A few weeks ago I was asked to make lunch for Leonard Nimoy. (I know! And Malcolm McDowell. And a bunch of guys from Twilight and Battlestar Galactica (!!) and Erin Gray from Buck Rogers.) That’s another story – but it is the reason I found myself making roast leg of lamb recently. (If I’m going to make lunch, I told the guys, let me make something more interesting-and delicious-than soup and sandwiches.) And honestly – leg of lamb in the slow cooker is about as easy as it gets. This is high reward for minimum effort food-people will think you’re a fabulous cook when you really didn’t do much. To make a really earth-shattering meal – when you want to win friends and influence people – serve it with garlicky tzatziki and homemade naan.
The thing that makes cooking a whole leg of lamb awkward is its shape more than its size; done in the oven, it’s tough to get both the thick, meaty end and the thin, tapered end cooked to the same doneness. When the thick part is done, the thin part tends to be overdone; when the thin part is perfect, the thick part isn’t cooked through yet. But it is a magnificent, flavourful piece of meat, and shouldn’t be shunned for its less than ideal shape.
Fortunately, a slow cooker solves the dilemma. The long, low cooking time breaks down the tough connective tissues in a leg of lamb, making it fall-off-the-bone tender, without turning it to mush.
To add flavour, I like to give meat a quick turn in a hot pan to brown the outside before tossing it into the slow cooker; sometimes this is difficult with a long leg of lamb; when I have a bone that makes it impossible to lay the piece of meat into a skillet, I brown it quickly on the grill. Browning meat adds flavour; if you like, pour whatever liquid you plan to use in the slow cooker into the pan to loosen all those flavourful browned bits – give it a swirl and then pour into the slow cooker. Browning your veg will boost flavour too.
If you like, toss a couple handfuls of new potatoes or diced thin-skinned Yukon gold potatoes (don’t peel them) into the bottom of the slow cooker first; they’ll cook in the lamb juices, winding up dark and sticky. (Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of oregano as you scoop them out if you’re a fan of Greek lemon potatoes.) Lay your lamb leg overtop; add rosemary and garlic and a few glugs of red wine or stock. (This would be a great way to do smaller lamb shanks too.) If the bone is sticking out of the slow cooker, lay foil over the top and crimp it around the open edges, sealing those gaps. Voila.
Leg of Lamb in the Slow Cooker with Garlic and Rosemary
olive or canola oil, for cooking
1 bone-in leg of lamb
4-5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped into chunks, or about the same quantity of small new potatoes
1 head garlic, peeled
a few sprigs of rosemary
about a wineglass full of red wine (or stock)
Rub the oil all over the lamb and either brown it in a hot pan or throw it on the grill to get some colour. Meanwhile, toss all the potatoes and about half the garlic cloves into the bottom of your slow cooker.
Put the lamb on top of the potatoes, squish a few more cloves of garlic and rub it over the surface, then sprinkle with salt. Toss in a few sprigs of rosemary and pour some wine in around the potatoes, cover (if the bone sticks out, cover the lid with foil to seal in the heat) and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Carve the lamb and serve with the potatoes, finished with a squeeze of lemon, if you like. Serves 6-10.