Side Orders: Mastering the art of a crispy and tender leg of lamb

Anne Braly
Anne Braly

My grandmother grew up in Lexington, Virginia, and knew how to roast a leg of lamb. She made the best, hands down. The state of Virginia is known for lamb, partially because of all the Irish and Scottish people who settled there and brought their food ways with them. I don't know how she did it, but the outside was crisp and the meat inside was pink and tender. My mouth waters just thinking about it, and I wish she were still here to tell me how she made it. It couldn't have been that difficult. There were no herbs added to the outside like so many recipes today call for. And it wasn't studded with cloves of garlic. Maybe it was the cut of meat itself.

I was in Ireland right after Easter last year and saw all those adorable lambs in green pastures all around and couldn't believe I could actually eat one of those precious little animals. I swore off lamb then and there. That lasted until I got home. There are certain addictions I guess I'd rather not break. I can't imagine going the rest of my life without a slice of lamb or a good lamb chop with mint jelly on the side.

photo Anne Braly

With Easter on the horizon, it was time to try my hand at making my grandmother's lamb again. For starters, it was the leg of lamb itself - a bone-in lamb she ordered from her butcher in Virginia. Nowadays, we're all worried about fat, and for good reason. Many meat departments cut away much of the fat on lamb and other red meats. Fat is important for flavor, though. And since you don't eat leg of lamb but once, maybe twice, a year, go ahead and enjoy the fat - if you can find a leg with any fat on it. My suggestion: Don's Meat Shop in Hixson. Owner/butcher Don Rains says most legs of lamb he gets come in boneless and already tied with little fat on them. But around Easter, he stocks bone-in lamb with a nice layer of fat. You can also find bone-in leg of lamb in the meat department at Whole Foods.

Next, and this is a no-brainer: Lather the leg with oil. I'm sure my grandmother used vegetable oil, but olive is OK if it will make you feel a little less guilty about enjoying that fat layer. Sprinkle the leg liberally with kosher salt and granulated garlic. Or cut small slits around the lamb, and impregnate the outer layer with cloves of garlic. While many recipes call for the addition of rosemary to a leg of lamb, I prefer a rub made of lemon juice and fresh mint.

After many legs of lamb that were marginally good, I believe I've finally mastered the art of a good, crusty leg of lamb to serve this Easter. The original recipe is from "Greece: The Cookbook," by Vefa Alexiadou, and the result is a delicious roast with crispy parts, tender parts and some amazing pan drippings that will make a mouthwatering gravy for your mashed potatoes.

Lemon-Mint Roasted Leg of Lamb

1 (6 1/2-pound) leg of lamb

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Pinch dried oregano

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons mint, chopped

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a sharp knife, score the fat cap on the lamb in a crosshatch pattern.

In a small bowl, toss the garlic and oregano with some salt and pepper. Rub the mixture into the scores of the lamb, seasoning with more salt and pepper, as needed. Rub the lemon juice over the lamb, then brush it with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and mint (see note.) Wrap the leg with parchment paper, then secure with butcher's twine. Brush the paper with the remaining tablespoon of oil, then place the whole leg in a roasting pan.

Roast until golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees, about 2 hours. Let rest for 5 minutes, then discard the paper and string, and carve, serving the slices with the pan juices or make gravy.

Note: If using fresh mint, chop the mint leaves, discarding stems. Make a paste of the chopped mint with lemon juice and 2 tablespoons oil, then rub over leg of lamb before roasting.

A Masterpiece Experience in Cleveland

The popular Masterpiece Experience wine dinner series continues in May at Cleveland's Bald Headed Bistro under the creative eye of James Beard Award semifinalist chef Wesley True. The dinner happens on May 6 and will feature a four-course meal, starting with shrimp ceviche before moving on to spring pea risotto and smoked brisket. The grand finale is a magnificent cheesecake with smoked berries and acai sorbet. Each course will be paired with matching wines. There will also be a silent auction filled with items up for bid, including jewelry and special-experience packages. Tickets ($175 each) are limited and usually sell out quite quickly, so make reservations as soon as possible for an evening of good food supporting the programming of our local public television station, WTCI. For information or to buy your ticket, log onto or call 423-702-7808.

For adults only

It's not too often that I open a bag of candy and virtually melt, but that's what happened with my first bite of Dave's Sweet Tooth Toffee. I've always been a toffee fan, but never have I had such a decadent bite. This is the kind of candy you'll want to hide from the kids. Sorry, little ones, but you'll have enough candy in your Easter basket. The toffee comes in several flavors - dark chocolate, milk chocolate, coffee, dark chocolate cherry and peanut butter - all made with real butter and sugar, but I need not tell you that. You'll taste it at your first bite. Find it at

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