Silence of the Lamb (Cake)

Silence of the Lamb (cake)

With all due political correctness aside, and appropriate apologies to any readers who may take offense, the topic du jour is Easter. Not the religious significance of the holiday, but rather the culinary importance. As with any holiday, religious or secular, there are certain traditional culinary themes. Sometimes those themes are (almost) universal. While we may debate the type of stuffing to use (I prefer apple, onion and sage), turkey on Thanksgiving is an accepted norm. The same probably holds true for corned beef on St. Patrick's Day and hot dogs and hamburgers at the Fourth of July picnic. Other Holidays offer more personal traditions, be it the Italian feast on Christmas Eve or roast pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day. Easter falls, I think, into the later category with traditional family feasts which stem from habits handed down from generations past. Many times those memories run deep, evoking joyous images of family and friends surrounding a holiday table, festooned in the appropriate trappings for the celebration day. As I harken back to days of my childhood, the Easter table was ALWAYS graced with a centerpiece lamb.

As I promised, I'll not get into the religious significance of a lamb on Easter. Indeed, in my memory, the true importance of our Easter lamb was dessert, perhaps my most beloved dessert of all. All white and fluffy, clothed in coconut shavings, fresh out of a Hough Bakery box, that centerpiece lamb cake was a treat for which you would be willing to trade your Malley's chocolate rabbit. As the family enjoyed our Easter dinner (actually dressed in our Sunday best- with no baseball caps) I would contemplate that sacrificial lamb. If I hadn't already snatched the licorice jelly bean eyes, the cake would stare back, sitting peacefully in his field of green icing, surrounded by marshmallow peeps and other confectionary creatures. But the lamb was, in my mind, the star of the show and he knew how anxiously I awaited that moist yellow cake and the smooth butter cream frosting. The interesting paradox from my memory is, as I was pining for that lamb cake, I was usually being told to eat my Easter dinner, which was real lamb. My dislike of that particular dish was almost as great as my love for the dessert to follow. Even the mint jelly didn't help the taste much.

Sadly, my love of that lamb cake has gone the way of the bakery that created them. While I'm sure that there are a good many very fine lamb cakes that will grace many Easter tables, both homemade and from some fine bakeries, somehow, if it didn't travel to the kitchen in that white bakery box with the blue trim, something terribly important is missing. Despite the closing of Hough's and my initial dislike for actual lamb, my Easter table will still feature lamb, though not one clothed in coconut. As I grew older, and my tastes became more adventurous, I actually began to enjoy lamb. I think the revelation came when I first had a rack of lamb, juicy and pink, flavorful of rosemary and lemon, that I realized that my dislike was not of the meat itself, but rather the preparation. To this day I will still shy away from a roasted leg of lamb, but the same cut of meat, prepared in different fashion, is a favorite. So, rather than a dried roast, with a bone making for difficult carving, I remove bone, butterfly and marinate the meat and opt for the grill. The higher direct heat sears the meat, keeping it far juicier, and because butterflying greatly increases the surface area, the marinade is able to penetrate, adding tenderness and flavor difficult to duplicate in the bone in roast. Carving is a breeze, as you are able to slice the meat as you would a London broil. You may also be surprised that to a butterflied, grilled leg of lamb, mint jelly is an unwanted accompaniment.

Grilled Leg of Lamb, Marinated and Butterflied
(allow 1/3 pound per person)

One boneless leg of lamb (available at Heinens or have your butcher remove the bone)
2 three inch sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and roughly chopped (you may substitute 1 tbsp. dried).
Juice of 1 lemon
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. soy
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Butterfly the meat. (Butterflying means to slice the meat in partially in half, retaining a connected edge so that the meat can be "opened" against the connected hinge, with the thickness reduced by half).
Place the meat (opened) in a shallow roasting dish. Spread half of the Marinade ingredients on the exposed side, turn the meat and repeat. Cover and refrigerate 2-4 hours.

Prepare the grill. You will want a moderately high heat. When the grill is ready, place flattened meat over fire and drizzle with marinade. Cover the grill (if one is able). Lamb tends to have some fat, so be careful to keep from flare-ups. For a butterflied roast 2 inches thick, (for medium) allow to cook for 15 minutes, flip and drizzle with marinade. Cook another 15 minutes. Carve on the bias, and serve with roasted new potatoes, steamed spring asparagus with hollandaise, a fruity Pinot Grigio...and a Hough Bakery Lamb Cake from which you've snitched the licorice jelly bean eyes.

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Volume 2, Issue 7, Posted 12:12 PM, 03.25.06