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Try a homemade glaze of sugar, mustard and pineapples on your Easter ham and consider adding a leg of lamb to the more traditional spread.
Ask my kids what their favorite Easter traditions are and they will promptly tell you stories of water gun fights and paddle ball. Of all the candy that finds itself nestled in the translucent grass of a woven pastel basket, the malty taste of Robin’s Eggs steals our hearts.
I happily receive the black jellybeans without much coaxing as the rest of my family doesn’t jive with the licorice. There are traditions, yes, but the Easter menu is one that is up for interpretation.
Name any other holiday and I can tell you at least 75 percent of what will be on the table, but Easter, well, even I can’t remember year to year. Maybe ham and potato salad, deviled eggs for sure (because after boiling and coloring eggs you want to boil more eggs, right?) and my sister will want canned crescent rolls, but I’m not so sure anything is written in stone.
Maybe it’s the sliding date of this holiday and the chance of it coming early or late. Good Friday is in a couple days and it was 49 degrees last week! This year’s being earlier than later could have us eating rabbit stew or nine-bean soup this Sunday instead of chilled salads or ambrosia.
Hot or cold, whatever you are serving, the great debate is over the protein. I grew up in a household that generally served ham on Easter. It wasn’t until I broke out on my own that I found a fondness for eating (and cooking) lamb. It’s common for Passover and Easter so you’ll find a leg or two in places that normally don’t carry it.
If you’re new to the lamb game have no fear. It’s not that hard to prep or cook. Around here, though, your choices may be slim. It’s funny that lamb can thrive in all 50 states but we don’t see a lot of them around here. Our usual grocers have New Zealand lamb, but on the off chance you have a choice get something domestic.
I love loin chops and racks but on this holiday that would be far too expensive to feed the extended family. Leg of lamb is the goal. If you find a knowledgeable butcher ask for something not too young and not too old. A bone-in leg of lamb should be about 5 or 6 pounds. If you go boneless you’ll have to plunder through the utility drawer to find the kitchen twine you bought at that specialty shop and only used once (and that was because you searched for a reason to use it so you’d feel good about the purchase).
There are certain things that love lamb. Maybe it’s the other way around. Salt is one. Go with kosher and watch it melt as it hits the flesh. Rosemary is always a must. Garlic is what gets you to the church on time, though.
Some like to stud the meat before roasting. With fresh garlic use a sharp knife to cut cloves into slivers. Make slits into the meat and stuff the tiny holes with garlic and rosemary. Rub the lamb with olive oil and put it in a roasting pan. Don’t forget a good bit of black pepper.
Best results come from firing up the broiler. At that high heat you should sear both sides of the lamb for about 5 or 6 minutes per side. If you didn’t stud the leg then you could simply top with chopped garlic and rosemary after the sear.
Kill the broiler and turn the oven to 325 degrees. Normally I enjoy lamb rare or nearly blue but with the leg I prefer the mid-rare neighborhood. Gauge it to be about 20 minutes per pound but check with an instant read thermometer so you don’t pass that 130 degrees mark. Remember it will cook a little as it rests.
The hams we get are already cooked, but we still have to bring them up to temp for safety reasons. This is a great time for us to add to that wonderful flavor of pork that many of us crave.
Face it. Some of you are not open-minded toward lamb. I want both because I love ham leftovers more than turkey. It’s versatile with the boiled eggs in a lattice pie, good for breakfast, lunch or dinner and the most important sandwich component since the dawn of mayonnaise.
My mother used to stud the ham with cloves. I remember the pineapple rings with a cherry in the center secured with a toothpick. It was Norman Rockwell if ever there were such a thing in our house.
The ham of your dreams will be such because you used the glaze of your dreams. Basically we need sugar to caramelize. That’s the only rule. Sugar burns pretty easily but lucky for us we will be cooking the ham at 325 degrees F, so a long, slow bake won’t scorch it. Glazes are usually added in the last hour or so of cook time.
I’ve used honey, Coca-Cola, molasses, pancake syrup, mustard with brown sugar and just about anything shy of chocolate. This sounds like I bake 20 hams a year. That’s not the case. Remembering them made me realize I am older than I thought. But my favorite combination is ham and pineapple.
½ cup pineapple chunks
¼ honey mustard
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup pineapple juice
Throw it all in a blender and hit the high button. Brush on the ham in the last hour. Let it get shiny!
There is a slim chance that Khaki will do both of these this Easter, or any Easter, for that matter. You’d need two ovens. If you want to live life to the fullest get yourself a girlfriend whose mom cooks lamb.