Easter Lamb

Back when I was growing up on the block, Easter dinner was usually celebrated with pernil, or roasted pork shoulder. In some case it was ham, normally of the Smithfield variety with a honey or syrupy glaze. But in my family Easter dinner meant lamb, in a glorious roast and seasoned to perfection. As I reflected on it, it made sense. After all, Christ the Lord was a shepherd so what better way to celebrate his resurrection than with a good lamb dish.

The family ritual meant watching the Easter Parade, so-called, on the tube, having a few beers and some shots of rum in between, and then the great dinner. In those days the parade was hosted by a local newsman named John Tillman, on channel eleven. It was so long ago sometimes I wonder what ever happened to Mr. Tillman. As for the event, people would dress up in their best finery. It wasn't till years later that I discovered that the "Easter Parade" wasn't anything like a parade, but just a bunch of folks dressed up like popinjays strolling up and down fifth avenue. Today, I'm told, the devotees can really crop up in outlandish costumes. To each his own.

Anyway, here's the lamb dish, still as good now as it was then. I'll be serving it again this Easter Sunday. In my crowd we eschew the mint or fruit glazes common to lamb dishes. We prefer the simple roast flavored with herbs and spices, with potatoes or root plants (bianda) baked alongside. For those who worry about the fat content, you can roast the lamb on a rack with baking pan underneath. Whether you do it that way or in the traditional manner, drain excess fat after roasting. And a good Australian Shiraz, Argentine Malbec, or California Pinot Noir goes great with the dish. Oh, yes, the recipe comes from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Thunder's Mouth Press).


1 leg of lamb, about 5 pounds
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into slivers
10 whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon powdered thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large potatoes, peeled and quartered

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Rinse lamb under cold running water and pat dry with paper towel.
3. With a sharp knife make several slits in the lamb. Stud the slits with garlic slivers.
4. Place peppercorns, oregano, salt, thyme and marjoram in a mortar and pound until crushed. Blend in olive oil.
5. Rub seasoning over entire leg of lamb.
6. Arrange lamb in a shallow baking pan, fat side up, and bake for 1 hour, basting occasionally. Arrange potatoes around lamb, and continue baking 1 1/2 to 2 hours depending on desired doneness.
Yield: 6 or more servings.

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