If you want to learn how to cook a leg of lamb, roast leg of lamb is a classic French leg of lamb recipe which is succulent and delicious. Here, I will describe and demonstrate cooking leg of lamb on a fire pit rotisserie which is one of my favorite ways to cook it, not surprisingly. It can also be cooked in an oven or on a regular grill and I will give you some tips on how to do that if you don't have a fire pit and/or rotisserie. Don't be afraid! Cooking a leg of lamb may seem daunting at first, but its not that hard, doesn't require a lot of fancy ingredients and is actually really fun to do!
This recipe is basically a version of a Provençal roast leg of lamb recipe. Provence is a region in the south of France, on the Mediterranean sea which is known for its rustic, country fare with great fresh local ingredients. You can serve it with most any side dishes including grilled or sauteed vegetables. I recommend drinking a hearty red wine with this dish. While many others could work, I particularly like matching a Provençal local wine with their cuisine. So a rich Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Bandol would do the trick beautifully!
What you'll need:
Leg of lamb - I recommend a smaller one for this type of roast leg of lamb, around 4 to 5 pounds.
Mixed fresh herbs - whole branches of thyme, oregano and savory, both for marinating and for the herb brush.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil - about 1/4 cup.
Dry white wine - about 1/2 cup, Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, white Bandol, white Cassis or any other totally dry, crisp white wine will do.
Prep work and Marinating:
Cut off any excess surface fat from the leg of lamb and set in a deep dish.
With a sharp knife, poke holes down to the bone in several places around the leg of lamb meat. Push your finger into the holes to expand them.
Finely chop some of the mixed fresh herbs, about enough to have 2 - 3 tablespoons worth. Mix with several turns of freshly cracked black pepper.
Push a pinch of the herb and pepper mixture into each slit in the meat, pushing it all the way in with your finger.
Pour over enough olive oil to thoroughly coat the roast leg of lamb, rubbing the oil into all the surfaces.
Rub additional herbs, chopped and whole all over all sides of the leg and press them into the surfaces.
Pour over white wine and turn the leg to coat.
Cover gently and let marinate at least 2 hours, up to 4 or 5 hours. Turn the leg occasionally so that all surfaces get thoroughly coated.
In the meantime, prepare a basting brush made out of mixed herbs. You can use a skewer or other fire-proof utensil with kitchen twine. Tie several stalks of the herbs to the skewer securely to make a brush which will be used for basting. Alternatively, you can use a regular basting brush if you don't have enough fresh herbs.
Cooking the roast leg of lamb on a fire pit rotisserie:
Start your fire early, letting many logs burn down to form a bed of hot glowing embers in your fire pit. Keep adding wood until there is a lot of heat and good core of embers.
When ready to cook, pierce the leg of lamb lengthwise as close to the bone as possible and parallel to the bone with the rotisserie spit. I find it easiest to insert it at the shank (near the heel) adjacent to the bone and slowly push it away from me along the bone, exiting near the hip joint. Reserve the marinating liquid.
Generously salt and pepper the exterior of the leg of lamb just prior to putting it on the rotisserie. Alternatively and probably even better, wait until it has been cooking 5 to 10 minutes before salting and peppering it on the spit.
Place the leg of lamb on the rotisserie. If you have a motorized rotisserie, start it at a slow gentle speed. If you have a hand rotisserie, you can slowly turn it but you'll get tired! It is okay to leave it in one position for a while and then turn it a quarter turn and wait again, so that over time, all the surfaces will be exposed to heat repeatedly.
After about 15 minutes or so begin basting occasionally with the herb brush, first with olive oil a few times and later with the reserved marinade (white wine, olive oil and herbs) into which you've added some salt.
If after 15 minutes or so you have not noticed any change in color of the meat or fluid dripping from it, your fire may not be hot enough or your roast leg of lamb is too high above it. Adjust it down if possible so that it cooks but does not burn. This may take some experimentation and is different for every fire pit and rotisserie.
Over time, the surface should attain a golden brown glazed appearance. You can cook it about 10 to 12 minutes per pound of lamb, but no more than an hour and 15 minutes. The interior should ideally be quite pink still. Roast leg of lamb is the most succulent and juicy when it is almost rare or medium rare in the middle. If you prefer more well-done meat for your roast leg of lamb you can use a meat thermometer to test the interior temperature for doneness after about an hour of cooking and occasionally thereafter until it is done to your taste.
Just before removing from the spit, put the herb brush or large branches of rosemary in the fire until it is smoldering and burning. Pass the smoking herbs under the leg of lamb to infuse it with additional herb smoke flavor and aromas.
Remove the roast leg of lamb, set in a large dish and cover with aluminum foil and sit in a warm area.
Let your meat rest! Roast leg of lamb needs at least 15 minutes and ideally almost half an hour of resting time before serving. It will not harm it to let it rest even longer while you are enjoying your first course.
Serving your roast leg of lamb:
After resting, uncover the leg of lamb.
Hold the heel bone firmly with a kitchen towel or napkin.
With a sharp carving knife, start cutting the thick meaty section, cutting away from you and roughly parallel to the bone.
Next cut from the thinner meat on the opposite side.
Finally, cut small slices off the shank.
Serve each guest some of each type of meat as their texture, doneness and flavors are all slightly different and unique!
Spoon over the carving juices that accumulate in the dish if you'd like.
Enjoy your delicious roast leg of lamb!
Notes on other ways to cook a roast leg of lamb:
Barbecue - Use indirect heat cooking so that your leg of lamb can cook slowly without the outside charring. Cook with the lid down to retain heat and allow the hot smoke and air to envelope the leg. Baste as above and turn the leg frequently so that all sides are exposed to the heat from your charcoal and it evenly browns on all surfaces.
Oven - This recipe can also be cooked in your oven if you'd prefer. Preheat the oven to 450. Simply place the lamb on a roasting rack or shallow roasting pan. After putting your leg of lamb in the oven let it cook for about 10 to 15 minutes at 450 and then turn down to 375 where it will stay for the remainder of the cooking period. Turn and baste the leg as above. When done, you can use the pan drippings, mixed with the drippings from carving to spoon over the slices of lamb on each plate.
Enjoy your roast leg of lamb! It is a simple, classic leg of lamb recipe which I'm sure you'll find delicious. And remember to enjoy it with your favorite hearty red wine!