Guilt sticks to the guilty – Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary

I have carried the weight of this around for more than a decade and now I have to clear my conscience. We had been holidaying in the Poitou‑Charentes region of France. We had made the short trip into Saintes for the weekly market. I was feeling ambitious and wanted to prepare a butterflied leg of lamb. I circled the market and located the lamb butcher, having previously tried to buy beef from a boucherie chevaline (horse butcher), causing much mirth for the butcher and embarrassment for me. In my dire French, I conveyed that I wanted the joint boned. With much smiling and what I thought was comprehension, the master craftsman set to work.

With loud commentary, speed and dexterity, the butcher trimmed the joint and presented it to me. I had not managed to communicate that I wanted it off the bone. I had one last go. He beamed what I thought was understanding and set to with the commentary and flashing blade once more. A small crowd gathered. He worked carefully and rapidly, carving three beautiful flowers, complete with stems and leaves and re-presented the lamb leg artwork it to me. What could I do but praise his artistry and applaud. The crowd joined in. I thanked him, paid and left with my artwork.

Temperatures were in the mid 30s that year. It was hot. I couldn’t bring myself to roast the leg of lamb. I did not want to try deboning and butterflying the beauty using only holiday home utensils. Eventually, hunger and necessity won out and using blunt, cheap knives, I destroyed the finest piece of ovine artistry ever seen. It’s ragged remains were thrown on the barbecue without ceremony. I carry the guilt to this day. With that as my backdrop, I am attempting Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary.

First we need to remove the bone from the leg. This is not very difficult, if you do as I suggest. Slice about 3cm into the flesh on either side of the lower leg.

Cut to expose the lower leg bone. This is not difficult.

Then work out where the upper part of bone goes to in the leg. It is pretty straight from the knee to hip. Cut into the flesh to expose the bone.

When you have worked out where the bone is, check again. Remember the carpenter’s maxim “Measure twice, cut once.”

Carefully trim around the bone and remove it. Trim off any excess fat and extraneous bits and pieces that you find in the centre of the leg. Gently cut into the flesh to allow you spread the meat out. Cut three or four pockets,like in the photo.

Like a good hunting jacket – plenty of pockets.

Stuff the pockets with rosemary and lots of chopped garlic.

Did I mention that we like garlic? Lots and lots of garlic.

Put it in foil. Season with balsamic vinegar and black pepper. Secure the lamb with 4 long skewers to seal the pockets and to give some rigidity to the meat. Wrap it up and leave it in a cool place for a couple of hours.

Fire up the barbecue and roast the joint. Remember that it is only a few centimeters thick (a couple of inches) and does not need too long.

Whatever you do, don’t over-cook it.

Take it off. Rest it for 10 minutes before carving and serving.

Lamb does not get much better than this. Even if bitter memories were coming to the surface.

We had it with a simple salad, bread and olive oil.

That’s how lamb should be served. Pink, with a crispy outside and stuffed with garlic and rosemary.

We are returning to France this year. I don’t plan to stop in Saintes. I don’t think I could live with the guilt.

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Latest comments
  • Beautifully done! Delicious!

  • Very nice!

  • Lovely! Think I’ll ask my butcher to do this though. And I might use slightly less garlic…
    Completely agree on the not overcooking, using rosemary and balsamic, and cooking this crispy on the BBQ!

  • Now, I am starving! Where in France? Has your French improved? I can read a ton of it, but can say almost nothing…pity!

    • A small village on the south coast near Narbonne. Can’t wait for the fresh catch seafood, outdoor living and a few glasses of wonderful local wine. My French is suffering from not being there. It has never been great. One way to fix that…

      • that sounds like my kind of experience Conor. I will be an envious follower of posts from this experience. Cheers to great times on the sea!

    • Work with audio books + read aloud = your French will improve :))

  • Yum, Yum Conor, Looks delicious! I would love to be able to cook lamb like that but unfortunately we have to cook everything for a minimum of 17 hours in this house, otherwise it is considered RAW! Great blog once again

    • Thanks Brian, I appreciate the comments. I hope you are enjoying some better weather than here in Dublin. You picked a great year to head out there.

  • I’m hungry again! how! I just finished my dinner!!

  • That looks wonderful! I like to debone the leg, season and/or stuff it and roll right up into a string-tied roast for the oven, but now I am going to have to try it on the grill. It never occurred to me that I could cook a whole leg like that. Now I can’t think of why not, because you make it look so brilliantly simple. Thank you!

    • Thanks Stacy, it is really wonderfully simple and tasty.

  • Worth to try! never tried garlic, though I love it very much. 🙂
    Yummy! <3

  • Well done Conor! Love the story too!

  • This looks so delicious! I understand the miscommunication issues and being too embarrassed to have another go at it. I have done that myself. Life lessons I guess.

  • That really does look fantastic!

    • Thanks MD. it was. Even nicer cold the day after, if there is any left.

  • I have Francophile in-laws who reside in Aix, a sister-in-law from Marseille and a nephew who at the age of 2 is already bilingual. (well he can coo and cry in two languages anyway). When I go down there I am restricted to Merci and Oui and just hope that will get me through. If we go shopping I shuffle about behind my wife hoping she will ask questions if needed. All in all I’m a classic Englishman abroad – bloody useless.

    • Hopefully, you don’t do as I have heard. Put on a faux French accent and shout “Une pot of tea for two.”

  • Perfectly cooked, Conor, just the way my husband and I like it. I am glad that I don’t have to try to speak to my butcher in a foreign language…no telling what I would get.

    • Thanks Karen. Heading back there in a month or so. I love the country.

  • I’m impressed you’re barbecuing with our current weather. Looks delicious! Wish I had a grill just so I could make it.

    • This was done a few weeks ago during our slightly warm pre summer. I managed to do a couple of BBQ things to ‘release’ over the summer. I should have thought of the probability of lack of summer….

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