Lamb has long been the centerpiece on many dinner tables all over the world, notably in Greece, Northern Europe, Australia, and Central and South Asia. In most regions, lamb is available all year round, commonly sold as lamb chops in most supermarkets. In New Zealand, lamb is the meat of a young sheep that is under one year of age while other countries such as the United States do not make such a distinction. Mutton refers to the meat of an adult sheep over one year of age, and has a less tender flesh that is darker in color and more flavorful. However, some may find this flavor too strong and so choosing the right method of preparation is important.
On the Passover celebration during Easter, lamb is an ancient tradition appreciating the symbolism of the Bible’s Old Testament. The lamb meat is closely associated with Passover, symbolizing the sacrificial lamb that is associated with deliverance from slavery, death, and salvation. Christians also associate the Passover lamb to Jesus because lambs are by nature mild-mannered, which is the perfect Easter symbol for Christ who advocated forgiveness.
The most popular cut of lamb for this occasion is the leg of lamb, which suits home cooks but is rarely offered in restaurants. The leg of lamb is the whole (hind) leg not including the saddle. Lamb shank is a cut of meat from the upper part or shoulder of the front leg. Legs and shoulders are typically home cuts, and the leg is a centerpiece for a celebration. According to Jewish Kosher law, the lamb meat must not contain the sciatic nerve or certain types of fat from the back half of the animal. Hence the lamb shank would be the kosher choice of cut, although the leg of lamb is still a popular choice for a larger Passover feast.
In this recipe, the roast vegetables beneath the lamb were perfectly caramelized and absorbed all the juicy flavor from the roast. Refrigerating the roast overnight helped to infuse the flavor of the lavender with the rosemary and garlic into the meat. I prefer lamb medium-rare to rare, and letting it sit for 20 minutes before carving helped to create a perfectly medium roast outside for my guests, and a more rare part towards the bone for guests with similar tastes as me. It was delicious and so tender!
1 bone-in leg of lamb (4 1/2 to 5 lbs)
3 cloves garlic, slivered
4 sprigs rosemary, snipped into clusters of about 6 leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tbsp dried lavender, crushed
2 red beets, peeled and quartered
2 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch sticks
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch sticks
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
Rinse the lamb leg thoroughly, drain, and pat dry with paper towels.
With a sharp paring knife, make a deep slit through the fat layer of the roast and insert a sliver of garlic and a cluster of rosemary. Repeat every inch over the fat layer until all the garlic and rosemary is used. Generously sprinkle the lamb with black pepper followed by the lavender.
Place the roast in a baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the lamb from the refrigerator 30 minutes before roasting and let it warm to room temperature. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375oF with a rack in the middle.
Toss the beets and the vegetables with the olive oil in a roasting pan until well coated. Season with salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer. Sprinkle the lamb all over with salt and set it onto the vegetables.
Roast for about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours for medium rare, or until an instant thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 135oF. Remove from oven, transfer the roast to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.
Serve the roast at the table to carve the leg of lamb in front of guests and plate with the vegetables.