Many families love a whole leg of lamb for a special occasion or a Sunday lunch treat. The possibilities are endless when it comes to this versatile lamb cut, ranging from a fancy deboned and stuffed leg of lamb, to a simple whole leg on the bone, with that extra-special flavour. There’s really no need to feel intimidated by it! Here’s the lowdown on the leg of lamb, the first article in Lamb and Mutton SA’s “Know your #Lambits” series.
Shopping for a leg of lamb
Don’t ever be shy to chat to your local butcher when shopping for any lamb cuts. South African butchers are extremely knowledgeable and passionate about amazing South African lamb!
The hind leg of the lamb carcass is the cut referred to as the leg, and it can be cut into the lower end, which is the shank end, and the upper end, which is the sirloin end. The lower end is leaner and tougher and requires a moist cooking method such as braising. The upper end is more tender and flavourful and can also be cut into steaks or chops that are suitable for a dry cooking method, such as grilling. A leg of lamb can also be cut into smaller roasts such as the rump, silverside and topside and, the all-time favourite, the lamb shank. A whole leg of lamb can cost anything from R70 per kg or over R400 for the whole roast. Smaller roasts are more affordable and can be served to 2–4 people for a special dinner.
Learn more about the different cuts that comes from a whole leg of lamb hereCooking a leg of lamb 101
The approximate size of a leg of lamb is 2–3 kg and it can feed at least 8 or more people. Cooking a whole leg of lamb takes around 2–3 hours at 180°C for a tender and tasty dish. It should reach an internal temperature of about 74°C. There are several different ways of roasting a leg of lamb. Slow-roasting at 160°C for around 5 hours does not require much attention and is extremely easy. Place the leg of lamb on a bed of onion, garlic and rosemary, rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add some stock, water or wine to the pan, cover and cook. The result is a very tender dish flavoured by the herbs and onions and amazing pan juices that can be reduced and served as a gravy. Another special way of making lamb go further is cooking a deboned leg of lamb that can be rolled, stuffed with a mixture of sundried tomatoes, feta and fresh herbs and roasted. You can also butterfly the lamb, marinate it in amasi, and season with a spicy ground coriander rub and cook it on the braai. If you like your lamb rare or of varying doneness, this is the way to go. Slice it thinly and serve it with amazing sides such as a warm potato salad or grilled vegetables.
Learn how to carve a whole leg of lamb on the bone here
Endless flavour possibilities
A leg of lamb translates well in any cuisine and is a traditional favourite prepared in special ways with specific flavours and ingredients in many countries. Greek-style lamb is a celebration of garlic, olive oil, lemon and fresh oregano, Middle Eastern flavours such as cumin and coriander make it a spicy delicacy, and our own South African favourite, seasoned with salt and pepper and served with oven-roasted potatoes, is a special mouthwatering treat. It can be prepared in a variety of ways depending on your preference for doneness and flavour, as well as equipment and time. A leg of lamb can be slow-roasted in the oven until the meat falls of the bone, done until still blushing pink and juicy, smoked over coals or in the Weber, or pot-roasted until brown with a delicious, sticky onion and potato side.
Try this Roast leg of lamb with orzo pasta
A leg of lamb is very versatile and can be served in amazing different ways suitable for informal or more formal special occasions. Make the most of this cut and experience the luxury of a leg of lamb. Find all Lamb and Mutton SA’s go-to lamb recipes under the cooking with lamb recipe category.
Supported by the Red Meat Industry of SA. Article by Prof Gerrie Du Rand for Lamb and Mutton SA.