Craft V Science – Spiced Leg of Lamb.

Spiced Leg of LambLet me set out my stall nice and early here. I subscribe to the ‘Craft’ school of cookery. Please don’t confuse this with the similarly named conglomerate, I don’t subscribe to them. My ‘subscription’ to craft rather than science is based on my own laziness rather than any dark art that I have evolved or inherited over the years. As any regular reader will know, I tend to throw things together based on what I think should work. The results are not always perfect. In fact, the results are often pretty disappointing. My supportive family sits around the table lying to me. “No, it really is pretty good.” “I love the chewy texture of the meat.” “Actually, I like my vegetables nice and watery.”

It’s time to put science to the test. Can it really help me create a better class of Spiced Leg of Lamb? I have been forced into this test by my friend Stefan over at Stefan Gourmet. He sent me a gift of a food thermometer along with a couple of challenges. The first being to cook some meat using the device. Where’s the craft in that? I suppose the craft comes from the spice mixing and marinading.

A pretty crafty looking ingredients photo, I'm sure you will agree.

A pretty crafty looking ingredients photo, I’m sure you will agree.

Here’s the ingredients

  • 1 leg of Wicklow lamb
  • 3 single bulbs of garlic or a complete bulb of regular garlic
  • 6 to 8 slices of ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of cardamom (after podding)
  • 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • Juice of a lime
  • 2 chilis (your call on the heat levels / variety of chili)
  • 250 ml of goats’ yoghurt  (or regular cows’ if you prefer)
  • 4 onions (optional) for roasting

First get the cardamom out of the pods.

There is nothing quite like the aroma of freshly podded cardamom.

There is nothing quite like the aroma of freshly podded cardamom.

Then toast the cumin and fennel seeds until the house is full with the aromas.

Nothing makes a house more homely than the smell of toasting spices.

Nothing makes a house more homely than the smell of toasting spices.

Put the cumin, mustard and fennel seeds, the cardamom and the cinnamon into a mortar and apply the pestle until ground. Slice the chilis, keeping or discarding the seeds depending upon your desire for heat.

Craft says "Add as much or as little chili as you want." The scientists would probably be prescriptive.

Craft says “Add as much or as little chili as you want.” The scientists would probably be prescriptive.

Chop the ginger.

The ginger will be going into the blender. No need for small slicing.

The ginger will be going into the blender. No need for small slicing.

Put the ginger, chili, yoghurt, turmeric, lime juice and the ground spices into a blender. Blend until blended.

All blended. There is little science involved here. The aromas are fantastic.

All blended. There is little science involved here. The aromas are fantastic.

Put some deep slashes in the meat. Take time to photograph this step.

Gratuitous meat shot number one. Slashing the meat in a totally unscientific way.

Gratuitous meat shot number one. Slashing the meat in a totally unscientific way.

Put the leg of lamb into a big plastic bag. Pour the mixture over the lamb, keeping it inside the bag.

A gratuitous pouring shot. No scientific reason for showing this.

A gratuitous pouring shot. No scientific reason for showing this.

Tie a knot in the bag and ease the mixture into every crevice (of the meat). Leave the lamb in the bag and place it in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight would be better. No science here. Take the lamb out of the bag and put it on an oven rack, over the now roughly chopped (optional) onions.

Spoon the remaining sauce over the leg before putting the lamb in the oven.

Spoon the remaining sauce over the leg before putting the lamb in the oven.

Now comes the science bit. Stick the probe into the meat. set the dial to alarm at 60º C.

This science thing is too easy. IT also takes the guesswork out of it.

This science thing is too easy. It also takes the guesswork out of it.

The meat took about an hour and a quarter to reach the desired temperature in a 200º C oven. I let it rest for ten minutes before carving.

Science 1 Craft 0. The lamb was cooked to perfection. Damn!

Science 1 Craft 0. The lamb was cooked to perfection. Damn!

This little experiment in the appliance of science to cooking has given me pause for thought. The meat was perfectly cooked. No guesswork needed. No having to explain to family that it needs to go back in for 20 minutes to ‘finish off’. Maybe there is something to this science lark after all.

Perfect lamb, home made naan bread, onions and spinach. Delicious.

Perfect lamb, home made naan bread, onions and spinach. Delicious.

I served it with homemade naan breads, spinach cooked with garlic and balsamic vinegar and those oven onions that cooked below the lamb. I have learned that the crafty thing to do is to apply the science to the cooking. What do you think?

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Latest comments
  • That is an excellent spice mix! And the aggressive slashing of the lamb sounds like me 🙂

    • Thanks Rosemary. It’s a great way to vent pent up food frustration.

  • I see no problem with improving your odds, which is all you were doing by using the thermometer. The deliciousness of the meal lies in what you did with the meat before you bunged it in the oven. Craft it is, then.

    • Crafty, aided by the science chaps. The meat was deliciously cooked, unlike the naans, which were a little overdone.

  • This is Craft v Technology not Science. Science is the fact that baking requires exact measurements for the correct chemical reaction to take place and that’s why I can’t be bothered generally with Science. Whereas Technology is just using the latest clever gismo that’s at your disposal. After all, fire was once technology when it came to food preparation.
    All that aside, it does look damn good!

    • Adam, you are such a stickler for correctness. You are also right, which doesn’t help! It was tasty anyway and that is all that really matters.

  • Taking the guess work out of preparing such a delicious looking leg of lamb is a good thing. Love the marinade, I can’t wait to try it.

    • I hope you do give it a go Karen. It was pretty tasty. Since doing this, I have done some Indian lamb shanks, to a different recipe. The flavours were really fantastic, not that this was not a winner. Post to follow soon.

      • Looking forward to the upcoming recipe.

  • Thems some deep cuts, Conor! I know thermometers yield perfect meat, but I want to time it myself, to get to know it – I like the craft. For me you can’t achieve home cooking perfection if you use lots of aids. Feels like cheating 😀 – though, of course, the food is delicious.

    • Nick, you sum it up very well. I have to admit to being torn. Perhaps the answer is to use the probe if you have people you want to impress coming for dinner. For everybody else, it’s just pot luck, as usual.

  • I’ve had a fancy meat thermometer (also a gift) laying around my kitchen for a while now. I commend you for trying yours, and it looks delicious!

    • Thanks for visiting the blog and for commenting. I keep a box of stuff for ‘less used’ kitchen stuff. The thermometer is in there. Though, it got an outing on a beef fillet recently. Post to follow.

  • This spice mixture looks and sounds amazing, not only for lamb but for chicken or really anything. I love how the lamb is perfectly cooked.

    • Thanks BAM, I reckon it would work wonderfully withe chicken, for sure.

  • absolutely gorgeous. lamb is one of my all-time favorite meats.

    • At the risk of starting a war, Wicklow Lamb is really delicious. As is some of the beautiful lamb from the west of Ireland where it feeds itself on wild herbs. Also some of the lamb that grazes beside the Atlantic seashore and actually tastes of the sea. Fantastic meat is Irish lamb.

  • I think the best scientists are crafty at heart – how else would they come up with fantastic new inventions like this recipe? Love the gratuitous pouring shot, as always.

    • Thanks Tommy. I had fun doing this one (and eating it).

  • Craft, science, technology, whatever! It’s a fine-looking hunk of cooked meat! 🙂

    • I like your style. You cut straight to the heart of it.

  • Stunning. Great marinade. I just made something very similar. The flavors of those spices have my mouth watering!

    • Thanks Amanda, It was fairly toothsome indeed.

  • I have mixed feelings about technology. I am a bit of a old dog who doesn’t like learning new tricks! Though I could learn to make your marinade!

    • Half the time, I feel that I should be crafting the food in or on an old AGA cooker. The rest of the time, I am a gadget guy. I need to settle down on one side or other. This fence is giving me splinters.

  • Due to the inconsistencies with my tiny oven, I had to invest in a meat thermometer. And for roasts and such, it is indispensable. This recipe gave me the best leg o’ lamb I’ve ever made:

    • That looks pretty good indeed. I love the old school thermometer and the constant oven door opening.

  • Looks like you’ve craftily met the first challenge. It looks great and I will have to try your marinade. Personally I like my lamb cooked to 57 or even 55 degrees, slightly more pink. But that’s entirely a matter of taste.
    Love the marinade pouring shot.
    It goes without saying that I think using tools doesn’t diminish the craft. It also took science to develop blenders or electric ovens.
    Greetings from Miami Beach, as in the actual beach.

    • Having flipped and flopped on this one for a while now Stafan, I think I can agree with you. Though, I do admire the cooks who depend entirely on experience and know how to do these things just right.

      • Not sure if, for doneness of large pieces of meat, such cooks actually exist.

        • No, I agree. There has to be “just 20 minutes more” as the guests get sozzeled while waiting for the food. That goes on in our house for sure.

          • I like to devote my full attention to the things that require craft, like pairing wine and food, or building up a menu.

          • True craft indeed. Enjoy the holiday and bring back some recipe ideas.

  • PS I roasted the mackerel without the thermometer as after years of service it was broken and I had not acquired a replacement yet. The mackerel turned out a bit on the dry side, so next time I’ll definitely use it again.

    • The mackerel looked pretty good in the post. I need to get over there and say that it looks dry to me.

      No craft…

  • That spice rub looks the business! I love a bit of yoghurt in a spicy lamb marinade!

  • Now YOU’RE making ME hungry. And I’m full of pancakes too.

  • Beautiful photos and recipe as usual. When it comes to food science, have Stefan on your side is always a good thing 🙂

  • I’m bit like you in cooking. I very often don’t follow a recipe exactly. Sometimes the Swedish Chef comes to mind! But this looks like an amazing dish. 🙂

  • Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. Everything about this, the rub, the lamb, the thermometer, the pouring shot, and the ingredient photo. Now, if only I had a nice plate of that lamb…

    • I was happy with the pour. Having a gloopy marinade helps too.

  • You never fail to make me laugh. And that’s one fine looking leg. We just got a whole lamb from our neighbors which I can tell already doesn’t hold a candle to your Wicklow. Must be the lack of sea air. 🙂

    • You need to move Gourmandistan to the coast. Keep it away from the Russians!

  • Sorry Wicklow lamb is out and out of my control! But methinks a small Aussie shoulder will be bought tomorrow to try your spicing which sounds just right! I think I have two meat thermometers somewhere at the back of the drawer – am also one of those who flies by the seat of her pants tolerably well. My clock, sense of smell and touch seem sufficient and should things be a tad off I won’t be neurotic about it: just pour my friends another glass of wine and they won’t even notice 😀 !!

    • We are from the same school Eha, that’s for sure.

  • I’m not a big fan of lamb meat, but I think your recipe could be an exception to the rule! the recipe step by step is really useful, as usual!

    • Thanks. The end result is a big piece of meat but the process is not too onerous.

  • Dont much like hiding things from husband, but this page today I have to. My marriage i.e. harmony in the house, would be ruined for at least 1 week, with Jo asking me when at last he can have such a leg of lamb here. But, he cannot!!! Sort of ‘skinny’ ones, yes, looked at them only yesterday in Supermarket, and dreaming of your kind of lamb. btw – what are your kind of Indian Lamb Chunks? Carina

    • If I were using them, I probably would use shoulder. Nice long cooking for fall apart meat.

  • That is one spectacular piece of meat, Conor — and you did it proud! That looks perfectly cooked and the sauce sounds delicious. I’ve got a thermometer, similar to yours, and a fancy instant read one. Depending upon what I’m roasting, I’ll use both. I’m an anal retentive scientist in the kitchen.

    • Thanks John,
      Part of me subscribes to the science. The part of me that does the cooking tends to go the other way. It’s laziness, pure and simple.

  • Looks great, Conor! I have no idea how you get such great photos of the process. We can never be bothered to carefully compose step-by-step pictures.

    In other news, we’re making an Irish (well, Irish as seen through American eyes anyway) dinner tonight.

    • Excellent. I assume there is a lot of potato in there. I look forward to the post.

  • Beautiful picks and a good looking recipe. I’ll look forward to the shanks.
    I would like to pick up one of these chiming thermometers actually. You just can’t poke a finger on a leg of marinated lamb like you do a steak.

    • You can. You do get burned a bit. But the compensation of early spice taste makes it (nearly) worthwhile.

  • Conor, I have a recipe for a butterflied leg of lamb that I do on the bbq. The marinade looks very similar to yours. Might I suggest that you give it a go when the weather allows? May not need the fancy thermometer for that one…

    • I will try anything once Nicki. I suspect that may be fantastic.

  • Lamb is one of my favourites – am cooking lamb shanks tomorrow 🙂

    That does look yummy. We have 2 pet lambs this year that will be heading for the freezer in a couple of months

  • Crafty, indeed! Got the ‘tandoori’ feel to it, minus the colour. Must try it this way too.

    • Must go for the colour next time. It always looks beautiful.

  • In my opinion science helps with achieving results easier, but at the end of the day you can’t cook a thing without a little bit of your own craft.

    • Thanks Evan, if it were all science, we would not bother with any of it.

  • Whoa!

  • Oh man. The holy grail. Spiced lamb! Bookmarked for my next lamb venture. Cannot wait, Master Conor. Cannot wait.

    • Excellent. I will have you on an ongoing lambfest at this rate.

      • You will indeed! I’ve already written myself an ingredients list… is there such a thing as a lamb overdose?

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