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Discerning Diner...with Elan Head
Lamb: A taste worth acquiring

I feel a twinge of guilt as I sit down to write this story, which is an Easter column about lamb.

Lamb, the meat, is one of my favorites. Itís succulent, flavorful and delicious any number of ways ó not least as the holiday roast, a tradition of both Easter and Passover.

However, lambs: The living creatures are mighty cute. And if their cartoonish presence on countless Easter cards is enough to make you a vegetarian, well, I wonít fault you.

Iím not a vegetarian, not yet. So in the name of intellectual consistency Iím going to forge ahead.

If youíre with me, think of lamb for Easter this way: youíre giving Babe a break.

For many years now, lamb has been an also-ran on American tables, though I donít think that has much to do with the doe-eyed charm of its progenitors.

Simply put, lamb is pretty strong-tasting.

If youíre used to the flavor, you love itóit makes other meat seem insipid.

If not, well, you might find the taste a little gamey. Stick with it, though. Itís an appreciation worth acquiring.

A lot of lamb on the market today comes from New Zealand. This is a good, consistent product, though naturally Iím partial to lamb from small growers in my home state of New Mexico.

As with any meat, grass-fed and organic lamb will always taste better, so if you have the time and budget, seek it out. In the Kyrene Corridor, Whole Foods is a logical place to start.

Ever read Roald Dahlís Lamb to the Slaughter? (Itís a marvelous short story; I highly recommend it.) For holidays and large gatherings, the cut you want is the leg, and itís not hard to see how a six-pound bone-in leg, frozen, could finish off a scoundrelly husband.

Not that you need to be intimidated by it. A leg of lamb is straightforward to cook. And because lamb is good at every stage from rare to well-done, you donít really need to sweat the timing.

Hereís what you do: set your leg of lamb ó be it bone-in or boneless ó on a chopping board. Carve away most of the fat and discard the trimmings.

Your leg may have a fell, an iridescent membrane. You can leave this on the lamb or remove it, as you please.

Slice three or four garlic cloves thinly lengthwise. Using the tip of a small, sharp knife,  make incisions all over the leg, then slip a piece of garlic into each.

Rub the leg all over with salt and pepper to taste. If youíd like, rub a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil over the meat, too. The leg is now ready for the oven.

You can leave the lamb in the refrigerator for a day, or cook it immediately. To roast, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Put the lamb on a rack (if you have one) in a roasting pan, and put the pan in the middle of the oven.

Roast for about an hour. (If the pan drippings start to burn, dissolve them with a little water ó just avoid prolonged steaming of the meat.) Now start checking the meat for doneness.

For rare lamb, remove the leg from the oven when a thermometer inserted into its center reads 125 degrees. Let it stand for 15 minutes before carving.

Medium-rare is about 130 degrees; medium, 140 degrees. Well-done is anything beyond. Donít drastically overcook your lamb ó if the thermometer reads 160 degrees, itís time for the leg to come out.

A bone-in leg of lamb or a butterflied leg will take around an hour and a half to cook. Boneless, rolled legs of lamb will take a little longer, perhaps as long as two hours. It really depends on the size of the leg and the state of your oven.

Carve a bone-in leg of lamb with long strokes parallel to the bone. A boneless leg will fall into distinct muscle segments; carve each of these diagonally across the grain.

I love the tang that lemon juice gives to lamb, so Iíll often douse a roasting leg with a half-cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice.

There are other variations. Spike your leg with rosemary needles or sprigs of fresh thyme. Roast it on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes, onions, eggplant, tomatoes and bell peppers, or any combination thereof.

And if you feel adventurous, try stuffing your lamb with oil-packed sun dried tomatoes and goat cheese (the same way you packed it with garlic).

Itís not a clove-studded ham, but it just might become an Easter tradition.

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