One of my things to do on Memorial Day Weekend is to hang out at the Valley Greek Festival in Northridge, California. The sounds of Greek music fills the air as dancers and San Fernando Valley locals kick up their heels in joy as they dance. This time, the Festival staff offered an event I couldn’t pass up. They did a cooking demonstration on how to roast Greek-Style Leg of Lamb and followed it up with a lamb dinner, complete with peas, artichokes, feta, Kalamata olives, roasted potatoes, and a filo dough triangle filled with yummy Greek cheese.
The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church courtyard is packed with delicious Greek food booths, vendor tents, a kiddie area, beer, and wine stands and eating tables.
Just a warning: Some of the images below may not be suitable for vegetarians or vegans. There are explicit shots of a leg of lamb being seasoned and sliced. I wanted to warn you ahead of time.
Roast leg of lamb is a traditional dish in Greece that was often served at festivals. I don’t eat lamb often, but that’s partly because I didn’t know how to roast it correctly.
According to one of the Valley Festival’s chefs, Andrew Eliopoulos, who did the cooking demo, California lamb is the best lamb you can get. California lambs eat alfalfa and a clover grass similar to dandelion. This makes the meat more nutritious and gives it an outstanding flavor.
He said “California alfalfa is also the best in the world due to the climate. It’s shipped to horse racing thoroughbreds all over the United States because of its superior quality. Most California lamb meat is organic. Ever since 1990, ranchers have stopped sending their animals to feedlots to be fattened up and aren’t treating the animals with hormones. If California lamb is not available, the next best comes from Colorado.”
In the recipe below, Andrew used a 12 lb leg of lamb. Earlier in the season, a leg of lamb will average about 8 lbs. Andrew slathered the leg with Olga Greek extra virgin olive oil.
The ingredients to season the lamb are very simple; lemon, (also grown plentifully in California) minced garlic, garlic powder, Greek oregano, salt, and pepper. Andrew insists that Greek oregano has a better taste than other varieties and gives the lamb a more authentic Greek flavor.
When asked if the fat should be trimmed before roasting, Andrew said it wasn’t necessary. His Greek mother would let the lamb sit for a while after cooking. “She’d run ice cubes around the leg and then take a spoon and skim off the fat. Leaving the fat on seals in the flavor.”
Another interesting fact about roasting a leg of lamb is that, like chicken, it should never be pink. Cook it through and through.
Andrew held up a bottle of mint jelly. He recommends banishing that abomination from your pantry forever.
I’m not able to give you exact ingredient measurements for this lamb recipe. Andrew picked each ingredient up in his hands and sprinkled them over the lamb, covering it thoroughly.
A 12 lb leg of lamb should be roasted in an oven at 325 – 350 degrees for approximately 4 hours. If you use a convection oven, then lower the temperature a little. You can also use a spit. The temperature inside the lamb needs to reach 145 degrees. If you’d also like to add fresh rosemary, arrange the sprigs lightly around the lamb because it has a very strong flavor. Andrew’s leg of lamb was roasted with small yellow potatoes that were cut in half and set in the roasting pan beside the leg. The pan drippings are all you need to flavor them. And do they ever! Add the potatoes during the last 2 hours of cooking.
Andrew’s marinade ingredients:
Andrew and the raw leg:
Add lemon juice – “Don’t worry about dropping in the seeds. They help flavor the lamb.” He used a small tool or knife to release the juice and let it drip over the lamb.
Pour olive oil over the lamb and then rub it in.
Add salt and garlic powder. Andrew was generous with both.
Add plenty of pepper:
Add the Greek oregano:
Add the minced garlic on top:
Repeat on both sides
The roasted leg of lamb out of the oven with crispy roasted potatoes:
The pan drippings with the potatoes:
Carving the lamb:
Andrew first cut off the lamb shank bone – He said this part is delicious to eat and is the first to be eaten in his house.
With a sharp knife, follow the bone and remove the meat from it:
Slice the meat cross-ways. It’s so juicy!
Greek Festival volunteers serving up samples before the actual dinner:
- 12 lb leg of lamb (if less, reduce cooking time)
- 1-2 large lemons
- Extra virgin olive oil - Try Greek
- Garlic powder
- Oregano (preferably Greek - fresh or dry)
- Minced garlic
- Baby yellow potatoes cut in half
- Pre-heat the oven to 325-350 degrees (with convection use the lower number)
- Squeeze lemon juice all over the leg of lamb
- Pour a little olive oil over the leg of lamb and rub in.
- Sprinkle the leg of lamb with salt and garlic powder
- Sprinkle generously with pepper
- Sprinkle with oregano
- Sprinkle with minced garlic.
- Turn the leg of lamb over and repeat with seasonings on the other side.
- Put the lamb into a roasting pan, uncovered and roast for approximately 4 hours or until the inside temperature of the lamb reaches 145 degrees.
- After 2 hours of cooking add the potatoes and arrange them around the lamb. If needed add a small amount of water.
- When the lamb is done, take it out and let it sit for ½ hour before carving
- To carve, first, remove the shank bone.
- Follow the remaining bone with a sharp carving knife to remove the lamb from the bone. Then slice crossways.
I suggest you put on some Greek music, pour a little Greek wine and enjoy this wonderful dish. Many thanks to Andrew Eliopoulos for his fabulous cooking demonstration and knowledge of how to cook and serve roast leg of lamb Greek style. Also to the Valley Greek Festival and the volunteer members of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Northridge, California for spreading joy and serving excellent food to the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles community. I’ll be back for more.
What’s your favorite local Festival? Please leave a comment below: