I believe this method of cooking originated in China. It is a great way of avoiding moisture loss, while retaining all the essential flavour from the meat and seasoning. The cooking time may look short, but with this method you have little heat loss if the crust is airtight as the steam released from the meat is retained in the stone-like crust.
Prick the lamb deeply here and there all over with a small sharp knife and insert the garlic and rosemary into the holes. Season well and then colour the lamb all over in the olive oil until nicely golden. Season again and leave to go cold.
To make the salt crust, mix the table salt and flour together, then add just enough water to bind to a pliable dough. Allow to rest for 5–10 minutes.
Roll the pastry out, liberally dusting it with flour, until big enough to enrobe the lamb completely. Place the lamb inside and completely wrap, sealing with egg wash as you go. Brush all over the outside with egg and, for a better presentation, dust the top with a little Maldon or rock salt and some dried herbs.
Take the lamb out of the oven and leave undisturbed for 20 minutes.
With a serrated knife, cut around the crust to open the top – ideally this should be done in front of your guests, so the salty, garlicky, herby aromas combine with the smell of the lamb... Heavenly!
© 2008 Anthony Demetre. All rights reserved.