Just like going to therapy, going home is always full of surprises. Take the olive-stuffed lamb I was going to cook for Easter. My mother was kind enough to buy a leg, but the leg she bought had the bone in it. I was surprised as all hell to see a knobby and sinewy shin buried inside the slab of meat I was planning on to rolling up and cooking.
But there it was, and I had to cut it out. Years ago I worked in a fish market and I prided myself on learning to fillet all kinds of species, from blues to fluke (flatfish are particularly delicate). I never learned the devilishly tricky shad, but few do. Though this gave me a good knowledge of the anatomy of various sea creatures, let me tell you, a fish bone is nothing like a lamb bone.
I hacked away with my mother’s knives, which we probably last sharpened before the dawn of the agricultural era, and I was confused. I followed the bone and carefully separated the meat from the flesh, but I came upon a joint. I worked my way around that, and, eventually, I had a boneless leg. I also had a giant bone, which I saved to show Nina and Pinta, who were asleep when I was doing this.
I needed to marinate the meat overnight, and I wanted to get finished. But, the leg I had was shaped slightly different than what I was used to. It was kind of a cross shape, and then it dawned on me: a butterflied leg of lamb. I’d heard that term before, and now I knew why.
I flopped the meat one way, and then another, and finally figured out how it might roll up. I covered one side with the olive-and-herb mixture, and tied it off with cooking string. I let it sit overnight, wrapped in foil and the paper it had come in.
The next day, I was flummoxed again. It looked to be too long to fit in a roasting pan, so I improvised a bit, putting it on the diagonal. I poured a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan to keep it from smoking.
I roasted it for ten minutes at 450 degrees, and then poured the wine over it and turned it down to 350 degrees. I’m spending a lot of time on this lamb dish because it was so good. The moment I put it in the oven, the house filled with an intoxicating aroma of thyme and rosemary. As soon as I turned down the heat and put the wine on, I went out for a walk with Santa Maria. That’s another nice thing about the dish—no active labor once it’s underway.
It came out of the oven a little over an hour later. I wanted to check the internal temperature, but I couldn’t find an instant-read thermometer in my mother’s kitchen. It looked done, so I left it to sit for about ten minutes.
When I started carving it, I knew it was going to be amazing. The very thick center turned out pink and juicy and the ends were a little more well done. All of it was tender and savory, with the olives and the thyme and the lemon leaving a great flavor on the meat.
But perhaps the most very nice thing about the dish is that it makes mouth-watering leftovers. I ate it for dinner last night with an arugula salad and some bread and cheese, and I ate it today for lunch. That’s the end of it for me, but I know I’ll be making it again soon.
If you try it, let me know how it goes. A friend on Facebook saw the recipe posting last week, and she made it in a toaster oven (and then on the stovetop). She said it was fantastic, so I don’t think there’ll be any surprises.
Here’s how it looked halfway through eating it. Doesn't it just make you want to run out and make it now?
And here’s the recipe again, in case you missed it. Don't be afraid--you can do it!
Olive-Stuffed Boneless Leg of Lamb
- 1 ¼ cups Calamata or Gaeta olives (½ pound) pitted and coarsely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 teaspoons thyme leaves plus 4 thyme sprigs
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ teaspoon finely chopped rosemary, plus 4 rosemary springs
- ¾ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- One 4½-pound leg of lamb—boned, butterflied and trimmed of all visible fat
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup dry white wine
In a food processor, combine the olives with the garlic, thyme leaves, olive oil, chopped rosemary and lemon zest. Pulse until a chunky puree forms. Spread the lamb on a work surface, boned side up, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the olive paste all over the lamb and roll it tightly lengthwise into a roast. Tie the lamb with kitchen string at 1-inch intervals. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for a least 6 hours. Let return to room temperature before roasting.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the lamb on a rack set in a roasting pan and season with salt and pepper. Tuck the rosemary and thyme springs under the lamb and roast for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and pour the wine over the lamb. Roast for about 45 minutes, basting twice; the lamb is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 140 degrees for medium.
Transfer the lamb to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the pan drippings into a bowl and spoon off the fat. Discard the strings and cut the lamb into thick slices. Pour any lamb juices into the pan drippings, spoon them over the meat, and serve.