Today, we’ll take a look at a very traditional French recipe: Le Gigot d’Agneau Pascal. In case you were wondering, let’s be clear: “Agneau Pascal” does NOT mean “some guy named Pascal’s recipe for lamb,” but rather the lamb that is traditional for the Easter (called “Pâques”) holiday.
The good news is that as far as holiday meals are concerned, this is probably one of the simplest and fastest to make. The whole recipe requires just 5 ingredients and less than 15 minutes of preparation! (Don’t let the length of this post scare you off. It’s easy and delicious!)
Now, you can of course spruce it up a little (which is what I do) but the basics of the meal are super simple.
Red wine pairing for the lamb – 2006 Perrin & Fils “La Gille” Gigondas AOC, from the southern Rhône Valley of France; this Grenache and Syrah blend is excellent with lamb.
Chilled wine pairing for the lamb – Domaines Ott Les Domaniers Côtes du Provence Rosé. This is a marquee name in southern France for rosés and an excellent refreshing alternative to red.
Leg of lamb, bone-in recommended (“Gigot d’agneau”) calculate 1.5 to 2 pounds per person served plus extra if you want extras for the next day. I usually buy in the 15 to 20 pound range for 4 people.
Salt (Sea Salt)
Pepper (coarse ground)
Olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Dried “herbes de Provence” (mixture of savory, thyme, lavender and other herbs)
Note: Take the lamb out of the fridge about 2 hours before you start the recipe so that the meat is not too cold.
Run the lamb under cold water to remove any stickiness of the meat and dry it well with paper towels. Removing all the excess moisture will make for a crispier outside when cooking.
If your butcher has not done so, remove most of the white tough skin that might be on the meat. Just make a small incision, pull with your fingers and cut parallel to the meat as you pull. (Some people don’t mind the skin, but I prefer it without; it makes the meat more presentable and easier to eat.)
Cut your garlic into small juliennes (long strips) of about 5mm x 5mm. (Imagine tiny garlic French fries!)
With a long sharp knife, make a long, thin incision in the meat and insert the garlic into the opening. (I also like to add a couple of leaves of fresh rosemary too, but not everyone likes that stronger taste.) This is called “piquer la viande à l’ail” (literally: to pierce the meat with garlic).
Do this evenly in all the deep parts of the meat. The amount of garlic you “pique” with is up to you and based on your preferences, use less for a romantic dinner, use more after 10 years of marriage. 😉
Put the leg of lamb in a large oven dish (“Un plat”) and add some olive oil (not too much, lamb already has lots of natural fat) and generously sprinkle pepper and, optionally, the “herbs de Provence” on every part of the roast. With the oil, all the pepper and herbs will stick to the meat making a sort of crust.
Note: you can complete all these steps the day before, just make sure you take the lamb out of the fridge 2 hours before you put it into the oven.
Set your oven (“un four”) to a high temperature (about 464°F) and let it get really hot. Just before you put the lamb in the oven, sprinkle the whole roast with salt. Put in the high temp oven for about 20 minutes to develop a nice crust (“une croûte”). This will prevent juices from flowing out during the cooking and add flavor + visual appeal. Then lower the oven to about 390° F.
Let it cook for about 12 to 15 minutes per pound if you want it pink or 18 minutes if you want it well done. This is important to calculate in advance.
In the middle of the cooking, you can flip the roast once if you’d like.
Once you take the leg of lamb out of the oven, take it out of the pan and cover it with tin foil (“papier alu” – short for aluminium). Let it rest at least 10 minutes for the juices to flow back into the meat.
In the meantime, you can dump most of the fat that is left in the pan and then put the pan on the stove at a low heat (make sure your pan allows that). Then add a large glass of chicken stock (or I prefer to add red wine) and deglaze the pan, scraping all the good bits from the bottom of the pan, let it reduce, season if needed and serve as a nice simple sauce.
As with most of the meats, the French will usually eat gigot d’agneau “rosé” (pink), whereas the Easter lamb in Greece is always eaten well cooked through… It’s a cultural thing, I guess. We like our lamb well cooked through in my family, so that’s what I make.
If your leg of lamb is really big, it may be too pink to your liking closer to the bone. Just put it back in the oven a bit.
The triangular shaped part next to the tip of the bone is called “la souris.” The meat is different there, and French people usually fight over it (definitely Camille’s favorite!!). So you may need to cut this part in smaller pieces so everybody can get some.
The Gigot d’Agneau Pascal is traditionally served with green beans with almonds (“haricot vert avec des amandes”) or with Flageolets (pale green beans) and French fries or oven roasted potatoes.
And it makes wonderful leftovers for sandwiches the next several days!
Oven Roasted Potatoes aux Provence – using the same ingredients for the lamb above plus one large rough diced onion. Rinse and clean potato skins thoroughly. Roughly cut potatoes into 16-20 equal size rough pieces leaving skin on.
2 ½ potatoes per person (plus extras for leftovers)
Onion – 1 large, rough diced
Garlic – 3-5 cloves, smashed and diced
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – enough to entirely cover the bottom of a Dutch oven to a height of 1/8 inch
Herbs – Rosemary three (3) 6 inch sprigs – leaves, chopped well
Thyme – three sprigs (enough to cover the hand), chopped well
Sea Salt – about the size of a quarter
Black Pepper – coarse ground size of a quarter
Add all garlic, onions, herbs and spices to the olive oil in the Dutch oven. Let these marry with the oil while you prepare the potatoes. Add cut up pieces of potato to the olive oil and herb mixture and toss and blend well.
Cook at the 390°F temp for the last 70 minutes turning the potatoes over in the Dutch oven once.