Order the leg from your butcher ahead of time; the leg bone should be sawed off at the extremity of the shank, just above the knuckle joint, and the leg should be cut somewhat above the pelvic joint—more or less depending on the size desired—and boned as far as the joint (that is to say, the section of pelvic bone removed) but no more. Correct carving is impossible in the interfering presence of the pelvic bone, but a boned leg of lamb, whatever its other virtues, always suffers a loss of succulence that refined little forcemeats do nothing to redeem.
Preferences in degrees of doneness may legitimately vary from rare to pink (which means well done in France), but those who are nervous if flesh is not cooked until gray will never understand what a glorious thing roast lamb can be; count from 10 to 12 minutes per pound, depending on the degree of doneness (from 45 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes should encompass both extremes, size being taken into account) and from 15 minutes to ½ hour of relaxation in a warm place (the time necessary to eat the preceding course—the relaxation period should not be too brief, but it may be prolonged with no damage done).
If rosemary grows in abundance and if the leg of lamb is being spit roasted, shortly before unspitting it remove the dripping pan for a minute while holding a large bouquet of smoldering rosemary beneath the revolving joint . . .
Mix the herbs and the seasonings together. Pierce the roast deeply and repeatedly on all sides with a small, sharply pointed knife, directing it on a bias toward the bone, each time forcing a small pinch of the seasoned herbs deeply into the vent with your finger. Rub all over with olive oil, pour over the wine, and turn the roast around in its marinade several times over a period of a couple of hours or so.
For an oven roast, wipe it dry with a towel (this is not necessary for an open roast), rub it again with olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper at the same time, place it in a shallow oven dish just large enough to hold it, and start it in a 450° oven, turning it down to 375° after about 10 minutes. A spit roast is best salted and peppered only some 15 minutes after it has been turning. Begin basting, in either case, after about ½ hour, first only with the fat drippings (or with a bit of olive oil if they are too sparse), then 10 minutes or so later, as the roast begins to color, begin basting with the marinade: For an oven roast, add a spoonful to the pan from time to time, basting with the mingled juices in the bottom of the pan and adding no more marinade until the liquid in the pan has nearly disappeared; for a spit roast, all of the marinade may be added to the dripping pan, washed around that part closest to the fire occasionally to keep it deglazed, while basting regularly at the same time. The liquid will dissolve the caramelized meat juices, reducing to a syrupy consistency, and the meat, from repeated basting, will acquire a rich, glossy surface; basting and roasting should be conducted in such a way that practically no juice remains in the roasting or dripping pan when the roast is done. What little juice remains in the pan should be poured over the roast at the time of serving, so that as the meat is carved the juices that flow from within will mingle with the basting juices, a spoonful or so taken from the tilted platter to pour over each serving.
Carve at the table. If you do not have a handle especially designed to screw onto the leg bone (manche à gigot), hold the bone end, wrapped in a tea towel or napkin while slicing thinly, always away from yourself, at a sharp angle almost parallel to the bone, first removing the number of slices desired from the thick, rounded fleshy section of the leg, then turning it around to slice in the same way from the thinner, more elongated muscle on the opposite side of the bone, and, finally, cutting from the bone outward near the point at which it is gripped, slicing off the shank meat; each of these sections has a different flavor and, because of the leg’s construction, a different degree of doneness.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.