Try This “Authentic” Thai Butterflied Lamb

There really is no such thing as authentic regional cooking any more. We live in a globalised world where there is a Burger King on every other street corner that isn’t occupied by a McDonalds and a Starbucks in every unit in between.  Mediocrity has become the standard. Sugar, salt and fat are the new ‘Holy Trinity’ of western (and everywhere else) cooking.

Side note on Holy Trinities: Even outside the area of organised religion, there are quite a few. In Chinese cooking, garlic, ginger and spring onions are the trio. In Cajun cooking, onions, bell peppers, and celery reign supreme. While in Italy and France, onions, carrots and celery are the superheroes. In Greece, lemon juice, garlic and oregano make up the triumvirate.

Sadly, in so many forms of cooking, sugar, salt and fat are now the three key ingredients that will keep the ever more obese customer waddling back for more. It’s pathetic and it needs to change.

So, put down that family bucket, lick your pudgy fingers for the last time and get ready to prepare as authentic a Thai Butterflied Lamb as is possible.

Half the game with ‘Authentic’, is to look it. These look the business.


  • A leg of lamb – Get your butcher to butterfly it, if he knows how.
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 4 or 5 stalks of lemongrass
  • 4 to 6 chilis (medium heat)
  • A bulb of garlic (or 3 single clove garlics)
  • 5cm (2″) piece of ginger root
  • 2 teaspoons of flakey salt
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • 2 limes
  • A bunch of coriander (cilantro), if there is no aversion to it.

As with most of the things I cook, this is very straightforward. Peel and roughly chop the garlic, ginger and lemongrass. Chop the chilli too. Place everything except half the coriander, the salt and the leg of lamb in a blender and blitz it to a nice paste.

I almost forgot the coriander, that would have caused some authenticity problems.

In case you are like me and enjoy doing the hard work yourself, I have a directional on butterflying a leg of lamb here. The following pic is evidence that I did it myself. A supermarket ‘butcher’ had said that he couldn’t do the job. As on so many occasions before, I was almost amused at the carnival like get-up of the lad with check trousers, apron and knife scabbard. A pity he had no skill to go with it.

One bone done, one to do. It’s satisfying work.

Pour the marinade over the lamb and rub it in. Leave in the fridge, basting occasionally, for at least six hours, overnight if you can.

The marinade has a fantastic aroma. Be sure to cover the dish in the fridge.

Get the barbecue hot and then turn down to cool (if on gas) or let the coals lose some of their heat if on coals/charcoal. Place the meat on the barbecue. Spoon the remaining marinade over the meat as it cooks.

This is as authentic as I could make it.

When the meat is nearly cooked (DON’T OVERCOOK LAMB), chop the remaining coriander. Sprinkle it and the salt over the lamb. Finish off by squeezing the limes over the lamb too.

The lime juice seems like an unusual ingredient. Trust me, it works.

Let the meat rest for ten minutes or so. Carve and serve. I served ours with a nice salad and some home-made Naan breads. They were delicious and worked well with the meat. The recipe is a good one from the BBC and is here.

This is as authentic as a recipe gets. Do give it a go.

Footnote on authenticity of recipes: There really is no such thing as an authentic recipe. That is outside the various items of protected origin that protect some very specific delights such as the Cornish pasty, Champagne and so forth. Not that I am advocating drinking Champagne with your pasty. If you want to be ‘authentic’ in your pasty eating, have a pint of beer or some brandy stolen from a wrecked ship. That’s what they do in Cornwall, I believe. No, recipes change and evolve. They have done so at light speed in recent times with the increase of travel and the increasing diversity of the populations of most countries around the world. This is a good thing. Diversity is good in populations as well as in recipes. Having said that, stick rigidly to this recipe and you won’t go far wrong. Enjoy. 

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Latest comments
  • Some marinade, very summery!

      • Wonderful. Could it have been Pleyben, with wonderful Christian art work? A wonderful part of Brittany, Roscoff is also so pretty 🙂

  • Perhaps you could run a basic butchery skills course for the poor supermarket lads… I’d really like to see them able to deal professionally with a half beast rather than dumping plastic trays and pouches into the display cabinet. Sadly, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

  • Authentic schmauthentic. 😉 It looks fantastic and I love that you paired Thai lamb with Naan. Now you have “fusion cuisine” (giggle). I’m in total agreement with Kate. Time for the Bofin Butchering Basics tour — hopefully with some stops across the pond.

  • Nice. And looks delish too.

  • Hate to ‘swell’ your head, Conor, but you really are most terribly useful in the British way of expression 🙂 ! Love lamb, love Thai : have not put the two together to the best of my knowledge ! Love and actually oft make naan but have not had it with lamb! ‘Holy Trinity’ – until recently this ignoramus only related it to Italy! Fully agree on the ‘mix and match’ in food around the modern world . . . .but have a serious issue with those ‘protected’ dishes . . . it began way back with gravlax being bathed with beetroot by some of our most revered chefs . . .

  • “[A] Burger King on every other street corner that isn’t occupied by a McDonalds and a Starbucks in every unit in between.” For that, and so many other things, as an American, I apologize. 🙂

  • I love lamb satay, so this is right up my ally. Looks amazing and I’m sure tasted amazing.
    As for authenticity of recipes, I absolutely agree with you. I believe most likely would not like a hundred year old authentic recipe cooked as they did then.

  • Butterflied Lamb is such an excellent way to BBQ a leg. Many years ago my family and I were staying in Santa Cruz in California; I wandered into the local bookshop and found a recipe book I have used off and on ever since. One of the recipes that has become a family staple is for a butterflied leg of lamb, cooked under the grill or on a BBQ. It is stunningly good. So I am delighted to broaden my butterflied lamb leg recipes with this one for a ‘Thai’ version. As to getting the butcher to ‘butterfly’ the joint. Back then (approx 1984) no butcher in north London would even consider doing it, so I did it myself. And if I may say so, I have become something of a dab- hand at it! Mind you, I was serving it as a main course for a dinner party one evening, had placed the marinaded butterflied leg under the pre-heated grill and was back in the living room introducing people and making light conversation when our smoke alarm went off. Rushed back into kitchen to see the built-in oven was on fire!! A very dramatic situation. Rescued the lamb but oven and built-in kitchen unit were a gonner. None of the guests that evening have ever forgotten it – we are all still friends, and they say it was the most exciting dinner they’d ever been to…

  • I served this at a bbq last sunday with, tatsziki, roasted red peppers, new potatoes and a green salad. The lamb was a massive hit. well done yet again!

  • Serves you right for even considering to buy lamb at the supermarket 🙂

    Don’t think a Thai would prepare it this way, but this certainly has your authenticity all over it (both the recipe and the story).

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