There’s something inherently fabulous about serving a roast when you’re entertaining.
It’s got a lot to do with the presentation. Plop that baby onto the center of a pretty platter, and surround it with potatoes that just so happen to cook beautifully (and conveniently) underneath the lamb, and you’re basically done with dinner. It’s really like a centerpiece – and I do believe it’s best served buffet-style, so that everyone can simply and easily serve themselves and marvel at your pretty centerpiece all at the same time.
If you’ve had rack of lamb, then maybe it will be hard to tear you away from those brilliantly tender and flavor-packed lollipops of meat – but I can assure you, a whole leg is definitely the way to go for a dinner party. Cheap? No. Cheaper, for a lot more meat? Yes.
The only semi-dangerous part about serving a roast in general is making sure that it’s cooked properly. You need a trusty thermometer – and yes, trusty is an operative word here, because I do have a thermometer but I don’t always trust it. The thing is, you have to know the temperature because you cannot under any circumstance cut into that bad boy to see what’s going on in there; if you did, you’d send all of those precious juices right out of the meat and onto the platter, which is why the meat must, must, must rest covered in foil for 20 minutes after it comes out of the oven: so that the juices have a chance to redistribute.
Now, the other reason this can be tricky is that as we know, everyone likes their meat cooked differently. The bright side of this is that most roasts are not going to be perfectly even – as in, one end will usually be thicker than another, and thus it will be rarer than the rest. Still, for presentation value I probably cooked my lamb just a smidge more than I would have preferred – because I didn’t want to turn people off by forcing them to look at bloody slices sitting next to the more well-done slices on the platter. I kinda do feel like people might be more turned off by rare lamb than say, rare beef. But I might be totally making this up in my head.
The fingerling potatoes cooking underneath this lamb make up the other part of the reason why a roast is totally a dinner party darling, and that is the fact that it’s easy! Yes, once you’ve got the meat marinated and the potatoes washed, dinner is basically done. And anyone who’s ever served a group of people – or even considered it, and then probably stopped themselves because of this exact point – knows that timing your main course and sides to be done and warm at the same time is more of an art than a science.
All of the luscious fat from the lamb melts right off onto the potatoes, along with bits and pieces the marinade, so all you need to do to the potatoes is hit them with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper before popping the roast into the oven, and you’re good to go.
You could, as a totally sane and healthy-minded individual, stop there and serve the potatoes and the meat and call it a day. Or, you could indulge yourself and add some honey and thyme-roasted carrots into the mix. Why? Well, because this is a spring dinner party, and those skinny, green-topped carrots at the market this time of year are undoubtedly calling your name – that is, if you’re anything like me.
And really, you’re not that weird to want to give into this urge, because guess what? It’s no work at all! The only work involved is the peeling and trimming of the carrots, but that can all be done earlier in the day, so doesn’t count, as far as I’m concerned.
And then – if you can find the carrots that are already prepped for you that I just happened to see at The Fresh Market the day after doing the work myself (c’mon, Whole Foods – get with it), then you really have no excuse! Because all you need to do is get these carrots onto a baking sheet and, again, hit them with the olive oil and a little salt and pepper, and a drizzle of honey and a bunch of thyme later, you’re there.
If you have a huge oven, or a smaller roasting pan, you could even roast those babies right in with your lamb and potatoes. If not, you’re still all gravy – because remember that whole “you must, must, must let your roast rest for 20 minutes” piece of this pie? Well, that’s exactly how long the carrots take to cook – by the time you’re done slicing the meat, the carrots will be ready to come out and play.
And somehow – magically and mysteriously – if you leave the potatoes in the roasting pan for this same 20 minutes, they’ll stay warm, too.
Wow – that was a lot of yapping about lamb! I suppose I should get into the wine pairing thing here, or at least mention it – I’ll keep it short and sweet for those of you who’ve made it this far. Lamb, like steak or beef, requires a bold wine – definitely red. Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic pairing, and Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz) is another recommended way to go. I went both, and I have to say – I loved the Syrah, mostly because I served my new favorite wine, Boom Boom (here it is, making an appearance on my birthday!). It’s spicy and fruity at the same time … bold and juicy – definitely a different vibe than an oaky Cab, for instance. Everyone went equally crazy for the Boom Boom, but that could have also been because the Cab I served was an inexpensive organic variety I bought at Whole Foods, and as I’ve learned with Cab, you typically need to pay a little more to get that big flavor you might expect as a Cab-lover.
So much for keeping it short and sweet.
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Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Leg of Lamb + Fingerling Potatoes
Adapted from Ina Garten
- 20 large unpeeled garlic cloves, divided
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 (5 to 6-pound) boneless leg of lamb, trimmed
- 5 pounds fingerling potatoes
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven so the lamb will sit in the middle of the oven.
On the morning you plan to serve the lamb, peel 10 of the cloves of garlic and place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the rosemary, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and butter. Process until the garlic and rosemary are finely minced. Thoroughly coat the top and sides of the lamb with the rosemary mixture. Wrap lamb in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Remove the lamb and let it come to room temperature at least one hour before it’s time to put it in the oven. Tie the lamb with kitchen twine (you can try to get fancy like this, or you can just make it work, like I did – the idea is just to keep the it together in a compact shape so that it roasts evenly).
Place the potatoes and remaining unpeeled garlic in a large roasting pan with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat. Place the lamb on top of the potatoes (on a roasting rack if you have one) and roast at 450 for 20 minutes, then turn the heat to 400 and continue to roast for a total of 1 to 1 1/2 hours (depending on how big your leg of lamb is), or until the internal temperature of the lamb is 135 degrees (rare) or 145 degrees (medium).
Remove the pan from the oven and place the lamb onto a cutting board; cover tightly with aluminum foil. Allow the lamb to rest for about 20 minutes. Leave the potatoes in the pan while the meat roasts; they should stay warm enough. Slice the meat and place in the center of a large platter, adding the potatoes around it.
Thyme + Honey-Roasted Carrots
- 3 bunches (about 30) long, thin carrots, trimmed and peeled
- 1 – 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- A few sprigs fresh thyme
- Fleur de sel or other flaked sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Spread carrots onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and honey; toss to coat evenly. Scatter thyme over the carrots.
If also making the lamb and potatoes, place the carrots into the oven right when you remove the lamb in its roasting pan. This way, the carrots will be done just as the lamb is finished resting. If you keep the potatoes in the roasting pan on top of the stove, they will still be warm enough when you’re ready to eat.
Otherwise, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roast for 20 – 25 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice during cooking, until the carrots are starting to brown. Remove from the oven and season with salt and pepper.