Mary Had a Little Lamb. Roast.
It’s officially Fall and getting chilly. I know some families make hamburgers and hot dogs to celebrate the end of summer. We, on the other hand, put a lamb on a spit and roast the shit out of it then invite neighbors and co-workers over to get completely inappropriate, courtesy of my uncle G. In keeping with ES’ other end-of-summer post, I think this might count as food on a stick but more…I don’t know…pornographic?
I’m sure you have a lot of questions: where do you even buy a whole lamb? How long do you have to cook it for? How do you cook it? What parts of it do you eat? What parts are the best? What does it taste like? I The actual chef will reveal the secrets of the lamb after the jump…
OMG. The basting. OK, that’s pretty much all I know about the subject so I’m referring to newly minted* (get it?) lamb expert, Uncle G to lay it down for you: Roasting a lamb may sound easy but…….there are a million different seven things that you have to do:
1. Inventory: You have to figure out what you are going to cook a 30-40 pound lamb on. Are you going to build a pit and construct a spit from sticks and branches? Some do, but that’s a little too earthy for me. I like the idea of a big rotisserie grill – one that you could grill lambs, pigs, goats and maybe a disobedient pet on. But where do you get it? On the internet I found Kanes Barbeque and Rotisserie, a really authentic place with a Greek owner who builds these grills for lamb celebrations. It was not too expensive and big enough to cook a small pig and whatever lamb I could find. If you get one, ask about the Kokoretsi, a recipe a little too ambitious that uses all the parts of the lamb you traditionally throw away. Also, you will need a vehicle big enough to transport the lamb. Oh and a spare refrigerator. See below.
2. Sacrificial Lamb: So with the grill in hand one of course needs a lamb. I went online to find one and did, in Wisconsin. They would butcher and ship a grass-fed organic lamb in two days. Pretty cool but not a great carbon footprint, shipping a lamb from Wisconsin to Maryland. Then I was walking through my local Whole Foods and saw a sign for fresh lamb (parts) from a small farm 45 minutes from my house. Would they sell the whole animal? I met with the meat manger who took me into the meat walk-up and there before me were 4 whole lambs — just take your pick!! I got a lamb of about 38 pounds that was running and jumping two days before. ‘Twas the last lamb “harvested” for the year…Bad luck, buddy. Now try walking through a suburban Whole Foods with a 38 pound lamb carcass in your cart. It made the little kids point at me and ask their moms what was in the cart before breaking into tears!
3. The marinating: Throw the lamb in the trunk, get it home and begin the marinating. Two issues….what do you marinate it with and what do you marinate it in? The guys in our local Greek restaurant (the Golden Flame) said to marinate it in lemon juice, garlic, salt, rosemary, oregano, white wine. No olive oil. I had read some bad stories about the impact of lemon juice on lamb over multiple hours and decided against the lemon juice. Instead, I made a paste of salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, oregano, white wine and olive oil and plastered that on lamby and then put the baby in a large garbage bag in my spare refrigerator. I marinated it for about 12 hours.
4. Bondage: I took the lamb out to my grilling station. I had the big grill and my Weber set up under a canopy (in case it rained…which it did). I placed the spit through the lamb, used 4 screw-down clips to hold it in place and filled the cavity with salt, pepper, lemons, rosemary and oregano. Then, using the largest trussing needle and butcher’s twine, sewed up the cavity. The lamb was placed at the highest level on the grill above 4 bags of coals that had been burning for about 40 minutes prior to the lamb being ready. I also threw in some cherry wood to give it a bit more aroma. For backup, I also cooked three butterflied legs of lamb on the Weber in case we ran out of food…which we did.
5. Grilling: The lamb cooked for 6 ½ hours, being basted periodically with a combination of lemon juice, oregano, rosemary, white wine and olive oil. After the first 3 hours I lowered the lamb onto the lowest level oF the rotisserie bracket and added more coals. When the lamb reached about 130-140 internal temperature I raised the lamb back up to the top of the brace and let it rest there until serving.
6. Hydrating: I had no choice but to attend to the lamb for all six hours, trying to stay hydrated with beer, water and soda. You might think you could leave this baby by itself all day, but no way. The wires holding the legs onto the spit would break, the basting never ended, and of course, the lamb would get lonely.
(LC note: I suggest this for hydrating. While waited for the roasting and the basting we enjoyed a cocktail made from EV’s recipe for peach sangria. We went through a couple of quarts of this in no time because everyone was ridiculously prompt to the party. I blame the fan we had setup in front of the grill, wafting the scents of lamb infused goodness across the neighborhood.)
7. Make it rain: As the carving was about to begin the skies opened and it poured. Those lucky enough to be under the canopy with me got the first and best tastes of the lamb off the spit. It was pretty darn good. Almost like piranha eating meat off the bone, the carcass was picked clean!
*Even if you think it’s trashy, people will ask you for mint jelly so just go ahead and serve it with the lamb. Which begs the question – what else would you serve with this hunka hunka perfectly cooked meat?