When you’re entertaining, you want a dish that will look impressive, taste great, and somehow, not keep you chained to the kitchen all day. With new season lamb still gracing the shelves, I chose to roast a leg of lamb when I had guests over. This rendition has a mushroom/olive stuffing and is topped off with a Port cherry sauce.
When I first bought the leg, I had a tough time deciding what I wanted to do with it. Some times, the issue is you have no ideas at all–instead, I had ideas all across the board. Each was missing something, so then I started trying to mix ideas together and I had so many options before me, I was just lost. Somehow, in this fog of ideas, I wound up with this dish. The leg was deboned and marinated in a tangy, yogurt-based mixture overnight. Then, the leg was rolled up around a mushroom & olive-based stuffing before being roasted, only to be accompanied by a sauce composed of Port and dried cherries with a sprinkling of garlic, lemon zest, and mint (mint gremolata! Think like osso bucco) on top.
(Not the sexiest plating photo ever! lol)
This was really tasty and delightfully complex. Sadly though, I slipped up a bit on the timing in the oven, so while my goal was medium-rare, it came out more in the ballpark of medium. Nonetheless, the lamb was quite tender, very juicy, and underneath it all, vibrant and slightly tangy on account of the yogurt-based marinade. The stuffing was a great counterpoint–rich (on account of the olives), earthy, nutty (mushrooms), and slightly creamy in texture, further enriched by the juices it absorbed during cooking. The sauce was in contrast to all of this: dark, but slightly and surprisingly sweet due to the cherries. With a sprinkling of mint gremolata on top (to add just a hint of “brightness” to the flavor), getting a bite of all of these components at once makes for a real complex pleasure, which, all together, made for a very hearty meal. Definitely a crowd pleaser and much to my enjoyment, there were enough leftovers for me for days to come.
- ~7 lb Leg of lamb (bone-in or out, you’ll remove it anyways!)
- olive oil
- juice of 1 lemon
- 32 oz plain yogurt
- 1.5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 2-4 garlic cloves
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup mint leaves
- few sprigs of thyme
- ground thyme
- ground cumin
- dried oregano
- dried majoram
- few fennel seeds
- 2 Tbsp tawny port
- few leaves of mint
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 3 shallots
- 1 head (not clove!) garlic
- 1/2 cup pitted kalmata olives
- 16 oz mushrooms (I used 8 oz button mushrooms, 8 oz porcini)
- 1 Tbsp heavy cream
- few sprigs of thyme
- 1/4 cup of mint
- 1/4 cup of basil
- Port Cherry Sauce
- 2 Tbsp balsamic
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 3/4-1 cup port
- 1 cup dried cherries
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 star anise
- 2 cardamom pods
The night before you intend to cook this, debone and butterfly the leg, doing your best to flatten it out to a fairly uniform thickness all around. Cut as closely to the bone as you can so you don’t sacrifice any meat.
Now, the marinade is easy to prepare: dice the garlic, zest the lemon, and then mix everything together in a big bowl. Stick the lamb in there and swish it around so every bit of the surface is covered in marinade. Cover this tightly (bag, plastic wrap, whatever–eliminate the air!) and set it aside in the fridge to rest. You should do the same. But in a bed, not the fridge.
So here we are now on the day of. Let’s get the easy prep work out of the way: first, the gremolata. That’s the last thing in the world you’ll want to worry about later, so just get it out of the way: zest the lemon, and then finely dice the zest, garlic clove, and mint leaves until all finely chopped and mixed. Set this aside in the fridge for later.
And now, work on the stuffing. Finely dice the shallots, garlic, mushrooms (reconstituting any dried ones first if you had to go that route), and olives. Sauté the shallots in a mix of butter and olive oil, and after 7 or 8 minutes, add the garlic, and after another minute, throw in the mushrooms with a dash of salt, sautéing for an additional 10 or so minutes (until the mushrooms are done). Throw in the olives, too (no, you’re not sautéing them).
Meanwhile in a food processor, chop up the bread crumbs (I used the end of a stale baguette) and the fresh herbs. Pulse the sautéed veggies briefly in there as well.
In a bowl toss the bread crumb/veggie/herb mixture well and add the cream, mixing it all together with your hands. Set this aside.
Remove the lamb from the fridge and clean off the marinade (a very quick splash of water will do). Unroll the leg, pat dry, season with salt & pepper, and let it rest for about an hour so that it can come to room temperature.
Once an hour or so has passed, spread the now cool stuffing evenly on top of the lamb (which is fatty side down), doing your best to keep the thickness of everything uniform.
Roll the leg up as tightly as you can (grabbing the long side, so you have a roll that is longer than it is thick). If you plan properly, you’ll have more than like 6 inches of string on hand. I did not. Using the string, tie the lamb at regular intervals to maintain a uniform shape and to keep it rolled tightly.
Season the outside of the rolled leg with salt & pepper and sprinkle on both some olive oil and lemon juice. Lay some sprigs of rosemary on top of the lamb.
Set this on a rack in a roasting pan and transfer to a 425°F oven for 30 minutes. Once time is up, drop the temperature to 350°F. The lamb should take roughly an hour more to be done, but your mileage may vary, so keep a close eye on your meat thermometer (an internal temperature of 120-140°F means you’re done!). Baste using the drippings periodically.
While the lamb is roasting, work on the port cherry sauce. Begin by reducing the balsamic in a saucepan for about 5 minutes or so to get it syrupy in texture. Get this off of the heat and mix about a cup of the stock, simmering and stirring for a minute or two so as to dissolve the balsamic into the stock. Add the rest of the stock and beat in the cornstarch until no clumps remain. Add the whole spices, 3/4 cup of Port, and dried cherries, simmering for about 5 minutes or so until the sauce clouds and thickens up a bit. Adjust seasoning to taste and set this aside.
Once the lamb is out of the oven, let the roast rest for 10 minutes before carving so that it can reabsorb the juices (they taste better on your plate, after all). Cut off the string you used to tie it up.
While the lamb is resting, its time to finish the sauce. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the roasting pan (don’t go scraping up any of the congealed or brown stuff yet though). Then, set this on the stove top and crank the heat, deglazing the pan with the remaining 1/4 cup of Port, finally dislodging all of the brown bits and the like. Get this to a rapid boil and pour the entire mix through a strainer into the sauce base you set aside earlier, pressing on the solids (which you should discard) to get more of the juices in and to enrich the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer and fish out the whole spices–now that its warm, its ready to go!
When its time to plate, serve a cross-section of the leg (to show that stuffing swirl), ladle on a bit of sauce, and top with a sprinkling of the mint gremolata. I served this with a side of roasted, small red potatoes (which were cooked in the roasting pan underneath the lamb, taking on all of that delicious, gamey fat. This is up there with duck fat potatoes!) and some blanched, buttered asparagus.