For the last few days, I’ve been at “home” in Australia. I put home in quotation marks, because the longer I spend in Rutland, the more it feels like home, too. But for now, the word still invokes images of sweeping landscapes that are as different from the rolling hillsides of the Green Mountains as you can possibly imagine. In the winter, as it is here now (though it is unlike any winter Vermonters would recognize), the huge paddocks of beef cattle seen from the air are dry and brown. In summer, a.k.a. the wet season, the river rises, and often there is flooding.
Thirty minutes to the east, there’s the glorious Capricorn Coast, so named for the tropic it sits on. Right now, it’s time for the humpback whale migration, something we are hoping to catch as we head out on my uncle’s boat on Saturday. This year, 30,000 of the giant mammals will migrate up the Queensland coast, between the Great Barrier Reef and the mainland. Their migration path is one of the longest of any mammal on earth — it takes them from the cold, krill-filled waters of the Antarctic to the warmer waters of the Pacific to breed, and back again.
Anyway, speaking of whales, one thing I’ve done a LOT of since I got back is eating. It’s funny, the things you miss. They’re not what you might think! Those of you who know a little about Australian food might expect that I’ve been gorging on pavlova, meat pies and lamingtons, but actually, the things I’ve been most excited to eat include takeout from Red Rooster (a rotisserie chicken restaurant with the BEST chips [fries]!), Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, roast pork with crackling, and my favorite chocolate bar, Cherry Ripe. After all, I can make pavlova and meat pies in Rutland, and I have many times. It’s harder to make the rest. Takeout and candy bars are notoriously hard to replicate, and pork does not come with the skin on in the USA.
But there is a roast meat that can be easily replicated in almost all areas of the USA, I would imagine, and that is a classic Aussie roast leg of lamb. Lamb is eaten very regularly in Australia, probably because it’s so plentiful. Pick up a cut of lamb at your local grocery store in Rutland and you’ll most likely see that it’s a product of Australia. The large areas of semi-arable land here are great for sheep “stations” (ranches). A bone-in leg of lamb, rubbed with herbs and cooked to perfection — still pink in the middle — is the stuff that Sunday night dreams are made of, let me tell you.
Of course, side dishes are important with roast meats. You can choose your own; everyone has a favorite to go with a roast. I’m going to save those for my next column. They deserve one all of their own!
Roast lamb leg
- Approx. 3-lb. leg of lamb (adjust cooking times for bigger or smaller)
- Bunch of rosemary, pulled into sprigs
- 3 cloves of garlic cut into “spears”
- Salt & pepper
Take lamb out of the fridge about an hour before it is going in the oven. Room temperature (or closer to) meat yields a more evenly cooked result. Preheat oven to 350F. Give the lamb leg a good rub with some oil and place it fat-cap side up on a sturdy cutting board. The butcher should have hopefully removed the tough outer layer of fat and left the tender inner layer for ultimate flavor.
With a small, sharp knife, make 1-inch incisions approximately 1.5 inches apart all over the top of the lamb. Into each of these “pockets,” poke one or two slivers of garlic and a rosemary sprig. Finish with salt and pepper.
Place the lamb onto a roasting rack set in an oven tray. Place into the hot oven and cook for about an hour — you want to cook lamb for about 20 minutes per pound. I think the perfect lamb roast is still very pink in the middle, so this is what this timing should give you. This is, of course, personal preference. One very smart thing to do if you cook a lot of meat in your oven is to invest in a continuous-read meat thermometer. Game changer! If you have one of these, you’re looking for about 120-130F for rare, 130-140F for medium, and anything above that, I think you’re better off choosing beef.
Once your lamb is cooked, it is essential that you rest it for at least 10 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. Place the roast tray, loosely covered with foil (tight covering = sweaty meat, no thanks) away from the heat. This is the perfect time to get your sides arranged into bowls or platters.
To carve, if your lamb is bone-in, use a sharp knife to carve slices perpendicular to the bone, then cut those slices off the bone. Do that on both sides of the leg.