Saved by the Bell

My mom always cautioned me never to make a dish for company that I hadn’t tried first myself. And, as I was reminded last weekend, as usual mom was so right! Even the most reliable cookbooks can contain typos or confusing statements, errors that can cause trouble to even an experienced cook.

Since two of my favorite authors proclaimed boneless leg of lamb the perfect company entrée for six, I decided to make one for my dinner party. One book even suggested that I’d feel very relaxed when greeting my guests, since the roast would go into the oven almost two hours before they arrived. As it turned out, the experience wasn’t as stress-free as advertised.

I started to fret when I realized that the recipe said to cook the lamb in a 450 degree oven until it reached an internal temperature of 135 for rare or 145 for medium, while the butcher had instructed me to cook the meat in a 350 degrees oven until it reached only 110 for medium-rare. Both sources told me the meat would be ready in about an hour and a half and both instructed me to wrap it in foil and rest it for fifteen or twenty minutes.

Such discrepancies could make the difference between raw meat and a charred mess. Consulting another trusted cookbook only exacerbated my problem, since that one said that a bone-in leg would take an hour and a half but the cooking time would be reduced to half for a boneless leg. It specified starting the meat at 425 degrees and lowering the temperature to 350 after 30 minutes.

In the end, I decided to trust my own judgment and to try a nifty piece of equipment that would put me in control: a thermometer with a temperature probe that would not only beep when the roast reached the prescribed setting, but also would show me how quickly the meat was cooking. I roasted the lamb at 450 degrees for twenty minutes to brown the top, and then lowered it to 350 and ultimately 325 because the process was progressing so quickly. I took it out of the oven when the internal temperature was 130 degrees, which even at the lower oven setting turned out to be about twenty minutes sooner than the experts had predicted.

Was the 450 degree setting a typographical error? Did the recipe omit an instruction to lower the heat once the lamb browned? Would it have made a difference if I’d been able to find a boneless leg with the shank bone still attached, something my butcher informed me was only available to a TV chef? I guess I won’t know until the next edition is published. But I’m happy to report that thanks to the probe and my years of experience, the lamb was cooked perfectly- juicy and beautifully rosy inside. Still, I could have avoided all that uneasiness, if I’d just cooked a dish that I’d made before.

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