Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sous-Vide Leg of Lamb

Judy got me a sous-vide cooker for my birthday and I immediately had to try it out. Easter was coming up and we had a leg of lamb in the freezer, one I got from a friend who raised the lamb on his farm. And there is nothing better than leg of lamb for Easter, or for that matter, any time. 

Sous-vide cooking involves putting food in a plastic bag, having it vacuum sealed (sous-vide means "under vacuum" in French), then immersing it in a water bath kept at a constant temperature. If kept in the bath long enough, the heat from the water transfers to the food until it is cooked through at the water temperature. It is impossible to overheat the food, no matter how long it is cooked, because the temperature will go no higher than the temperature of the water. Further, no moisture from the food is lost, the food can be cooked evenly throughout, despite an odd shape or uneven thickness, and spices are more readily absorbed into the food .
Bone-in leg of lamb seasoned with pepper, salt and rosemary.
Vacuum sealed.
I seasoned the outside of the lamb with ground pepper, ground Himalayan sea salt and rosemary, then vacuum sealed it in a bag and put it in the sous-vide at about 55 C (approximately 131 F), which is low medium rare, just above rare. I left it in the sous-vide about six or seven hours. When finished, I put it on my outdoor gas grill for several minutes on each side to help caramelize the outside and give it more of a barbecue flavor. The meat was very good. No real raw and bloody spots, a problem we usually deal with when roasting a leg of lamb. It was a successful first try!
The sous-vide machine attached to the side of a pot and the bagged lamb floating in the water.
The cooked lamb in the bag.
After being cooked on the gas grill to caramelize the outside.
The inside is pretty uniformly pink.
The remaining bone.
About a week later, I noticed boneless leg of lamb at Trader Joe's and decided to try it on the sous-vide. I figured it was there only because Easter had just passed and was an opportunity to do some more experimentation. This lamb was already bound up in twine and seasoned, but I found a blog where a boneless leg of lamb was unraveled, stuffed full of herbs and then sous-vide cooked for a very long time, about 24 hours.
Boneless leg of lamb from Trader Joe's.
I cut off the twine binding, cut the lamb open and smothered it with seasonings. I put ground pepper, ground Himalayan sea salt, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme and I cut up a number of shallots and cooked them briefly in the microwave with some butter and spread the combination inside. I then added some long strips of Iberico cheese (part cow, goat and sheep milk) and slices of butter and folded it back up and bound it together again with twine. I cooked this at a higher temperature, 60 C (140 F), for low medium and cooked it for about 17 hours, substantially longer than the first leg of lamb. I then put it in the oven on high broil for about three minutes and turned it over and broiled it on the other side for three minutes. I think the broiling was a better way to go than the grill.
Cut open and covered with herbs.
Shallots and Iberico cheese slices added.
Trussed up with twine.
Vacuum sealed.
The meat was cooked evenly through and most of the red was gone. The meat had a mushy texture which I did not enjoy as much, one of the down-sides of cooking it so long. It also was absolutely saturated with the flavor of the herbs and spices, too much so. It really packed an herbal wallop. Judy made gravy from the drippings which were all retained in the plastic bag and the gravy was marvelous. The cheese didn't add much. I envisioned it being gooey and oozing out. It was more clumpy and did not really add anything that I could notice.
The cooked product. Note all the drippings in the bag.
The sliced lamb. Note that it is more cooked and that it is chock-full of herbs.
I learned that over-cooking with the sous-vide mushes up the meat and that the herbs really do embed their flavor throughout the meat - I need to put in less herbs in the future.

It was a fun set of experiments and I'm looking for more of the same. 


  1. The first of what I hope are many delicious sous vide experiments.

  2. Interesting cooking method. I look forward to more creation reports!

  3. I'm very surprised that your first attempt at 6 hours didn't generate mushy meat. I did my first leg of lamb for Easter and cooked it for 4 hours; it was 2 hours too long. Only some of the meat was edible; over half was mushy and soft and had broken down to much.

  4. Interesting to read, thanks. I did a 24 hour lamb shoulder for Christmas and it was delicious, although I wasn't super happy with the texture. Next time I will try it for less time.