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Recipes: Leg of lamb with fresh mint sauce for Easter dinner

A fresh take on mint sauce livens up an old-school main course.

Roast Leg of Lamb With  Carrots and Pearl Onions

Photographs by anthony tieuli; food styling by Sheila jarnes/Ennis inc.

Roast leg of lamb with carrots and pearl onions.

When it comes to a traditional Easter dinner, in my experience, you have your ham people and your lamb people. I’m in the latter camp. Here’s a menu built around roast boneless leg of lamb, accompanied by carrots and pearl onions glazed with vermouth and the meat juices and served with mint sauce in the (mostly) English style.

ROAST LEG OF LAMB WITH CARROTS AND PEARL ONIONS

Serves 6

A boneless leg of lamb requires a lot of trimming — cleaning one up usually takes me about 30 minutes. A sharp boning knife is very helpful. Because the leg includes muscles of varying thickness, I cut slits in the larger ones and pound the whole leg to make the thickness more even before rolling and tying the roast.

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Note that you will need a large ovenproof skillet and kitchen twine, and that the lamb rests for an hour at room temperature before it’s roasted.

1½    tablespoons olive oil

3        tablespoons pressed or grated garlic (about 15 medium cloves), divided

1½    tablespoons minced fresh thyme

1½    tablespoons ground coriander

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1         butterflied boneless leg of lamb, about 4 pounds, untied and any netting discarded

Kosher salt and pepper

2        teaspoons neutral oil

½      cup dry vermouth

1½    pounds carrots (about 9 medium), scraped, ends trimmed, and bias-cut into ½-inch slices (about 4 cups)

1         pound frozen pearl onions, thawed and drained (about 3½ cups)

1½    teaspoons light brown sugar

3        tablespoons unsalted butter

1         teaspoon fresh lemon juice

¼      cup chopped fresh mint

In a small nonstick skillet over medium heat, mix the olive oil, garlic, thyme, and coriander and cook, stirring, until the mixture just begins to sizzle, about 1½ minutes. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl (you should have about 1/3 cup). Remove 2 tablespoons of the mixture and reserve separately.

With a sharp, thin-bladed (boning) knife, trim the fat, gristle, and silver skin from the exterior and interior of the meat. With the tip of the knife, make cuts in the larger muscles to help flatten them. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and, using a meat pounder or a heavy saucepan or skillet, pound it to as even a thickness as possible. With the tip of the knife, lightly score the interior side of the meat, producing ¼-inch-deep cuts about 1 inch apart in a crosshatch pattern. Rub the larger quantity of the seasoning paste over the scored surface, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges; sprinkle evenly with 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Roll the meat into a neat, compact cylinder, tucking in loose bits and flaps as you go, and tie with kitchen twine at 1½-inch intervals, as well as once or twice lengthwise. Set aside at room temperature to rest for 1 hour.

With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Blot the lamb dry with paper towels and generously sprinkle it all over with salt and pepper. In a very large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, heat the neutral oil until shimmering. Cook the lamb until well browned on all sides, turning it once every 3 minutes, about 12 minutes total. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast until center of the meat registers 120 to 125 degrees for medium rare (or 130 to 135 degrees for medium to medium well) on an instant-read thermometer, 40 to 55 minutes. Transfer the lamb to a carving board, cover loosely with foil, and rest for about 15 minutes (internal temperature will rise while the meat rests). Remove the twine, slice the lamb, and arrange slices on a warmed serving platter.

Meanwhile, taking care with the screaming-hot skillet, set it over medium-high heat, add the vermouth, and bring to a strong simmer, stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet to dissolve the fond. Add the carrots, the pearl onions, and ½ teaspoon salt, return to a simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are almost tender when poked with the tip of a paring knife, about 7 minutes. Add the brown sugar and reserved 2 tablespoons seasoning mixture, stir to incorporate, and continue simmering, uncovered, until the carrots and onions are fully tender and the liquid in the pan is reduced to a tablespoon or so, about 3 minutes longer (you should have about 6 cups of vegetables). Off heat, add the butter and stir to melt and incorporate it, about 1½ minutes. Add the lemon juice and pepper to taste, and stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Add most of the mint and stir to distribute. Transfer the vegetable mixture to the platter with the lamb or to a serving bowl, sprinkle the remaining mint on the vegetables and meat, and serve at once.

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ENGLISH-STYLE FRESH MINT SAUCE

Makes about ¾ cup

This type of mint sauce, traditionally served with roasted lamb, is tangy and sweet. White wine vinegar is common, but I prefer rice vinegar for its lower acidity. The strained mixture (before the final addition of mint leaves) can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

1¾    cups rice vinegar

6        tablespoons sugar

11/3    cups fresh mint leaves, very finely chopped, plus ¼ cup lightly packed

Salt

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the vinegar and sugar to a strong simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and continue simmering until reduced to about 1 cup, about 15 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally. Set the pan aside off heat to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the larger quantity of mint and a pinch of salt, stir to blend, and rest (still off heat) to infuse for about 10 minutes. Set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl and strain the mixture, pressing on the solids to release as much liquid as possible; you should have about ¾ cup. Just before serving, finely chop the remaining ¼ cup mint leaves, add to the sauce, stir to mix, and serve with lamb.

TIP: BONING KNIFE

The blade of a boning knife is narrow and sharp, with a bit of flex. Those characteristics make it easy to maneuver into small fat deposits or tight spaces between muscles, around bones and joints, and under silver skin. It’s the knife I reach for to clean up a leg of lamb.

WUSTHOF of USA

The blade of a boning knife is narrow and sharp, with a bit of flex. Those characteristics make it easy to maneuver into small fat deposits or tight spaces between muscles, around bones and joints, and under silver skin. It’s the knife I reach for to clean up a leg of lamb.

POTATO AND ARTICHOKE GRATIN

Makes one 2-quart gratin (serves 6 as a side dish)

To coordinate cooking and serving the lamb and the gratin, prepare the lamb and then put together the gratin while the meat is resting at room temperature. The gratin will take longer to cook than the lamb, so give it a 15-minute headstart in the oven. It can finish cooking and rest briefly while you cook the carrots and onions, slice the lamb, and prepare the serving platter.

For maximum flavor impact, I brown the artichoke pieces and infuse the cream with the aromatics, which I then strain out to mix with the potatoes. Note that the cream may look broken by the end of cooking, which is fine.

This gratin was inspired by a recipe in The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert.

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 tablespoon neutral oil

2 9- to 12-ounce packages frozen artichoke hearts, thawed completely or partially cooked according to package directions, blotted dry, and halved or quartered if whole (about 3 to 3½ cups)

Salt and pepper

1 medium onion, chopped

2 teaspoons pressed or grated garlic (about 3 medium cloves)

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme

2 cups half-and-half

½ cup heavy cream

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced (about 1/8 inch)

2/3 cup finely grated Parmesan

With the rack in the upper-middle position, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside. Generously smear the inside of a medium (about 2-quart) shallow baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the artichoke pieces, sprinkle them lightly with salt, and toss gently to coat them. Position the pieces with a cut side down and cook, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the pieces so another flat side is down and cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Wipe out the skillet, adjust heat to medium, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, and heat until melted and foamy. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and continue to cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the half-and-half and heavy cream and bring to a bare simmer, about 4 minutes. Cover and set aside, off heat, to infuse briefly, about 10 minutes. Strain the cream into a large measuring cup, cover the cup to keep the cream warm, and reserve the solids in the strainer.

Arrange half of the sliced potatoes in the prepared baking dish, overlapping like shingles. Sprinkle them evenly with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper, and about half of the onion and herbs reserved after simmering the cream mixture. Spread the artichokes over the potatoes and press them gently into a relatively even layer. Shingle the remaining potatoes over the artichokes. Sprinkle them evenly with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper, and the remaining onion and herbs. Pour the cream mixture over the potatoes and shake the dish gently to allow the cream to settle and the salt to dissolve. Set the dish on the baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes. With a wide spatula, evenly press the potatoes to submerge, sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan, and rotate the baking sheet. Continue baking until the potatoes are very tender when pierced with a paring knife and the surface is well browned, about 40 minutes longer. Rest the gratin for about 10 minutes, and serve hot.

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.’’ Send comments to cooking@globe.com.
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