We do most of our entertaining during grill season for a couple of reasons. First, most of us never tire of nicely grilled, slightly smoky meats and vegetables. Second, the grill gives me extra cooking space, freeing up burners for side dishes and the oven for biscuits.
I love to grill boneless leg of lamb because it’s speedy — cooking time is less than 30 minutes — and carving is a breeze. Most butchers will remove the leg bones and butterfly the meat for you with advance notice.
If you purchase a bone-in leg of lamb, removing the bones proves easier than it sounds; keep your knife as close to the bones as possible, while you gently loosen the meat from around them. Once loosened, simply twist out the bones. Then, use the sharp knife to “butterfly” the leg — opening it up into a nearly evenly layer of meat, like opening a book.
Whenever possible, I buy meat that was raised right: fed a vegetarian diet (preferably grass for the best flavor), allowed to range and not given antibiotics or hormones. Many supermarkets sell Australian or New Zealand lamb, which tends to come from smaller animals than domestic lamb. A boneless leg of lamb from these animals will be about 5 pounds, just right for a group of 8 with some leftovers.
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Ras el hanout, a North African spice blend, makes a great grill rub for lamb and chicken. You can find the blend in specialty markets or online at www.thespicehouse.com or from www.spicewallabrand.com. It’s easy to create your own blend using the freshest spices you have available. Here’s a simple combination to get you started:
Ras el hanout: Mix 1 teaspoon each, ground: paprika, cumin, ginger and turmeric in a small bowl. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon each, ground: black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cayenne and allspice. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon each, ground: cloves and nutmeg. Makes about 2 tablespoons. Store in a jar.
Serve the grilled lamb with a spicy green condiment to dab onto the sliced meat. A generous shower of cut fresh herbs tastes great with the lamb too. For side dishes, consider garlicky mashed or roasted potatoes, fresh green beans with lemon, and a mixed green salad with berries and a red wine vinaigrette.
Grilled Boneless Leg of Lamb
- 1 small boneless leg of lamb, 4 to 5 pounds, butterflied
- 2 tablespoons ras el hanout spice blend
- Coarse (kosher) salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Minty Green Sauce:
- 1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon each: ground cumin, salt
- 1 cup hickory or mesquite wood chips, optional
- 2 tablespoons each, chopped, fresh: cilantro, parsley, chives
1. Trim excess fat, if necessary, from skin side of lamb to leave a 1/8-inch covering. Smear 2 tablespoons of the oil over a baking sheet. Place lamb, skin side up on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle meat with half of the ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of fresh pepper.
2. Turn lamb over so lean side (where the bone was) is up. Use the tip of a sharp paring knife to cut a small slit into the meat and insert a sliver of garlic into the slit. Repeat to evenly distribute the garlic into the meat. Sprinkle with remaining ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of fresh pepper. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.
3. Cover lamb loosely with wax paper and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Soak wood chips in water to cover for at least 30 minutes.
4. For minty green sauce, put jalapeno into a small cast-iron or nonstick skillet set over medium heat. Cook pepper, turning often, until charred on all sides. Cool, then cut in half and scrape out seeds. Put pepper flesh into a small blender (or use an immersion blender in a small bowl). Add oil, lime juice, mint, cumin and salt. Add 1 tablespoon cold water and puree smooth. Add another tablespoon of water if needed to make a thin sauce. Let stand at room temperature while you cook the lamb.
5. Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium hot. If using, drain wood chips to periodically sprinkle over the hot coals. (If using a gas grill, set the chips on a piece of foil and place the packet over the heat source.)
6. Place the lamb, skin side down, directly over the heat source. Cover the grill and cook 12 minutes. Turn lamb over. Cover grill and continue grilling until a meat thermometer registers 140 degrees when inserted in the thickest portion, 11 to 13 minutes more. Remove lamb to a cutting board. Cover loosely with foil and let stand 10 to 15 minutes.
7. Use a sharp knife to slice the lamb thinly. Sprinkle slices with a little salt. Sprinkle herbs over all. Pass the green sauce to add in small dollops.
(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)