Italian-Style Braised Leg of Lamb

above: braised, cooled, chilled overnight, sliced and covered in its sauce right before warming in oven for serving the second day

Lamb, the meat of any-time-of-the-year special occasions, happy summer grilling, and winter warming stews, is the quintessential meat despite the infamous quote from, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,”

Aunt Voula: What do you mean he don’t eat no meat?

[the entire room stops, in shock]

Aunt Voula: Oh, that’s okay. I make lamb.

In Aunt Voula’s world, there are no vegetarians. There are only people who eat beef and pork and chicken or, if not, then only eat lamb.  If you’re an eat-lamb sort, this post, this recipe, is written just for you. If you’re not, I’ll bet you’ll still love this. No joke.

above: world from my friend Lani’s living room last Saturday

This is a turn on the oven recipe at a time when spring is ginning up in many parts of the world, but as I’ve just spent several days in St. Paul, Minnesota, spring seems far away…

above: from left–Lani, Margo, me, Sue braving the streets to walk to brunch.  Upper right corner shows the barely visible red brick building where I lived during graduate school summers at University of St. Thomas. (Photo courtesy Lani Jordan)

In fact, my plane was delayed two days before I finally got home because it simply didn’t stop snowing. I’d barely gotten out of the airport before it caught on fire…  To stay I’m happy to be home is an understatement.

Save this recipe for later or make it soon while oven meals still beckon or if you have central air.  In fact, if you have friends coming to dinner next week or want something meaty-special for a Mother’s Day dinner, this IS IT. Divvy up the sides to your friends or family and make it a potluck for an easier day.

Buy a boneless, tied leg of lamb (or do it yourself if you’re strong and hearty) and either braise it for the day you’re serving–in which case it will be medium to medium-rare, or–as I like it best–make it today, let it cool, slice it tomorrow (removing bits of gristle and fat). You can then warm it in its decadent sauce and serve it with something smashingly homey and soft like lemon polenta, mashed potato casserole, or steamed rice, along with fresh asparagus, and the best Cabernet Sauvignon or biggest Chianti you can afford. I can’t begin to tell you what a smashing meal this is. And it’s all the more attractive because you can make it the day before and give yourself a real break before company comes.

What’s the difference between braising and roasting?

My recipe is a riff on a REAL SIMPLE recipe to whom I’m oh-so-beholden (scroll down for link), but I made it several times in different ways and think I’ve come up with a stunning piece of lamb braised in a winey-briney tomato sauce full of olives, capers, and garlic–just what the doctor ordered for lamb. I doubt you’ll have any left, but if you do, make my Spring Lamb Stew–scroll down for info. While your leg of lamb might not be terribly large (circa 5 pounds), lamb is very rich and servings should be less than if you were serving pork or beef. So, while it might be pricey, and it is a special piece of meat, it goes further. Try this soon:

above:  sliced after a brief rest on the day it was braised


10-12 servings

I include here directions for serving today or making ahead, cooling, slicing, and warming to serve the next day. I like the made-ahead version best, though the lamb will then be cooked to medium-well and that’s even though I adore medium-rare lamb.  If you serve the lamb the day it is cooked, you should have a medium (pink) or medium-rare (pink to light red) leg of lamb with some browner edges for those who like their meat more well-done.  I include specific directions below along with a temperature chart for lamb. Read through thoroughly.

• 5-6 pounds boneless, tied leg of lamb
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 2 garlic heads, halved crosswise
• 6 oil-packed anchovy fillets–these will dissolve in the sauce
• 3 rosemary sprigs
• 1 cup dry red wine
• 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
• 1 cup pitted and halved kalamata olives–added later
• ¼ cup capers, drained and rinsed–added later
• 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar–added later

ONE HOUR BEFORE COOKING: Let lamb rest at room temperature for an hour or so before cooking to ensure an evenly cooked piece of meat.

20 MINUTES BEFORE COOKING:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place oven rack at center of oven.

SEASON/BROWN THE LAMB/ADD SAUCE INGREDIENTS: While oven heats, remove lamb from packaging and pat dry with paper towels. Season lamb, patting or rubbing in the salt and pepper. Heat oil in large dutch oven or roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add lamb and brown well, turning occasionally to make sure all sides are brown—about 20 minutes. While last side browns, add onion, garlic, anchovies, and rosemary. Add wine and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

ROAST LAMB + SAUCE IN OVEN/CHECK TEMPERATURE: Cover tightly with dutch oven lid or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Roast in the oven for an hour or so; remove and check the temperature of the lamb with an instant-read thermometer.

If the temperature is 110-115 degrees F, stir in the olives, capers, and red wine vinegar, squeeze out the cloves of garlic into the sauce, and return lamb with sauce to the oven for another few minutes until the temperature hits 120 degrees F.  Let rest 10-15 minutes, slice, return meat to pan and stir a bit to make sure all of the meat is covered with sauce over all.

If the temperature is already 120 degrees F after the first check, remove meat to a rack. Add olives, capers, and red wine vinegar to the sauce and simmer on the stove top, first squeezing out cloves of garlic into the sauce.  Let meat rest 10 minutes, slice, and return to pan, stirring to make sure meat is covered with sauce over all. Remove rosemary sprigs; the leaves will have disappeared into the sauce.

SERVE TODAY HOT OR WARM: Arrange meat on a platter and spoon sauce on top. Serve hot or warm. If it becomes cool or even cold, it’s still totally delicious.

The temperature of the lamb will rise at least 10 degrees during a 15 minute rest, so that 120 degrees, quite rare, becomes 130 degrees, medium-rare with a few done slices at the end.  See temperature chart below.

MAKE AHEAD AND SERVE TOMORROW: Follow directions above, cooking meat to no higher temperature than 115 degrees F. Add the olives, capers, and red wine vinegar to the sauce and squeeze out the garlic cloves into it.  Let meat cool completely in sauce at room temperature. Cover tightly and refrigerate up to one day. Slice meat thinly, cutting out gristle and fat if needed. Return sliced meat to pan and spoon sauce over, stirring in a little water if the sauce is really thick. Reheat covered in a preheated 350 F oven until hot and bubbly—30-40 minutes. Arrange on a platter, spooning sauce over all. The meat will be cooked medium to medium-well, but will be very tender and flavorful.  If you’d like a rarer piece of meat the second day, do not re-heat it in the oven, but instead slice, arrange on a platter, and serve it cold with a separately warmed sauce.

{printable recipe}

Based on a recipe by ANNA THEOKTISTO in REAL SIMPLE magazine.

Lamb Roast Internal Cooking Temperatures:

Rare: 120 to 125 degrees F – center is bright red, pinkish toward the exterior portion

Medium Rare:  130 to 135 degrees F – center is very pink, slightly brown toward the exterior portion

Medium:  140 to 145 degrees F – center is light pink, outer portion is brown

Medium Well:  150 to 155 degrees F – not pink

Well Done: 160 degrees F and above – meat is uniformly brown throughout

Courtesy What’s Cooking America.  Link includes detailed information for roasting boneless leg of lamb

Converting Fahrenheit to Celsius

More Time at the Table Leftover Spring Lamb Stew

Berry Cake for Mother’s Day 


Lamb Chops in Curried Red Lentil soup


What am I reading?

My good friend Sue Hall asked me the other day, “What are you reading?” I realized that I read less fiction all the time–though I always have something going–and read more and more non-fiction that often, but not always, centers around food. Sometimes it’s a cookbook I’ve had on the shelf and never really delved into and other times it’s a book by someone who cooks:  stories, memoirs, biographies, and so on. Lately, I’ve been re-reading the late Laurie Colwin’s HOME COOKING: A WRITER IN THE KITCHEN, but I’ve also just begun reading L’appart : The Delights and Disasters of Making my Paris Home by one of my very favorite food bloggers, David Lebovitz, published late last summer. Be ready to feel as if you, too, have moved right into Paris and are attempting to buy and renovate an apartment in one of the most beautiful, delicious, and also perplexing cities on earth.  And get your pot and pans out, because this memoir is chock-full of captivating toothsome recipes–all of which you can totally depend upon. Think “Marshmallow Creme Fudge,” “Frangipane Plum-Raspberry Gratins,” or “Chocolate Soufflé,” because David is, on top of everything else, a superb and inventive, intuitive pastry chef.

When I began food blogging nearly 10 years ago, I looked to people like David Lebovitz to get an idea of what food bloggers do because I hadn’t a clue. I’d never read a food blog before! My admiration for David has never waivered and I remain a true fan. Check out his blog here and cook a few of his stellar recipes from there if you can’t get hold of the book tootie-sweetie.

By the way, David has also just published a new edition of THE PERFECT SCOOP, my top of the shelf ice cream book.  One of my favorite wedding gifts is a copy of THE PERFECT SCOOP along with an electric ice cream maker. Chill out!


Sing a spring song, think peace, read some David Lebovitz, and make some lamb,


5 thoughts on “Italian-Style Braised Leg of Lamb

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