I think this week, certainly has brought the promise and hopes of spring, somewhere on the horizon. The days feel longer, the air warmer (I know we have a little more room for improvement there), and we are thinking of shedding our winter coats and thinking of spring holidays. As we say farewell to March, two major April holidays beckoning us are Easter and Passover. It was one such Spring many moons back, that I put together some collective wisdom from an assortment of home cooks and pieced together my first roast leg of lamb, and since then there has been no looking back. I have to confess, if I am partial about a holiday meat it is lamb, with ham featuring a second favorite. Sorry, turkey lovers, I know there is Thanksgiving, but any other time of the year its really the leg of lamb that does it for me.
On most traditional Easter and Passover tables, lamb still remains a popular favorite. In fact, lamb is often the common offerings on both the holiday tables. The tradition of eating lamb on Easter has its roots in early Passover observances before the birth of Christianity. According to the biblical Exodus story, the people of Egypt suffered a series of terrible plagues, including the death of all firstborn sons. Jews painted their doorposts with sacrificed lamb’s blood so that God would “pass over” their homes while carrying out the punishment. Accustomed to eating roast lamb on Passover, Jews who converted to Christianity continued the tradition at Easter. Additionally, Christians refer to Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” so it makes sense that the food shows up at the Easter table. On a less symbolic note, lamb would have been one of the first fresh meats available after a long winter with no livestock to slaughter.
History aside, lamb when done right lends itself to a great palate of flavors. The best cut of meat, irrespective of how you plan on cooking it is indeed the leg of lamb, which technically refers to one of the back haunches of the animal, and the most common cut includes the upper part of the leg only. It is commonly sold butterflied or without the bone, and is actually a little easier to handle in this format. That being said, enjoying the lamb bone on makes for a more moist and flavorful roast and an impressive presentation although it is just a little more difficult to slice.
The general palate of flavors for lamb can range from herbs such as oregano and rosemary, to sweet spices like cinnamon, allspice and cardamom. Ideally, since the meat is rich and full flavored, you can skip adding too much complexity.
There are two essential presentations of this meat that are most popular in my house, the first is a well seasoned lamb stew which I will share with your today, it is essentially a home style lamb curry and next week I shall be back talking about how to cook a classic roast leg of lamb, which I do with herbs, garlic and olive oil, yes, that is the picture featured here.