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Roast lamb: A global dish from a New York chef in Kentucky

The “subtle, elegant” lamb roast below incorporates flavors from many lands.

I’m rarely satisfied with a dish until it feels like a story, until it’s “full of all the irony and contradictions that make up any good yarn,” said Edward Lee in Smoke & Pickles (Artisan Books). Whenever I make lamb, it brings back memories of sneaking a gyro near the New York sweatshop my Korean-born parents managed and of an eye-opening tagine I ate one night in a Moroccan joint in Lyon, France. But mimicking other cooks’ ideas about how to handle an ingredient never satisfies me. Lamb finally truly clicked for me during a visit to a Virginia farm where I was given a taste of lamb “so mild and herbaceous that I started to imagine all the different flavors it could play with.”

The “subtle, elegant” lamb roast below incorporates flavors from many lands. At 610 Magnolia, my restaurant in Louisville, that’s just how I cook. I never used buttermilk before I moved to Louisville in 2003, for instance, but now I put it to work constantly. Here the buttermilk tenderizes the meat just as in a fried chicken recipe, and it “carries the aroma of the spices nicely.”

Recipe of the weekCinnamon-honey roast leg of lamb

For the marinade:

  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 1½ cups chopped onions
  • 1 small knob of ginger, peeled
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp each cumin seeds, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, and salt

For the lamb:

  • One 5- to 6-pound boneless lamb leg roast, rolled and tied up in butcher’s twine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp sea salt

For the honey glaze:

  • ¾ cup honey
  • 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp salt

A day ahead, make the marinade: Place all ingredients in a blender and blend at medium speed until combined. Place lamb in a gallon-size sealable plastic bag, pour in the marinade, and seal. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 325. Remove lamb from bag, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry. Brush lamb all over with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Set in a roasting pan and roast for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the glaze by whisking together all ingredients in a small bowl.

After the lamb has roasted 1 hour, increase oven temperature to 450 and start glazing the roast: Without removing the lamb from the oven, brush a thick layer of the glaze over the top. Roast for another 15 to 20 minutes, brushing another layer of glaze over it every 5 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the lamb registers 135 for rare, or 140 for medium-rare. Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and remove the butcher’s twine. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 6 to 8.

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