Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Lamb has a long tradition

Instead of a ham this Easter, try a roast leg of lamb or a roasted rack of lamb.

While the majority of North Americans serve a ham for Easter, many, worldwide, do not. In fact, their choice  for Easter dinner is lamb.

The roast lamb dinner that many eat on Easter Sunday goes back earlier than Easter to the first Passover of the Jewish people. The sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in hopes that the angel of God would pass over their homes and bring no harm.

Today, most Europeans serve lamb at Easter.  Christians often refer to Jesus as The Lamb of God. Thus, the traditions merged.

The most popular seasoning for lamb is mint and rosemary, but in Hungary, paprika and bacon are used to intensify the flavour. Other great seasoning includes garlic, oregano, marjoram, thyme, lemon zest, cumin and coriander. You can make small incisions in the surface of the meat and place garlic and sprigs of herbs into the slits. You can do this right before you begin roasting, or a day ahead of time for a more intense flavour.

Roast Leg of Lamb with Rosemary

1/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons prepared Dijon-style mustard

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon lemon zest

3 cloves garlic, minced

5 pounds whole leg of lamb

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

In a small bowl, combine the honey, mustard, rosemary, ground black pepper, lemon zest and garlic. Mix well and apply to the lamb. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place lamb on a rack in a roasting pan and sprinkle with salt to taste. Bake at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 400 degrees F and roast for 55 to 60 more minutes for medium rare. The internal temperature should be at least 145 degrees F when taken with a meat thermometer.

Let roast rest about 10 minutes before carving.

Roasted Rack of Lamb

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (7 bone) rack of lamb, trimmed and Frenched Y

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Move oven rack to the centre position.

In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, garlic, rosemary, 1 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Toss in 2 tablespoons olive oil to moisten mixture. Set aside.

Season the rack all over with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large heavy oven-proof skillet over high heat. Sear rack of lamb for 1 to 2 minutes on all sides. Set aside for a few minutes. Brush rack of lamb with the mustard. Roll in the bread crumb mixture until evenly coated.

Cover the ends of the bones with foil to prevent charring. Arrange the rack bone side down in the skillet. Roast the lamb in preheated oven for 12 to 18 minutes, depending on the degree of doneness you want. With a meat thermometer, take a reading in the centre of the meat after 10 to 12 minutes and remove the meat, or let it cook longer, to your taste. Let it rest for 5 to 7 minutes, loosely covered, before carving between the ribs.

Your butcher can French a rack of lamb for you, but if you wish to do it at home, it simply means trimming the upper end to reveal the bones, removing excess fat.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.