One of my favorite things to grill is butterflied boneless leg of lamb. I rarely make it unless it’s for a big family get-together, because I have a one-person household, but even then I consider grilled lamb with fresh, pencil-thin asparagus, tiny new potatoes and a salad of baby greens to be the ideal spring meal. My fall-back position is lamb loin chops, which are on sale right now at our store and go on sale often enough that I don’t have to buy and freeze large quantities. In any case, lamb is best cooked fresh, i.e., never having been frozen, rather than thawed from the freezer (the same is true for veal).
It has to be real lamb, though, not mutton. I think one of the reasons many people think they don’t really like lamb is that they’ve been served mutton masquerading as its younger version and were put off by the taste. True lamb must come from a young sheep that is less than a year old, preferably grass fed … so when you see a really large rack of lamb, you can be certain that didn’t come from a yearling.
One thing that enhances the taste of lamb is a good wet rub or marinade. What’s the difference, you ask? Wet rub is closer to a wet paste, whereas marinade is a liquid with herbs and other seasonings in it. For less mess with equal flavor, I prefer wet rub. And though I’ll make that leg of lamb the night before and let it sit in the fridge for 10 to 14 hours, lamb chops or racks only need an hour before they’re ready to grill. Notice I didn’t say barbecue: BBQ is always low, slow and cooked on indirect heat, and tender young lamb doesn’t need that. It’ll do fine over direct hear as long as you keep the interior medium rare. Never cook lamb past medium, or you’ll end up with expensive shoe leather instead of a tasty meal (the same goes for veal). Treat lamb and veal gently, given the youngsters that they are, and you’ll be duly rewarded.
Wet rub for butterflied leg of lamb & lamb chops 1 batch
1/3 cup light olive oil, preferably French or Spanish
zest of 1 large lemon
juice of 1 large lemon
3 tbsp. crushed garlic
1 large shallot, peeled, trimmed and minced
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp. chopped fresh spearmint leaves (not peppermint – that’s too sharp)
4 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 heaping tbsp. Lawry’s lower-sodium Seasoned Salt
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tbsp. ground savory
1 tsp. ground thyme
1 tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground Vietnamese cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Spread out your boneless butterflied leg of lamb fat/skin side down and using a large tablespoon, smear the entire cut surface of the meat with the wet rub; place in a large rectangular glass baking dish big enough to fit the meat flat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. When ready to grill, remove pan from refrigerator and let the meat come to room temperature for at least an hour while you ready the grill. Grill the meat fat side down first, then flip the meat wet-rub side down when it’s a few minutes away from ready; discard any wet rub left in the pan. Grill to medium rare or medium at most.
Alternatively, for rack of lamb or lamb chops:
Combine all ingredients in a freezer-weight Ziploc bag large enough to accommodate your rack of lamb or chops; mix well with a long plastic or wooden spoon . Add the rack or chops, zip the bag closed, and massage the meat through the plastic to distribute the rub evenly, until the contents look well blended. Refrigerate for half an hour. Bring the bag back to room temperature by letting it sit on the counter for another half hour, then grill or broil as usual (don’t overcook – the interior should be no more done than medium).