Every year my mother makes a rib eye roast for Christmas. And every year the cow slogs its way across the kitchen to the dinner table along with the rest of us, except instead of taking a chair it flops itself down on a serving plate in the middle of the table.
In thick ruby red and bloody slices.
I like my meat cooked, not crawling across my plate. But that doesn’t justify turning a lovely boneless leg of New Zealand lamb into mutton, which was the culinary trick I pulled on friends who came over for dinner Saturday night.
I’m much more adept at frying food: a quick sear on thinly cut pork chops; a sizzling sautee of flank stank; chicken browned then finished in the oven. Lamb, I know only how to broil – and truly I only know how to cook chops. So to roast a leg of lamb..? For guests..? That was a gamble.
The instructions were clear and simple: cover and roast at 500 degrees for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 and cook for 45 minutes or until the internal temperature is 135 degrees.
After 1:10 in the oven – a piece of crap that probably was le haut back in 1986 – the meat was a corresponding 110 degrees.
Wine is also a luxuriant way to ease into a Saturday night with friends. It is also, I’ve learned throughout life, is a handy excuse. For years we’ve used it at family holidays as an excuse for everything from fatigue, marked sarcasm, high boredom to outright hostility.
There was none of that at our Saturday gathering, though. Instead there was news from Hawai’i, news from Italy, wine from Spain, Argentina and Italy…and one reticent leg of lamb.
Dawn and Marco brought this Sicilian treasure, a sun-soaked white with rustic undertones and a flowing white dress of a finish. A blend of three Sicilian vines, it comes from a significant » wine estate on Sicily. When that bottle emptied (rather too quickly) we followed up with a Nessa Albariño to accompany the big meaty green Castelvetrano olives, kalamatas, feta and sliced ciabatta that nourished the get-reacquainted hour.
What does one serve with a leg of lamb that sits so long on the cutting board, covered, that it transforms its age during first course?
Mourvedre, monastrell, mataro…The best come from Jumilla, Spain, but this old vines Contra Costa mourvedre was superb. Tamer and a tad more luscious than its dustier, lustier Spanish counterpart, the Californian paired exquisitely with the tender meat, overcooked though the little lamb may have been.