“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” The disorienting opening line of George Orwell’s 1984 came to mind today, when I set out too grill – Yes! – the first meat of spring. And it being spring, it seemed only right to make spring lamb. It wasn’t real spring lamb of course; it’s not time for those innocent little creatures to be slain yet. But it is spring, and it was lamb, and that is spring lamb enough for me. The wood was oak and the cut was a rolled leg and the result was so spectacular that I was forced to eat it before I could take a picture. The one above is a crude approximation drawn from an internet search engine.
Now, you are probably asking yourselves: how did he grill a whole rolled lamb roast? The answer is obvious: I unrolled it. I’m a huge fan of rolled lamb legs; I made one for passover, searing it off in my Le Cruset dutch oven and then cooking it covered with Beglian ale and cherry peppers. (Pro tip: when you add cherry peppers to anything, pour in some of the vinegar too.) The lamb leg, once unfurled, is still an unwieldy piece of meat, odd-shaped, thin in some places and thick in others – the last thing you want to see in grilling meat. Worse still, from a grilling point of view, is the fact that lamb leg is relatively tough. Typically, you see it either slow-roasted or braised; cooked straight up on hot coal, it would have been a blistered mess, its surface black and burnt on the outside and either raw or leathery inside.
Needless to say, my own lamb leg was nothing of the kind. And here’s why: I did it in two steps, first brushing it with rosemary infused oil and the customary salt shower, and grilling it over lump coals and rosemary stems. It didn’t take long to sear the meat, and when it was over, I took it off, and cooled it down, and rolled it back up. It wasn’t as taut or neat as when I got it from the butcher, nor was I able to produce a ball of butcher’s twine, but the wire coathanger I bound it up with kept it from unrolling at least. I inserted lots of garlic, more rosemary, and whatever other herbs I had at hand inside it, and put it on the cool side of a two-zone fire for approximately forty minutes. It’s still cold here in New York (which is what brought 1984 to mind) and the temperature inside the Weber was kept down by the nippy winds swirling around it on my roof. That’s OK; I didn’t need it to cook long or hot; just enough to get cooked most of the way though the outside layers, leaving a rosy-rare inside. Getting the coathanger off was rough though; I ended up having to cut around them. You will however be using butcher’s twine, so presumably the issue won’t arise.
What will happen, though, is that you will have a big, juicy, sizzling brown and herbaceous roast, with an unmistakable wood-smoke crust and a juicy, garlicky interior: the perfect thing to hail the end of winter with.
Rooftop Rolled Spring Lamb Leg
1/4 cup EVOO
four big sprigs of rosemary
1 tbsp Fresh oregano / marjoram / thyme
5 cloves garlic
A rolled, boneless leg of lamb
1. warm the oil in the pan and add the leaves from a spring of rosemary. Let them simmer in the oil until they have infused it with their flavor. (Taste to test.)
2. Open the roast, unroll it, and shmear the oil all around the outside of the roast; add some chopped up rosemary, plenty of kosher salt and some black pepper.
3. Grill over direct heat using lump hardwood charcoal, wood, or non-matchlight briquettes. Brown both sides. Remove.
4. Let the meat cool, and then rub the inside with smashed garlic, the herbs, salt, and while you’re at it add in the full rosemary sprigs. Roll it back up and tie it, as best you can, with butcher’s twine. (Or a coathanger.)
5. Set the meat on the cool side of a two zone fire with only a small amount of coal embers on the hot side; just enough to build up some heat. Close the lid, open the drafts, and wait about forty minutes.
6. Remove, stand, and slice up. Serve.