Last week, I wrote about alternatives to Turkey for Holiday Celebrations; little did I know at the time, that article would save my Thanksgiving dinner. In it, I included a link to Ina Garten’s 4-hour lamb, a recipe I gratefully referred to when my menu was thrown for a loop less than 8 hours before I was to cook. Here’s the breakdown: I had, with help from the family, acquired all of the ingredients for the drool-worthy Bastilla dish I intended to make. The primary ingredients of Bastilla are chicken and almonds. At noon, my guests sent me a message letting me know they had developed food sensitivities to poultry and nuts.
Had the news not come from a couple of family friends (the sort for which you give thanks), I may have accepted their offer to bring their own food. Making an involved dish that half the guests could not eat, however, was a preposterous idea. So I headed into the thick of mental traffic for some last minute shopping (I should mention we held our Thanksgiving a day early, or else I would have been out of luck). Fortunately, no one was competing for leg-of-lamb, and the butcher was kind enough to custom cut to size. A surprisingly pleasant series of interactions along the way, and I was oven-bound.
Garten’s recipe is easy to follow and a joy to make. A few “I can’t believe it’s this simple” highlights: no need to peel garlic. I crushed my cloves with the flat of a knife to fill time, but it is in no way required. No need to prep the herbs beyond cleaning, as you strain the sauce before serving. No needs to babysit the oven- just baste “occasionally”- I did at 45-minute intervals, and all was delicious.
This luscious piece de resistance was received to raucous approval; my mother, in fact, said it was the best lamb she had ever had. This is especially notable as we are a family of lamb-lovers. Fall-off-the-bone tender and incredibly rich, it pairs nicely with a simple salad and oven-warmed bread, saving some time on consuming side dishes. For fellow white wine enthusiasts, it also goes nicely with a dry white (perhaps because the recipe calls for a bottle of exactly that). Perhaps the most fun of all? No forks, no knives, just spoons- saving you time on cleanup as well.
My only additional word to the wise: as with so many simple recipes, the right tools make a world of difference. I am prone to macgyvering in a pinch, and I have to tell you: on this one, don’t. A good roasting dish is essential, of course, but don’t forget adequate meat-handling-paraphernalia. A leg of lamb of 5-7 lbs. that is too hot to touch is a tricky thing to wrangle. I used two wooden spoons (I know, I know), and all was well until…I had to put the browned leg into the boiling fat-and-wine-filled Dutch oven. At this point, my grip slipped and the ensuing splash gave me an impressively blistered abdomen. While this made for an entertaining story for my guests, it was a peeling painful easily avoidable mess.
So- whether you are cooking for a small group or a large one, for a holiday or a Wednesday night feast, this lamb recipe is a deceptively simple showstopper that merits a place on your menu.