julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Baaaaaad


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“We went in and asked for a leg of lamb.  The lady behind the counter basically said, ‘You mean this leg of lamb,’ and pulled out the big honking leg of lamb that was sitting in the middle of the teeny tiny meat case.  Yup.  Seven and a half pounds of the leg of a baby sheep for thirty bucks.  Is that good?  Bad?  I dunno.  But these lambs are going to break me.” – Julie Powell

For dinner last night, I made my first leg of lamb, and you know something? It was surprisingly easy! I’ve never really done much with lamb, because frankly, I find it a little intimidating. (I mean, come on, have you seen those racks of lamb in the meat department display case? What the heck do you do with those things?) I’m glad I gave it a try – you can follow along as the process is documented in a new video posted to the home page of this site. (Notice my new, hole-free oven mitts!) 

So here was last night’s menu: Gigot de Pre-Sale Roti (roast leg of lamb) with Choux de Bruxelles Etuves au Beurre (Brussels sprouts braised in butter) and Petits Pois Frais a l’Anglaise (buttered peas). I know, I know…it seems like a lot of butter, but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Promise. 

I had a pretty big ah-ha moment that probably seems pretty obvious to everyone else, but for some reason it had never really occurred to me. Whenever I watch a cooking show, they already have all of the ingredients for the recipe laid out on the counter, measured and ready to roll. Why don’t I ever do that? I tend to pull things from the pantry as I go, which leaves me feeling frantic and really makes no sense at all. So last night, I decided to plan ahead and prepared all of my cooking items ahead of time. And you know something? I found it really made the whole cooking process much easier. I felt more in control, which then made me feel more confident, thus making the whole experience much more enjoyable. So if you’re not already following this method of culinary organization, might I suggest you give it a try? 

Into the oven with you, leg of lamb!

Once I had all of my ingredients laid out, I preheated my oven to 450 degrees. I took my lamb and made a few small slits in the thicker parts of the meat and slid in some sliced garlic (this step is optional, but I had seen Julia do it on an episode of The French Chef, so I thought I’d give it a try). Next, I patted the meat dry with some paper towels, then brushed the outside with a mixture of melted butter and oil (it didn’t take much to cover the leg – no need to lay it on thick). I set the lamb in a roasting pan and put it in the oven for 15 minutes, turning and basting it every five minutes. 

Back into the oven for cooking time.

The idea here was to give the meat a nice sear, so that the juices from the meat wouldn’t come out too soon (after all, when attending a dinner party, isn’t it best to be fashionably late?). When the meat was lightly browned all over, I took it out of the oven, brought the heat down to 350, and tossed a chopped carrot and sliced onion into the bottom of the pan. I put the meat back in and set the timer for an hour. (Cooking Time: plan for 30 minutes per pound of meat. Our leg o’ lamb was a 2-pounder, so I only need an hour. I did that math in my head – aren’t you impressed??) And as far as the meat goes, that’s all I had to do! No basting, no turning, no babysitting, no hand-holding. Cool, huh? I was only an hour away from a scrumptious meal…I could do the laundry, work out on the elliptical, take a nap, build a model airplane, put away my Christmas decorations (which is what I actually did)…a whole hour of free time! This is my kind of recipe. 

Blanched Brussels sprouts. Not to be confused with Blanche Devereaux.

About a half-hour before the lamb was ready to come out of the oven, I blanched some Brussels sprouts and drained them, then smeared a little butter on the inside of a casserole dish. I arranged two layers of sprouts, heads-up inside the dish, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and drizzled a little melted butter over the top (we’re talking maybe a tablespoon or so…not an entire stick, so don’t panic). I covered the top with a piece of buttered wax paper and put them over heat on the stove until the veggies began to sizzle. Then I set them aside and worked on the peas. 

Pass the peas, please!

The peas I heated in boiling water for a few minutes until they were tender, then drained them in a colander in the sink. I left them there while I took the lamb out of the oven (which smelled amazing – the garlic was wafting through the kitchen at this point). I removed the lamb to a platter to rest for about 30 minutes (you want the juices to go back into the meat), which was just enough time to finish my side dishes. I put the sprouts in the oven for the 30 minutes, then tossed the peas into a pan and heated them to evaporate any excess moisture. I added some salt and a tablespoon of sugar, then poured them into a serving dish and topped it with a few thin slices of butter. 

This is where sauce comes from...

With the lamb on a serving platter, I set the rack from the roasting pan aside and added a cup of beef stock to the pan. Over the stove, I heated the pan and scraped all of the contents together, mashing the vegetables in the pan to soften them into the sauce. When it seemed well mixed, I poured everything into a small pitcher and took the sprouts out of the oven. Dinner was ready…and not a moment too soon. We were HONGRY*! 

I sliced into the leg of lamb and couldn’t believe how tender and juicy the meat was. I served it onto two plates and topped the meat with the sauce in the pitcher, as well as a helping of peas and sprouts. The meat was cooked perfectly, and while it tasted good, the garlic was a little overpowering. I think next time, I’ll skip that step. I felt the meat seemed a little gamey, but I’m used to steak, which is definitely different in texture. The sauce was beefy and hearty and I really liked eating the mashed carrots – they had great flavor.

Not too baaaaaaad!

The peas were good, not too buttery with a hint of sweetness. But to be honest, if I were making them myself I wouldn’t add sugar to the recipe – I just love the taste of natural veggies. I really loved the Brussels sprouts. In fact, they may have been my favorite part of the meal. While I think they could have been blanched a little longer (they were still pretty crisp in the middle), the outside was delicious. They tasted more like roasted vegetables, with the salt and butter on the outside forming a slight golden coating. Good thing for me Ben isn’t a big fan of any kind of Brussels sprouts, because that means MORE FOR ME!!

This meal was great. Not only did everything really taste good, but I can’t stress enough how easy it was to make. The lamb is pretty much on auto-pilot once it goes into the oven, and the two veggies were a total no-brainer. From start to finish, the whole process took an hour and a half (and that was just because the lamb had to rest for a half-hour after it came out of the oven), and the majority of that time you can be doing other things. This goes to show you that just because you’ve got a busy schedule, that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well. 

Bon appetit!

– Jessica

 *Hungry – having pangs of hunger; Hongry – totally famished and ravenous to the core

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