Roasting Lamb

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Roasting a rack of lamb is an impressive entrée to prepare for Easter or any special occasion. Roasted Rack of Lamb will be the main attraction on any dinner table. Use the appropriate lamb cooking times for proper doneness, and you will have a spectacular feast for any special dinner.

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Dry heat cooking is used when roasting lamb. Dry heat cooking is when the meat is in direct contact with a hot surface or close to the heat source. High heat quickly browns the surface of the lamb; then the heat is most often turned down to a somewhat lower temperature to finish the roasting process. This cooking method works best for tender cuts, although tougher cuts, which have been tenderized (as with a marinade), can be successfully roasted also.

General Guidelines
| Roasting Temperatures | The Roasting Process

General Guidelines

Roasting is usually done in a shallow, uncovered pan, often with the meat raised slightly on a rack to allow heated air to circulate around it. Roasting is the cooking method of choice for large or irregularly shaped pieces of meat if they are tender (or have been tenderized). A smaller cut, such as a chop, would dry out if roasted.

Lamb meat is naturally tender so most of the market ready cuts can be roasted with success. Of course, some cuts are more tender than others, but the shanks and the neck are the only cuts that must be cooked with moist heat methods. The shoulder cuts are often best when braised, but are also excellent when carefully roasted and are not overcooked. Shoulder from a young lamb is more likely to be tender. Leg, rib roast, (also known as rack of lamb including crown roast and guard of honor), and loin (including saddle) are ideal cuts for roasting. Baby, or hothouse, lamb is also roasted, but because the meat is so tender and has so little fat, special procedures should be followed.

In general, a roast should have a crisp brown surface and a juicy pink interior. This can be accomplished by searing the meat at high heat (450ºF) in the oven for a short time (usually 10 minutes) and then reducing the heat to 350ºF for the remainder of the time. Typical cooking times (after the roast is seared) are 10 minutes per pound for rare meat, 12 minutes per pound for medium-rare, 15 minutes for medium, 20 minutes for well-done. These are approximate times, for average size, bone-in roasts at room temperature. Cold meat, directly from the refrigerator, or very large pieces, or boneless roasts will take somewhat longer. The only way to be sure that the meat has reached the desired doneness is to use a good quality rapid-response thermometer, inserted into the meatiest part, but not into fat nor against a bone. It is a good idea to plan where you'll insert the thermometer as you prepare the roast.

Roast lamb should be allowed to rest, loosely covered with foil, for 10 to 30 minutes (depending on the cut) after removal from the oven. Cooking will continue during the resting period (the internal temperature will rise at least 5ºF and as much as 10ºF), reaching the desired level of doneness. The rest period minimizes the loss of juice and allows the meat to become firmer, making carving much easier.

Roasting Temperatures

Temperature for Roasting Lamb

Lamb may be roasted at different temperatures
depending on the desired result. Consider the following examples.

High Heat

400ºF - 425ºF
(for the entire cooking time)

Roasting at high heat maximizes the brown crusty surface. This method should not be used on large pieces because the surface will dry out and may burn before the interior is cooked to the desired doneness.

Moderate Heat

325ºF - 350ºF
(for the entire cooking time)

Roasting at moderate heat maximizes juiciness and minimizes shrinkage. Leg roasts are often cooked this way.

Varied Heat

425ºF - 450ºF
followed by 325ºF

Roast at 425ºF - 450ºF for an initial 10 - 15 minutes to brown the meat, then continue cooking at 325ºF to the desired doneness (some recipes use temperatures as low as 250ºF, but this is not recommended).

Note: To prevent lean cuts from drying out while cooking, the meat may be rubbed with oil prior to roasting and/or basted with pan juices during roasting.

The Roasting Process

Roasting a Rack of Lamb

A single rack of lamb (7 or 8 ribs) is such a small roast that it benefits from quick roasting at a higher temperature than what is generally used for larger cuts. It is easy to prepare and is one of the most tender and flavorful lamb roasts. The steps described below can be used to bring about a successful result.

Easy Steps for Roasting a Rack of Lamb
  1. The oven should be preheated to 425ºF.

  2. While the oven is heating, remove the rack of lamb from the refrigerator and season it with salt and pepper.

  3. Heat an ovenproof skillet on the stovetop and coat the pan with oil.

  4. Place the rack of ribs in the pan, fat side down, to begin searing. Using a tongs, sear all surfaces of the rack for one to two minutes.

  5. When the searing process is complete, remove the pan from the heat and remove the meat from the pan, allowing it to rest for a few minutes.

  6. After cooling for one to two minutes, the meat can be rubbed with herbs and spices, if desired. If an herb rub is used, it should not be applied to the meat before searing because it may burn easily while the meat is seared. (It is usually not a good idea to marinate a rack of lamb because the meat is so naturally tender and flavorful that a marinade would do more harm than good.)

  7. Cover the ends of the exposed bones with aluminum foil (or frills) to prevent the bones from charring during the roasting process.

  8. The rack of lamb should be placed bone side down in the ovenproof skillet, which is then placed in the middle of the oven. If an ovenproof skillet is not available, the rack can be transferred to a small roasting pan.

  9. Roast the meat until the internal temperature, as indicated by a meat thermometer, is 5º to 10ºF below the desired doneness.

  10. Remove the rack of lamb from the oven and allow it to rest. Loosely covered with foil, for 5 to 10 minutes before carving. Remember, the internal temperature of the meat will rise an additional 5º to 10ºF during the resting period, reaching the degree of desired doneness.

Roasting a Guard of Honor

The guard of honor is simply two racks of lamb that have been joined with the bones interlocking to provide the appearance of soldiers' swords that have been crossed.

Easy Steps for Roasting a Guard of Honor
When the two racks are joined in this manner, the result is a roast that has the appearance of being one cut of meat. (See the article "Lamb Preparation Guide - Preparing a Guard of Honor" for more information on preparing a guard of honor.)
To begin the process of roasting the guard of honor, coat the meat with olive oil or any other favorite cooking oil.
Season the lamb according to a particular recipe or with any herbs and spices that you wish to use. The seasoning used here is a combination of two teaspoons of a kosher salt, one teaspoon of garlic powder, a half teaspoon of black pepper, and a half of teaspoon of onion salt.
After sprinkling the seasoning mixture over the entire roast, rub it in slightly.
It is best to use a roasting pan that includes a rack to keep the meat from sitting in its drippings and to promote more even roasting. Place the guard of honor in the center of the roasting pan.
Use a small piece of aluminum foil to cover the ends of the bones to prevent the bones from burning while roasting.
Gold frills can also be used to cover the bones while roasting, or aluminum foil can be used during the roasting process and the frills can be placed on the bones just prior to serving to add a decorative touch.
Place the guard of honor in a 425ºF preheated oven for 15 minutes. At that temperature, the outside of the meat will sear. After the meat has seared, drop the oven temperature to a standard roasting temperature of 325ºF and roast the guard of honor for 15 minutes per pound.
Remove the lamb from the oven and check the internal temperature of the meat using a reliable meat thermometer. If you want the lamb roast to be medium-rare, the meat should be roasted until the internal temperature reaches approximately 140ºF. During the resting period, the internal temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees, resulting in a final temperature of at least 145ºF.
During the resting period, the guard of honor should be tented with aluminum foil and allowed to rest for 15 minutes prior to carving.
The guard of honor lamb roast makes an attractive presentation for special occasions. The meat will be tender, flavorful, and delicious.

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