Roast lamb is always how we break the Lenten fast and celebrate Easter. Špikovanje (larding) is a technique I first came across watching my grandmother prepare lamb for our Easter Sunday feast. It is a technique often used in the Balkans for roasting meat. Though traditionally the term means inserting little strips of smoked pork or lard in (often lean) meat to flavour it during roasting, in the Balkans the term is also used more generally to describe flavouring the meat in other ways too, using a variety of vegetables and aromatic herbs.  I always thought of it as making little secret pockets bursting with flavour all over the meat. My grandmother’s favoured pocket fillers were garlic, carrots and parsley and she often used a mustard rub over roasting joints for extra punch. This tender, slow roast leg of lamb is very much inspired by her.  

Ingredients

  • 1 leg of lamb, weighing 2-3kg

  • 1 whole head of garlic

  • 2-3 medium sized carrots

  • Small handful of parsley (leaves and stalks)

  • 2 medium sized onions or banana shallots

  • 1 leek (optional)

  • 2-3 sprigs of rosemary

  • 2-3 sprigs of thyme

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 tbsp sea salt

  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  • 500 ml chicken or vegetable stock

  • 150-200 ml dry white wine

  • 1 tbsp plain flour

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 170C. Prepare your leg of lamb by trimming some of the excess fat and sinew. With a sharp knife make 2cm deep incisions every 2-3cm all over the leg of lamb against the grain of the meat.
  • Separate and peel the garlic cloves. Slice half the garlic cloves into small batons (approximately 1-1.5cm long and 0.5cm wide), keep the rest of the garlic cloves whole. Peel the carrots and slice one carrot into small batons approximately the same size as the garlic. Pick the leaves off the parsley and reserve the stalks. Take one parsley leaf, one garlic baton and one carrot baton and insert them into an incisions in the leg of lamb. They should go all the way in and not stick out else they will fall out as the lamb cooks and naturally shrinks. Repeat for all the incisions you have made in the lamb.
  • Make a bed of vegetables and aromatics for the lamb to roast over. Peel and slice the onion into wedges. Wash and chop the leek into batons. Chop the rest of the carrots into batons. Place the onion, leek, carrot, the garlic cloves (and any remaining small batons of garlic and carrot from flavouring the lamb above), the rosemary sprigs, the thyme sprigs, the parsley stalks and the bay leaves in the centre of a large deep-sided roasting tin.
  • In a small dish, combine the sea salt, black pepper, mustard and olive oil and mix into a paste. Rub the paste over the whole surface of the lamb either with a small brush or your hands. Place the leg of lamb over the vegetables and aromatics.
  • Add half the stock (250ml) and all the wine to the roasting tin and baste the meat with the liquid. Then cover the lamb with baking parchment and then foil to avoid the lamb sticking. Start roasting the lamb. After approximately 1.5-2 hours of roasting, baste the meat, then return to the oven uncovered and roast for a further 30 minutes. Then remove from the oven and turn the whole leg of lamb over so that the side that was sitting on the vegetables and aromatics is facing upwards. If there is not enough moisture in the roasting tray, add some more stock (100ml) and a further splash of wine (25ml – if you would like) or water. Baste the lamb, cover with the baking parchment and foil again and continue roasting. Check on the lamb periodically and keep basting it in the cooking juices. After another 2 hours of roasting, uncover the lamb and roast uncovered for a further 20-30 minutes. The lamb should roast for a total of 4-5 hours until the meat is practically falling off the bone. Transfer the lamb to a serving dish and let it rest (covered) for 30-40 minutes.
  • Add a splash of wine to the roasting tin (25ml, while the tin is still hot) to deglaze it, then pour off the cooking juices from the roasting tin into a small saucepan. Allow the juices to settle then remove any excess oil from the top, leaving the cloudy herby liquid in place. This is your gravy. Place the saucepan with the gravy over a medium heat and add the flour, stirring to combine for 1 minute. Then slowly add the rest of the stock, stirring constantly to avoid lumps and increase the heat to bring it to the boil. As soon as it boils, reduce the heat back to medium, and keep stirring until the gravy thickens to your liking. Serve the gravy with the lamb.
  • Serves 4-6. Serve the lamb with roast potatoes, fresh salad and lovely bread.