The time has come to make our holiday main!! How does a glorious, roasted Turkish-Spiced Leg of Lamb with Buttery Crispy Jeweled Rice (inspired by Persian Tahdig, though I cannot claim total authenticity!) sound?
The lamb is rich, fragrant with garlic, spices, and fresh herbs and roasted to perfection so the surface is crisp and the meat is juicy and tender. It pairs perfectly with fluffy rice, scented with saffron and layered with currants and slivered almonds before being toasted to crisp, buttery perfection for a textural play that is utter holiday happiness.
This video is coming to you in 3 parts so we can lavish the time needed to make sure you nail this recipe at home!
Prep time: 25 minutes + 30 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours
Serves: 8 to 10
1 (4 to 5-pound) boneless leg of lamb
2 fennel bulbs, fronds reserved and cut into 8 wedges through the core
2 small red onions, cut into ½-inch thick wedges
3 lemons, cut into halves
2 full heads of garlic, broken into cloves, whole and unpeeled
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon sumac
1 tablespoon cracked coriander seeds
½ tablespoon cracked cumin seeds
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt, to taste
Buttery Crispy Jeweled Rice:
2 cups long grain basmati rice
1 teaspoon saffron threads, or scant ¼ teaspoon saffron powder
1 stick unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 navel orange, juiced
1/3 cup dried currants
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garlic Herb Sauce (optional):
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed or creamed
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
Reserved fennel fronds
For the Turkish-Spiced Lamb:
•Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Remove the leg of lamb from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Quarter your fennel and red onions and be sure to save the fennel fronds. Place the fennel, lemons, red onions, and all except 6 cloves of unpeeled garlic in the bottom of a roasting pan, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, season with salt, and place the rack on top.
•Remove lamb from netting (if applicable) and use a paring or chef’s knife to cut so that lamb can lay flat onto your cutting surface with relatively even thickness across. Cut away any extra gristle and any thick fat from inside of the lamb. Flip the lamb over and score the fat cap on the lamb in a crisscross pattern using a paring knife with shallow cuts (you don’t want to go much below the surface of the meat). Season the lamb with salt.
•Peel the reserved garlic cloves and finely chop, then combine with the ¼ cup olive oil, oregano, mint, sumac, coriander, and cinnamon in a small bowl and stir until a paste forms. Rub the mixture all over the leg of lamb, especially in the crisscross creases. Roll your lamb back into its original round form (fat cap facing up) and tie off six times with kitchen twine.
•Place the leg of lamb, fat side up, on the roasting rack of the roasting pan. Add enough stock to coat the pan about ¼- to ½-inch and roast for 20 minutes. Lower the oven to 350ºF and continue roasting for about 50 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 135ºF for medium-rare (start checking the temperature at 40 minutes!). Add additional stock if it evaporates quickly, but towards the second half of cooking don’t replenish the stock so it evaporates and veggies become golden. Remove and allow to rest tented with foil for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
Note: If you have more time to roast your lamb, you can do it at 225F for about 3-4 hours until desired doneness is reached, and then sear the outside on a grill or in a cast iron skillet just before serving for that lovely golden brown crust. The slower, lower cook ensures the internal fat will have time to completely render and that the outer ends will cook more evenly to the middle for comparable doneness throughout. This is a gorgeous prep and more comparable to the lower heat of a spit that yields ultra tender meat, but if you do it the faster way I’ve shown in this video, I like the optionality of more medium/medium-well done (but juicy!) ends and a more medium-rare center to keep everyone in the family happy at our house!
•While the lamb is roasting, make the Buttery Crispy Jeweled Rice. Rinse the rice in a fine mesh sieve until the rice runs clear to release any excess starch. Combine the saffron with ¼ cup warm water in a small bowl to bloom and extract maximum flavor. Set aside.
•Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rice and boil for 5 to 6 minutes until doubled in size and floats to the top, the rice should be like al dente pasta when finished. Drain the rice in a fine mesh sieve and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
•Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons of the butter. Once melted, add the onion and almonds, and cook until onions are translucent and almonds are lightly golden, about 4 minutes. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom, cumin, orange juice, and currants and allow to cook for 1 to 2 minutes until flavors are toasted and aromatic. Remove from the heat and set aside, the currants will begin to plump.
•Heat a large enameled or nonstick cast-iron Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed large nonstick pot over medium-high heat with the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter. Once melted, add half of the rice in an even layer, top with the onion mixture (remove the cinnamon stick) then finish with the remaining rice. Drizzle with the saffron liquid. Using the end of a wooden spoon, make 4 to 5 holes in the rice mixture, this helps with even cooking and preventing the rice from burning. Reduce the heat to low, place a clean kitchen towel on top of the pot and then the heavy lid. Be sure the kitchen towel is wrapped in a way to not catch fire from the stove. Allow the rice to cook for 30 minutes on low heat then turn off the heat and allow the rice to steam for 10 minutes.
•Scoop (or flip!) the rice onto a serving platter, being sure to get the crispy bits off the bottom! To flip, place a large platter on top of the pot to completely cover the opening, then carefully flip the rice over onto the platter to serve. Optional: garnish with more freshly torn mint, oregano and parsley.
•Slice the lamb into roughly ½” thick pieces and serve alongside the crispy rice and roasted vegetables. Drizzle any of the lamb juices over the top of the meat.
For the Garlic Herb Sauce (optional):
•In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, pressed garlic, lemon zest and juice, fennel fronds, oregano, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon over the lamb and vegetables for a bright, acidic finish if desired.