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Slow Roast Leg of Lamb

Sometimes the most stunning dishes are the ones that were simplest to execute. Mona Farrugia suggests a wonderful Sunday lunch centerpiece which you will enjoy making and eating.

 
Slow Roast Leg of Lamb
Slow Roast Leg of Lamb
Slow Roast Leg of Lamb
Slow Roast Leg of Lamb

Information

Main Ingredient Lamb
Preparation Time 5-15 minutes
Cooking Time 2 - 3 hours depending on weight
Course Main
Recipe Serves 8
Recipe Type Roast
I am normally so organised I am anal, but sometimes I leave what other people consider 'important occasions' to the very last minute to plan. My ingredients shopping is usually done hours before people turn up as I am obsessed with freshness.

I take my Sunday roasts seriously though. It is very rare that we have people over for Sunday lunch as we are normally eating at the Xjuhs on that day, so when it is my turn to cook, people's expectations are sky high and I am regularly warned that if my food is not up to scratch, my family will 'report' me, possibly to the Sunday Lunch police.

What a lot of words to say: this leg of lamb is perfect, impressive and so easy to produce nobody will know it was all down to good buying.

Method

You need:

A fresh leg of lamb – for 8 people you need 3 ½ kilos (this includes a huge bone which the dog with love) but leave it up to your good butcher to calculate

6 cloves of garlic

3 tablespoons of fresh herbs: I mix rosemary, thyme, parsley, chives, English sage, local sage and marjoram but you can basically use anything but mint, which is too overpowering.

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

A block of pancetta: this is what you will protect the meat through its long cooking process.

Very good olive oil [the flavours are subtle and important: don’t skimp]

500ml dark stock: I used veal, which isn’t dark, and mixed it with a cube of Kallo Beef Stock

½ teaspoon of saffron strands

A pinch of sugar

5 tablespoons of good balsamic vinegar [as thick as you can go] or balsamic jelly, available from quality food shops

1 egg yolk [2, if using small eggs]

50 grams of unsalted butter.

 

Heat the oven to 220C, 425F, Gas Mark 7

Prepare and clean an oven rack and the largest oven dish you have

 

Ok, let’s go:

Chop the herbs and garlic together, quite finely, but don’t fuss unduly.  Add some sea salt and fresh pepper.

Slice the pancetta quite thickly – you should get around 8 – 10 slices.

Then press the herbs into the pancetta slices until you have everything evenly distributed.

Take your olive oil, pour some into your hands and massage the lamb with it until it all gleams. This will do three things: protect the lamb further, make the herbs stick to the lamb and relax it. Ok, the last one is a joke (that is, unless you are working with a live one).

Press the pancetta, herbs side down, over the lamb until you have covered all of it.

 

Let’s start on the sauce now, which looks complicated, but isn’t:

Heat the stock in a pan.

Grind the saffron in a pestle and mortar with the sugar (the latter is not for flavour but acts as sandpaper and helps you grind really finely).

Pour half the stock into a bowl, add the saffron and sugar, add half the balsamic vinegar and beat in the egg yolk. You will end up with a taupe-coloured thin sauce (see picture). Please make sure the stock is just lukewarm: otherwise you will end up with scrambled egg yolk, which you do not want.

Place the lamb on the rack.

Pour the sauce preparation into the large oven dish and place it on the lowest rack in the oven.

Push the rack with the leg of lamb into the oven.

The idea is that as the lovely fat and herb juices drip from the lamb, they go straight into your sauce prep, but of course, you had figured that one out already.

Cook for 15 minutes and no more.

Then switch the oven down to 190C (375F, Gas mark 5) and cook for at least another 90 minutes. You may need more, depending on how well done you like your lamb.

Every twenty 20-30 minutes baste the lamb with the sauce preparation.

When you think it is ready, take the lamb out, cover it with foil and leave to rest for at least 20 minutes. This is the most important part as the meat continues to break down and soften.

 

Now let’s finish the sauce:

Strain the contents of the preparation though a sieve into a saucepan. Add the stock. Bring it all to the boil. Add the remaining balsamic vinegar, slowly add in the butter and whisk slowly by hand until it is all dissolved and you have a very velvety sauce. Pour into a heated sauce boat (if it is not heated, you end up with a cold sauce, which is quite disgusting).

Carve the meat into thick slices and let everybody help themselves to sauce.

Shopping Tips
My favourite lamb is the fresh kind from Scotland's Millers of Speyside, available from Zammeats at Arkadia and Swatar (on order). It comes ready vacuum packed. To prepare, open the pack overnight and rest the leg on some tissues in the fridge. Some time before placing in the oven, take it out of the fridge: all meat benefits from being started off at room temperature.

If you are buying fresh Maltese lamb (not so commonly available, but I have sometimes found it at the M4 Butcher in Attard) careful as its construction is very different from the Scottish one. There is less meat on it and it is more delicate in flavour. Always ask your butcher about how many people it will serve.

Please do not use New Zealand lamb - the purple one with the 'fat' that sticks to the roof of your mouth - and expect it to turn out like this. I guarantee it won't.

Somewhat ridiculously, I buy the slab of bacon from Lidl, which is awful I know. Zammeats’ deli has a much nicer version, and you can also use streaky bacon from the butchers’ but Lidl was what I had in the fridge. Other options are fat from parma ham and other preserved hams. The commercially-available slices of streaky bacon these days have hardly any good fat: it all seems to be preservative.
 

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Fabio
September 22, 2010
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I have to admit that sounds really delicious and, at the same time, soooooooo far from the italian way of cooking lamb, but living abroad made me much more open to "other" cuisines and I can truly appreciate it.
We don't even have such big lamb leg. Italian lamb, as I'm sure Mona knows very well, is really small, we use to cook a very young lamb, called "abbacchio" which is usually 2 or 3 weeks old and weights a couple of kilos. The way of cooking such a tender lamb is obviously completely different, I'll send you a couple of recipes just to compare.

Mona's reply

I just love abbachio. Unfortunately, you are right, nobody stocks it here.
I would say that this recipe is very Italian, in that the herbs, the olive oil, even the bacon, are all Italian basic ingredients. But please do send me those recipes. I would think that the Maltese lamb is closer in texture to the abbachio so maybe I will try it with those.
Honestly Fabio! I am going to have to return to Rome. Just to check :))

 
 
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