Slow cooked leg of lamb fills your home with mouthwatering aromas. It’s one of winter’s great pleasures when it is cold outside, and you have slow roasted lamb gently cooking away in the background while you potter around. Not sure how to slow cook a leg of lamb? It’s easy, find out how easy here. If you always wanted to try cooking lamb, this is the perfect recipe to start.
Winter is a time for slowing down, keeping warm inside and pottering around doing odd jobs around the house, or maybe just curling up with a good book in front of the fire. Imagine a relaxing day, together with slow roasted lamb just gently cooking away in the background. And a slow roast leg of lamb recipe has a short amount of preparation before your leg of lamb goes in the oven and that’s it, nothing else to do, until it’s time to serve the lamb. I honestly can’t think of an easier meal.
Lamb is one of the most consumed meats on the planet. It’s not just the Southern European, Middle Eastern and North African countries which consume lamb in large quantities. Many Northern Asian countries are also increasing their consumption of lamb. And, who do you think is the world’s largest producer of lamb? New Zealand? Australia? Well neither as it turns out. In fact, neither is in the top two! Read on to find the very surprising answer to this question.
Lamb Consumption Around the World
Whenever you drive in rural areas in New Zealand or Australia, you will see huge flocks of sheep dotting the landscape. In the case of Australia, many of those sheep are for wool production, and no, they are not the same breeds of sheep used for meat production.
So, I was shocked to read China is in fact the world’s largest producer of sheep for meat production! And the European Union is number two (okay, that’s actually many countries), Australia number three and New Zealand number four. The two largest exporters (90% of all exports) are Australia (mainly to the US/Middle East) and New Zealand (mainly to the European Union/UK/China).
The biggest consumer of lamb on a per capita basis is Australia (19 pounds per head) then Kazakhstan (18 pounds). New Zealand, Kuwait and Greece are also high consumers of lamb. Per capita consumption in Africa is 4.5 pounds and the average in all countries is about 4 pounds. In the USA, it is only 0.7 pounds per capita. Beef dominates red meat consumption in the USA. And, the largest increases in lamb consumption is in Northern Asia, China included.
How Migration has Fueled Food Diversity Around the World
For as long as I can remember, the unofficial, National dish of Australia has been roast lamb. But the nature of the dish has changed over the decades. As a youngster, we had roast beef or roast pork or roast lamb every single Sunday for lunch, whether that was mother or grandmother’s cooking. On special occasions, like Christmas, you would have roast chicken.
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And, if it was lamb, it would be roast lamb with mint sauce (always), testament to Melbourne’s English heritage. Around the same time as these memories, there was strong migration into Australia from Southern Europe, including strong Greek migration. Melbourne was considered the world’s second largest Greek city! (And it is still the largest Greek city outside of Greece and it is third in the world today!) Migration into Melbourne brought many new, European ingredients into the Melbourne markets and markedly improved the local cuisine, as well as increasing the range of foods available.
Although I have no evidence of this, I suspect if you asked most Australians now how they cook their national dish, roast lamb, it would now be with Greek flavorings. Think rosemary, oregano, garlic and lemon. Greek fare is extremely popular in Australia and being a healthy cuisine, why wouldn’t you cook with Greek seasonings? You will also now find many people, when cooking roast lamb experimenting with Moroccan seasonings, Indian seasonings, and South American seasonings.
My point is the migration of people has resulted in a far greater diversity of food being produced and consumed in countries which embrace immigration. And, that is surely a good thing!
Why Crete has Great Tasting Lamb
I have slowly learned over the years that lamb grazing in tough conditions is actually better than lamb raised on magnificent, green pastures. Let me explain.
Lamb raised on green pastures, results in rather plump lamb, with maybe a higher fat content. While still considered lean, and full of taste that’s for sure, this is the lamb I grew up eating. However, in more recent times, I realize after tasting lamb raised in rather inhospitable landscapes, is even tastier! Let me give you two examples.
Salt bush Lamb from Australia is raised in the outback where sheep wander around, free range, foraging on the native salt bush and other native vegetation. Let me assure you there are no English-style, green pastures out there. The lamb is leaner, raised in totally organic conditions, and is naturally flavored by the salt bush and other herbs and plants they forage on.
Fast forward to Crete in Greece. If you have never been to the Greek Islands before, I can assure you they are rugged, dry and subject to warm conditions in the summer. Not that different to the Australian Outback except there’s hills! And just like the Outback, in Crete the sheep forage on the local flora including many, tasty herbs, such as wild thyme, sage, rosemary and fennel. The sheep work hard for their feed, so in Crete, they are lean, organic and full of flavor from the plants they forage on. One of our Greek friends put it this way, “it’s so tasty because they eat rocks!” You can find out more about the traditional foods of Crete here.
Slow Roasted Lamb – Shoulder or Leg?
Let me be honest here and say if I am cooking slow roasted lamb, I do generally use a lamb shoulder, rather than a slow cooked leg of lamb. There is more fat in a shoulder than a leg of lamb. But shoulders are also less tender than a leg, so you need to cook them low and slow. A shoulder of lamb, is an excellent cut for a lamb stew, and that is my preferred way of using them.
As for a leg of lamb, it is a leaner cut of meat than a shoulder of lamb. So, it is my preferred cut for cooking roast lamb. Most folks cook a leg of lamb at 350 f (180 c) at what is considered a normal temperature. Most roast leg of lamb recipes call for the lamb to be served medium-rare, and I wholeheartedly agree.
After allowing the lamb to stand, it is then carved into slices and served. We already feature two easy, but delicious, roast lamb recipes cooked at the standard temperature. Go here for Patagonian Roast Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce, for some delicious, South American flavors or here for Greek Roast Lamb.
So, why a slow cooked leg of lamb? A slow cooked leg of lamb is more forgiving than one you cook at a standard temperature. Slow roasted lamb results in a more well done meat and because it has been gently cooked over a long period of time, you can just pull the meat away from the bone and serve it in chunks. (Also perfect if you prefer your meat well cooked.) This removes any concern over the need to perfectly carve your lamb, if that idea makes you are nervous or you are worried about overcooking. So, in that regard it is a more forgiving dish.
But will your slow cooked roast lamb leg still be moist? Indeed, it will because we will be cooking it in stock.
Slow Cooked Leg of Lamb
Cooking roast meats is one of the easiest methods I know to cook for a crowd of people. If you have never cooked a roast leg of lamb recipe, this slow cooked leg of lamb, is an easy one to cut your teeth on. No carving pressure, just pull it away from the bone in chunks.
As we are in Crete, we will be making slow cooked Greek lamb, using typical, Greek herbs – rosemary and oregano. And, of course, let’s not forget the garlic! We will be cooking the leg of lamb in a roasting pan containing chicken stock and water. If you can, use a pan not too much larger than your leg of lamb. If it is a large roasting pan, you will need more liquids.
I usually serve roast veggies with Roast Lamb, but when cooking slow cooked leg of lamb, the temperature in the oven isn’t hot enough to cook them to my satisfaction. So, instead go for something like mashed potatoes and maybe green beans or peas.
If you are in the USA and unsure where to buy lamb, COSTCO sells leg of lamb, and usually lamb shoulder as well, from Australia, at reasonable prices.