by Jaclyn Jecha
Cooking a whole leg of lamb isn’t something I get to do often…err, ever. I’m much more likely to go for smaller cuts, since I rarely have 8+ mouths to feed. But when the American Lamb Board decided to presented me with this embarrassment of riches, I told my friends that I’d bring the entree for our Easter lunch. We scrapped our characteristically low-maintenance plans to grill burgers in their backyard.
After a quick mental run-through of my favorite lamb dishes, I decided to lean on Moroccan flavors. Since the lamb came deboned, stuffing it was the obvious choice for getting as much flavor as possible into the meat. The stuffing is a mix of sauteed onions, pine nuts, golden raisins, preserved lemon, and spices. I used a mix of cinnamon, cumin, and turmeric to highlight the sweetness and depth of the stuffing. A quick sauce of pan drippings, apricot jam, fresh orange juice, and honey was the perfect savory-sweet accompaniment.
My friends and I don’t often think to plunk a big piece of meat down in the center of the table when we sit down for potlucks or group dinners, but this lamb won me over. I assumed that I’d have some leftovers for a sandwich later in the week, based on the serving sizes I’d seen online, but we ate every last piece of meat and I personally made sure to eat every last pine nut and raisin left of the cutting board.
I watched a few videos online to get comfortable with the idea of butterflying the lamb myself. You can ask your butcher to do it for you, but it’s not hard if you have a sharp knife. After unrolling the deboned leg of lamb, you make slices in the thickest parts so they unfold like a book to form a larger, thinner rectangle of meat that’s easy to stuff, roll, and retie.
Morrocan-Style Stuffed Leg of Lamb with Apricot Sauce
5-6 pound boneless, butterflied leg of lamb (see note above)
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons turmeric
½ teaspoons red pepper flakes
¼ cup preserved lemon peel, rinsed and finely chopped
¾ cup golden raisins
½ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup apricot jam
¼ cup honey
Juice of one orange
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Allow your lamb to come up to room temperature while you prepare the stuffing. Trim any excess fat off both sides, if necessary. A thin layer is fine.
Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sprinkle with a teaspoon of kosher salt. Saute, stirring regularly, until the onions are completely softened and golden. Add the garlic and spices and saute until the garlic softens, 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the preserved lemon, golden raisins, and pine nuts. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 275° F. Liberally salt both sides of your lamb. With the boned side facing up, spread the stuffing evenly over the surface. Roll the lamb back up into a tight cylinder and tie with twine at 1-inch intervals (or use the netting it came in). Tuck any stuffing that falls out back into the roll.
Place the leg of lamb in a roasting pan or baking sheet and cook to your desired doneness. An instant-read thermometer in the thicket part of the lamb will read 125-130° F for medium-rare and 130-135° F for medium. This should take about three hours, but start checking after two. My oven cooked the roast to medium in less than 2 ½ hours and you don’t want to be surprised. Cover the lamb with foil and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before serving.
Meanwhile, pour the pan drippings into a measuring cup or fat separator and let the fat float to the surface. Remove as much of the fat as possible and pour ½ cup of the drippings into a saucepan. Add the apricot jam, honey, and orange juice. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove a few tablespoons of the sauce and mix it with the cornstarch to form a slurry before adding it back to the pot. Cook until the mixture thickens, about two minutes. Serve alongside the lamb.