, along with any juices that have seeped from the meat, and tuck the bones, if using, around the meat. Cover with a piece of parchment paper, pressing down so the paper nearly touched the meat and the edges extend over the sides of the pot by about an inch. Then put the lid in place, and slide the pot onto a rack in the lower third of the oven. After about 15 minutes, check to see that the liquid is simmering gently, not aggressively. If it’s simmering too vigorously, lower the oven heat 10 or 15 degrees. Continue to braise, turning the lamb with tongs and basting once or twice, until the meat is fork-tender and cooked through, 2 to 2 ½ hours.
- The finish: transfer the lamb to a carving board with moat or platter to catch the juices, and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Strain the pan juices into a saucepan, and skim off and discard excess fat – there may be as much ½ cup, so it’s a good chance to use your gravy separator, if you have one. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes to concentrate the flavor and thicken it some. Taste: if it tastes too brothy, boil for another 3 or 4 minutes. Taste again for salt and pepper.
- Serving: remove the string from the lamb, pour any juices that have accumulated on the carving board into the sauce, and carve the lamb into ½ inch slices. Arrange the slices on dinner plates or a serving platter, and pour over enough sauce to moisten. Pass the remaining sauce at the table.
Don’t forget to brown the end caps. Our notched wooden spatula helps hold the meat in place while the ends brown.