March 1, 2024


Welcome to the Food

How to roast the perfect Christmas lamb

One of my brothers, Marc, lives overseas and is fond of cooking what the French call a “gigot” (leg of lamb) for Sunday dinners. I’m always amazed how much Dijon mustard Marc slathers all over the gigot before roasting it into his ancient but marvelous AGA oven. You’d think the little lamb would come out tasting like a hot dog.

But, not at all. Somehow, that mustard (and its flavorings of smashed garlic, rosemary, honey –from Marc’s own hives — black pepper and olive oil) mellows into a transcendently delicious sauce, none of which (not a ghost of which) will be found on the serving platter at the meal’s end.

Mustard is one of the more ancient of food flavorings. A member of the cabbage family, mustard seeds come in white, brown (“yellow”) and black and contain enzymes and other compounds that, when crushed and put in the presence of a liquid (commonly water, wine or verjus, the unfermented juice of unripe grapes) release piquant and volatile esters. Our eyes, palates and sinus cavities know all about that.

To counter that edge, mustard makers mollify the crushed seeds’ fire with sweeteners and other flavorings, or with time. Anyone with a jar of mustard that’s six months over its “consume by” date knows that it is a shadow of its earlier self.

Heat (as with Marc’s gigot and the recipe here) also tempers mustard’s own “heat.”  Indeed, a commonplace among Indian cooking is to fry mustard seeds in a small amount of oil or ghee in order to turn the seeds mild and make them into nutty wee polka dots.

Mustard seeds certainly are wee. However, its plant, any leafy green of the Brassica or Sinapis genus, isn’t. Yet it isn’t as large as the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel makes it out to be and for that parabolic teaching and its human hyperbole, I feel a kinship with the Speaker.

Here is the beautiful King James version of Mark 4, 30-32: “And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.”

Loose and leafy mustard greens grow four to five feet–maybe—and Jesus never met my father’s rhubarb plant.

Christmas Lamb

Adapted from Patricia Wells at and Serves 6.


  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup coarse-grain Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground hot red pepper (such as Aleppo, Espelette or Urfa)
  • 1/4 cup full-fat whole milk yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and well crushed
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3-pound boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat (see note)
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil


Mix together well all the marinade ingredients (everything but the lamb and peanut oil). The marinade will be thick and pasty. Let rest for 30 minutes for the flavors to combine.

Place the marinade either in a large plastic zippered bag or a non-reactive container large enough to hold it and the lamb together. Slather the lamb with the marinade, making sure the marinade reaches all over. Close up the plastic bag or cover the container and place the lamb in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

To cook the lamb: Remove the lamb from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature (at least 1 hour). Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a large skillet, heat the peanut oil over high heat. Remove the lamb from the marinade, scrape it clean of the marinade (but reserve this marinade and any from the bag or container) and sear the lamb on all sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Put the lamb in a roasting pan and slather the reserved marinade all over it.

Place in the center of the oven and roast for 15 minutes, uncovered. Lower the heat to 375 degrees, flip the lamb over in its pan and roast an additional 20 minutes per pound (total roasting time for 3 pounds would be about 60 minutes), turning the lamb another couple of times as it roasts.

About 15 minutes before the end of the roasting time, check the temperature of the lamb at its thickest point with an instant-read thermometer. For medium-rare, remove from the oven at 135 degrees. For medium, at 140 degrees. Remove the lamb to a platter and loosely cover with foil. Let rest anywhere from 10-30 minutes. (Its temperature will rise 5-7 degrees.)