Harvey grew up on a sheep farm and I’ve always been a townie, but for both of us roast lamb is the taste of childhood Sundays. Their leg of lamb was home-killed, hung for a while and slow-cooked in a wood-fired oven. Ours came from the sawdust-floored butcher round the corner on Friday, sat in the meat safe and went into the tiny gas oven on Sunday morning.
My mother, like Harvey's, began by putting a chunk of dripping in the roasting pan. The glistening roast came out well-done – pink was unthinkable – but it was always tender and sweet, with that lovely nutty taste of good lamb or (more likely then) hogget. The neat slices curved gently away from Dad’s sharp knife onto the waiting plates, ready for Mum to lay a curl of butter on top.
Until his health failed, Harvey took great pride and pleasure in being both cook and carver of our lamb roasts. With some gentle encouragement from me, they became steadily pinker. When I had to take over, I decided I needed a little French help. Julia Child gave me exactly what I was looking for: a simple, easy variation that’s guaranteed to produce delicious, subtly seasoned roast lamb every time.
This recipe needs no higher-temperature searing at the beginning, but the total cooking time needs careful working out. MTAFC recommends just 15 minutes per pound for well-done, but even if you want it rare, New Zealand leg of lamb definitely takes longer, and ovens vary. In mine, it takes 30 minutes per 500g for medium rare, plus 20-30 minutes resting time - this is essential. So a 2.5 kg leg needs to go in 3 hours before serving.
Roast leg of lamb in a mustard coat
(derived from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I)
1 small leg of lamb, about 2.5 kg, trimmed of as much fat as possible (for a bigger one, increase the coating recipe)
A few meaty bones and meat trimmings (I used a cheap shoulder chop to get these)
For the mustard coating:
120 ml Dijon mustard (about 1/2 cup)
2 Tbsp soya sauce (I use Kikkoman)
1-2 cloves mashed garlic
1 tsp finely ground rosemary (you can do this perfectly in the blender - put the leaves in and run it before adding anything else)
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
1 Tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
For the sauce:
Approx. 150 ml white wine (I used a lovely Johner Estate pinot gris this time)
* Take the lamb out of the fridge at least 3 hours before it needs to go in the oven.
* Make the mustard coating - a blender is a big help, but not essential. Grind the leaves finely first, add everything else except the olive oil, and blend by machine or by hand. Beat in the olive oil drop by drop to make a thickish mayonnaise-like cream.
* Use a soft spatula or brush (the spatula seems to work best) to paint the leg of lamb evenly all over. (There should be a little left over - save it for the gravy.)
* Place the meat trimming and bones (with a few extra sprigs of rosemary if you like) in the bottom of a roasting tin. Lay the lamb over them on a rack and set aside until ready to start cooking.
* Roast the lamb until just done to your liking, turning once. (A meat thermometer helps - medium rare is around 155C.)
"...the lamb becomes a beautiful brown as it roasts..." Julia Child
* Rest the leg on a warmed plate, with the bone propped up at an angle so the juices run into the meat, and cover with a folded teatowel until ready to carve.
* Before serving, make the sauce: Briefly brown the meat trimmings and bones in the pan, being careful not to burn them, then remove from pan. Add about 150 ml white wine, scrape bits off the bottom of the pan, and increase heat to reduce the wine by about half. Stir in a tablespoonful (or two) of the leftover mustard coating, plus about 150 ml of water. (I leave the coating in the blender, add water, run it briefly to combine and pour it into the pan.) Deglaze the pan and reduce again until the sauce is a good pouring consistency. Strain into a warmed sauceboat, taste for seasoning, and keep warm, ready for serving.
A roast is made to be shared, and last night we invited dear friends over to eat it with us. I made a very simple, eat-on-our-laps starter of Coromandel smoked peppered mackerel with a few leaves of rocket, parsley and endive from the garden.
The one thing I haven't mastered is carving, so I'd asked Tom to do it. He brought his grandfather's splendid carving set, in its purple-silk-lined box.
While I steamed a few late green beans, warmed the plates, made the sauce and checked the potatoes - small halved ones, baked in a separate tin with olive oil, rosemary and sea salt - he set to work.
I love the shape of the old "boat" the sauce goes in - we found it forgotten in a cupboard in the first house we bought together. I'm always a bit nervous about making this, but it turned out very well, not too thick or too salty, adding a slightly stronger note of the mustard and the tang of the wine.
The flavour of the lovely brown mustard coat had gone gently through the meat, and helped to keep it moist. The potatoes were crisp and golden outside and creamy inside. The beans were fine, though more and more I've come to appreciate the French habit of serving the veges as a separate course. Good food and good wine with good friends - what more could we ask?