Start the lamb a day before roasting by making the marinade. Because the acids in the marinade slow down browning, a finish of a fast broil is needed.
This lamb can be your savior on those evenings when you’ve got a bunch of strangers around the table and the mood feels as light-hearted as a dentist’s waiting room.
Serve up the lamb Moroccan style, with its bowls of table herbs and spices, and a plate of lettuce leaves. The idea is that everyone has permission to eat with their fingers and join in on the experiments by trying the lamb with different combinations of spices, fresh herbs, pan sauce and even honey all rolled up in the lettuce. Conversations can’t help but take off.
Cook to Cook: This dish lets you slow down. You can do the real work a day ahead because the lamb has to steep in its marinade overnight. Then easy, slow roasting the next day is essential for letting flavors melt into each other and having the meat cook evenly and stay juicy. Resting the meat after cooking gives you leeway to reduce down the pan juices and arrange the other ingredients on the table.
Wine: Try a Grenache-based wine from the Southern Rhône like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras, or a good Côtes du Rhône.
Equipment Needed: A large, very shallow pan; a half-sheet pan is ideal.
Roasting the Lamb
Table Herbs and Spices
1. Season lamb a day ahead by combining all the marinade ingredients in a food processor or blender and pureeing. Taste for a distinct snap of lemon and a hint of chile heat, adding what you think is needed.
2. Spread the lamb out in a shallow dish. Make about 12 deep slits in the meat and stuff in spoonfuls of the marinade. Pour the rest of it over the lamb, turning the meat to thoroughly coat it. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Take lamb out of the fridge an hour before cooking.
3. About 2-1/4 hours before you want to serve the lamb, preheat the oven to 400ºF. The lamb takes a total of 1-1/2 to 2 hours to cook and needs a 15-minute rest before serving.
Spread the meat out, fat side up, on a large, very shallow pan (a half sheet pan is ideal). Pour in enough of the marinade to coat the meat. Reserve the rest. Roast the lamb for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 300ºF. and roast for another 15 minutes.
4. Pour the rest of the marinade over the meat and continue roasting the lamb, basting often with the pan juices for 1 more hour, or until it is ten degrees under the doneness you want. (Final temperatures: 130ºF. to 135ºF. for rare, 135ºF. to 140ºF. for medium rare, or 145ºF. for medium.)
5. As the lamb roasts, pile the romaine leaves on a platter, cover and chill them until serving. Place the salt, cumin, chile, honey and lemon in small individual serving bowls to pass at the table. Pile the herbs on a plate and refrigerate them, covered, with the romaine. Set everything out on the table when the lamb comes out of the oven.
6. Once the lamb is about 10ºF below the final doneness you want, brown it by turning on the boiler. Broil 5 minutes or until crusty, turn the meat over, and repeat. Transfer the lamb to a platter and keep warm at room temperature 10 to 15 minutes to let juices settle and the meat finish cooking.
7. While the lamb rests, make the pan sauce by putting the roasting pan over two burners turned to high heat. With a wood spatula, stir in the wine, bringing the pan juices to a boil as you scrape up any crusty bits. Cook the sauce, stirring for about 2 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and rich tasting (keep the sauce hot over low heat). Thinly slice the lamb across the grain, arranging pieces on a serving platter. Pour over the pan sauce, garnish with some herbs and serve hot.
Work Night Encore
Lamb on Chile-Honey Bruschetta: Toast thick slices of a rugged whole grain bread over a burner and rub them with a split clove of garlic. Place each on a dinner plate, sprinkle with a pinch of hot red pepper flakes, then drizzle each with a teaspoon of honey and about the same amount of olive oil. Pile leftover fresh herbs (coriander, mint, and/or water cress) on the slices. Warm the leftover lamb slices gently with their pan juices and spread them over the herbs. Serve warm.
Roast Lamb with Rutabaga and Potato: Change the lamb marinade to 1/2 cup red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, 3 large chopped garlic cloves, 12 fresh sage leaves and 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest. Marinate overnight as directed above. Add to the roasting pan 1 large rutabaga cut into 1-inch dice and 2 large red skin potatoes cut into 2-inch dice. Roast lamb as directed, basting with the marinade and another 1/2 cup of red wine.
Chile-Brown Sugar Roast Lamb: Make the lamb as described in the master recipe, substituting Chile Brown Sugar Rub for the marinade. Baste the lamb as it roasts with a combination of equal parts vinegar and pineapple juice.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.
Sally Swift is the managing producer and co-creator of The Splendid Table. Before developing the show, she worked in film, video and television, including stints at Twin Cities Public Television, Paisley Park, and Comic Relief with Billy Crystal. She also survived a stint as segment producer on The Jenny Jones Show.