Wall Street Journal: Rock of Lamb

Rock of Lamb

From special cuts to exotic spices, these takes on the tender, flavorful meat have more than a leg to stand on

By Matthew Kronsberg on March 30, 2012


IN THE BOOK OF EXODUS, the Israelites, still in bondage, were instructed in great detail how to select, prepare and consume lamb in anticipation of their liberation. The almighty menu planner even went so far as to dictate what to do with the leftovers as well: Burn them! No cold lamb sandwiches for you, O children of Israel! (Exodus 12:10, for those of you keeping score at home.)

If eating lamb weren’t pretty much a commandment, there is a good chance Americans would cook virtually none at all. We eat less than a pound per person a year, and we consume half of it in the weeks surrounding Easter and Passover, with much of the rest around Christmas and New Year’s. Lamb, though, deserves a place at the table year‐round. If you’ve never cooked the tender and rich meat beyond the traditional roast with peas and mint jelly, there’s no better time to give it a shot.

We’ve gathered recipes that show off lamb’s potential to dazzle. Brad Spence, chef of Amis in Philadelphia, presents a rigatoni with lamb ragout that walks the line between rustic and decadent. Cambridge, Mass., chef Ana Sortun displays just how bold it can be with her Turkish‐spiced, pistachiostudded kofte kebabs. If you’re willing to go beyond the standard cuts, that’s where the fun really begins. Lamb takes beautifully to slow, low cooking, marrying well with nearly any flavor. Ask your butcher for some neck so you can make David McMillan and Frédéric Morin’s (of the cult Montreal restaurant Joe Beef) classic Boulangère preparation. Or get some lamb breast and cook the Sichuanspiced ribs that have made Mission Chinese Food one of the toughest tables to get in San Francisco.

There are many things to be thankful for this season. Not least among them is that we can cook our lamb any way we please. And that we get to eat the leftovers. Amen.


Black Rubbed Leg of Lamb

Black cardamom lends a subtle smokiness to New York chef Michael Psilakis’s lamb roast, contrasting wonderfully with the bright lemon flavor of the potatoes. At Mr. Psilakis’s restaurant MP Taverna, this lamb is the base of a “Greek Dip” Sandwich, served with lamb jus for dipping. Make sure to keep some meat aside for next‐day sandwiches.

Total time: 2½ hours Serves: 8‐12



  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tablespoons ground clove
  • 6 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 6 tablespoons ground black cardamom
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons ground black pepper, plus more, to taste
  • 5‐ to 6‐pound boneless leg of lamb, rolled and tied
  • 1 large sweet Spanish onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
  • 15 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 6 wedges each
  • 2 cups white wine
  • ¾ cup lemon juice
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt or labne
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • ½ cup extra‐virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • ¼ cup chives, chopped fine, for garnish



  1. Combine cinnamon, clove, cumin, cardamom, 3 tablespoons salt, sugar and 11/2 tablespoons pepper to make the rub. Massage mixture into lamb. Spice‐coated leg may be refrigerated for up to 48 hours, allowing spice mixture to penetrate.
  2. Allow lamb to come to room temperature for 1‐2 hours before roasting. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Over medium heat, sauté onions and garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes. Add potatoes. Season well with salt and pepper, to taste. Mix to combine. Add white wine, two thirds of lemon juice and chicken stock. Cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add potato and onion mixture to roasting pan, then lamb, fattier side up. Baste lamb with cooking liquid before putting in oven. Roast to an internal temperature of 135 degrees, approximately 90 minutes, basting every half hour.
  5. Remove lamb from oven and rest it on cutting board for 15 minutes before slicing. Transfer potatoes, onions and garlic to a warm serving platter. Pour cooking liquid from pan into large measuring cup.
  6. While lamb rests, transfer 5 of the roasted garlic cloves to a small mixing bowl. Mash garlic with fork. Add labne or yogurt and mix. Stir cooking liquid into yogurt‐garlic mixture, ¼ cup at a time. You’re looking for a sauce that will coat the back of a spoon well (about the thickness of a fondue). Add reserved lemon juice to further thin the sauce if you run out of pan liquid. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  7. Cut lamb into thin slices. Plate lamb over potato wedges. Finish with yogurt sauce, a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of chives
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