For our recent Easter feast, I vacillated between duck, goose or leg of lamb, but the realities of northern living settled the issue for me as I could find none of the above and had to settle for a lamb shoulder instead. Thus far, I have only bought the shoulder so as to cut it up for use in curries or Chinese dishes involving bite size pieces, and I have to confess to never having cooked one whole. When I was bemoaning the fact that I could find neither lamb leg or even chops for our Easter meal, Stefan over at Stefan’s Gourmet Blog suggested that I do the shoulder sous-vide or braise it, but since the former is technically beyond my equipment-wise, and since my wife prefers roast lamb, I decided to go ahead and do it in the oven using a herb-spice combination known as a Gremolata.
A Gremolata is similar to another well-known preparation known as a Persillade, which, in its simplest form is just parsley minced with garlic. The essential difference between the two is that a Gremolata includes lemon zest but, like the persillade, there are many variations on the basic theme. Some versions include sage, thyme, rosemary or mint, and in Milan, I gather, anchovy paste is sometimes used. Oil, chiefly olive oil, may also be added depending on the intended use for the finished preparation. For today’s dish, I am keeping my Gremolata fairly simple…
Here is my shoulder along with the Gremolata ready for use. My recipe is simply just chopped garlic, Italian flat leaf parsley, fresh mint and some minced lemon zest along with a little salt and ground black pepper. I am using extra virgin olive oil as well but it is not yet added to the bowl. Typically, a Gremolata is chopped or minced a good deal finer, almost to the point of being a pesto in some cases, but for today’s use it suits my purpose to chop things much more coarsely.
The shoulder has been deboned and, for want of a better word, ‘butterflied’ by the butcher. As is usually the case with this cut, the result is a bit ragged and wouldn’t lend itself to a nice carving job at the table, which is why I typically only buy it to cut up further. Normally, with a leg, I often make incisions and insert garlic cloves, herb sprigs, or a minced mixture, but with this cut, I just unrolled it, slathered on the gremolata and then re-assembled it back into shape.
Here is the reassembled roast with the last of the herb mix coating the top and the whole thing put into a roasting pan on a bed of parsnip halves. The parsnips were ones I had forgotten about in the bottom of my refrigerator’s crisper drawer and, while parsnips keep for a long time, these are probably going to be a bit stringy and not as sweet as normal. However, even if they won’t be suitable as a vegetable side dish later, they will provide a nice aromatic steam to add flavor and moisture to the roast.
For roasting, 25 – 30 minutes per pound at 350 degrees is about right for a shoulder roast if you like it medium-rare as we do here. My roast is a bare three pounds so I gave it 1 ½ hours at 350 and then let it sit for about 15 minute before carving.
I served slices of the lamb with potatoes mashed with scallion and butter, baby bok choy flash fried with red bell pepper slivers, and the President’s Choice Mint Jelly I featured in a ‘Foodstuffs’ post recently.
The lamb, although not quite as flavorful a cut as the leg, was very tasty. The Gremolata really added to the overall flavor, especially the garlic, but I rather wish I would have used a little more than the half-teaspoon or so of lemon zest I added to the mix as the taste was a little indistinct. Rosemary would have been nice and I think I will use that next time I do this dish.
As for the leftover lamb, I have a plan for some of it that I think my wife will really enjoy. Stay tuned…