Our guide to the potential pitfalls in cooking lamb, and how to avoid them.
Imagine the horror! You’ve invited the whole family over for Easter, every extended aunt and uncle with your 2nd, 3rd and 4th cousins; you want to wow and you’ve chosen an impressive leg of lamb. Everyone takes their place at the table and what comes next is dry, tough and flavourless – awkward! Sound familiar? We’ve all been there! It’s embarrassing moments like this that put a lot of us off of cooking joints of lamb, but it’s so delicious and it can be very simple when you know what to avoid.
Regular mistakes when cooking lamb can fall into three categories:
Let’s take that lamb to flavour town
Many people are familiar with the concept of brining as a way of improving the flavour and succulence of white meat – particularly potentially dry things like a Christmas Turkey. However brining can also be solution for red meat as well. Brining your leg of lamb in salt water can help to ensure tenderness and that melt in your mouth texture. Brining can be effective when done for as little as one hour but can even be done for days before cooking. Just remember that the meat will absorb the moisture from the brine and so, it is important that you are happy with the saltiness of your brine as this will transfer into the meat.
Don’t marinade it for too long in acidic flavours
Whilst brining is great, marinating can be a make or break situation. Marinades will also help to reduce meat toughness and add a lovely flavour; however, proceed with caution, as some marinades contain high levels of acids which are known to weaken the proteins in meat - leaving you with an overly mushy texture. Not ideal! Adding deeply flavoursome marinades to your leg of lamb will give it a culinary flair, just be mindful of how long you leave it on for! You could also opt for one with more spices, herbs and aromatics, rather than acids.
Don’t go boneless!
You’ll often hear people say that they purchase boneless joints of lamb as it removes the “faff” when serving, however, by choosing this option they are missing out on all the deep and rich flavours that bone-in meat delivers. During the cooking process, the bones will conduct the heat through the joint leading to a more even result - moral of the story: always go for meat on the bone.
Slow and steady definitely wins the taste race
Let it come to room temp
A big tip that you wouldn’t think makes a difference - let the meat come to room temperature! Take your leg of lamb from the fridge for at least an hour before you plan on cooking it. Think about it, your meat has been kept at approximately 4°C and you are contemplating putting it straight into a 180°C oven! This will result in uneven cooking and longer cooking times.
Use a meat thermometer
The internal temperature of the meat is a determining factor of how cooked it is:
● For medium-rare lamb (our favourite) - you’ll want a temperature of 60°c (140°F)
● For medium - 65°c (149°F)
● For well-done - 70°c (158°F)
You’ve spent all that time, brining and bringing to room temperature, why eyeball the cooking quality? Buy your MEATER Thermometer here.
Justice is served… with mint
Let the meat rest. Whatever meat you are cooking, it is very important to be patient! When that leg of lamb comes out of the oven, it is going to smell great and you’ll have to resist every urge to not dive straight in. Let the meat rest for at least 10-15 minutes before starting to carve. By giving your joint of lamb the time to rest, the juices that have been rendered during the cooking process will distribute evenly throughout the joint, keeping the meat inside juicy and succulent.
Slice against the grain
Locate the direction in which the muscle fibres are running, once you’ve found this, slice across the fibres rather than parallel. This will give the most tender slices; cutting along the grain will result in tough, chewy meat and that embarrassing moment at the dinner table that we spoke about earlier!
Looking for some inspiration? We know our meat! Click here for some of our favourite recipes for lamb.