Moroccan Spiced Leg of Lamb with Preserved Lemon Relish

Butterflied boneless leg of lamb is a great dish for a crowd. I have used a Moroccan-style dry rub here, but you could substitute any chicken or meat marinade, wet or dry. One of my old favorites is a Jacques Pepin recipe that we ran when I was in the test kitchen at Gourmet. He just threw some raw onion, garlic, soy sauce, homey, jalapeno, and fresh ginger into a food processor and then marinated the lamb in it overnight. Even the kids liked it.

I recommend cooking your lamb medium-rare, which means taking it off the grill or out of the broiler when it has an internal temperature of 130°F. (Rare would also be fine with me, but not everyone likes it that way.) For an accurate reading, insert your instant-read thermometer into the meat sideways, not straight down. After you nave taken the lamb off the heat, let it rest for 10 minutes, covered loosely with foil, so that the juices have a chance to redistribute themselves and don’t come streaming out when you slice the lamb. By the way, one of the beauties of working with a boneless leg of lamb is that it is a cinch to carve.

My friend and colleague Marie Ostrosky, who used to work with us on “Cooking Live” but then left to work on another show (traitor!), turned me on to the recipe for the preserved lemons in the relish. Preserved lemons are wonderful Moroccan pickles made by combining lemons, salt, and lemon juice, then letting the mixture cure for three weeks. Marie’s version, which she learned in her previous life as a caterer, takes only 24 hours to come together. The relish is salty, but it makes a nice counterpoint to the lamb.


For the lamb:

One 3 1/2- to 4-pound butterflied boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of almost all fat

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch saffron (optional)

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Additional kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


For the relish:

2 1/2 preserved lemons (see note)

1/2 small red onion, diced

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons chopped pitted Mediterranean olives, such as Kalamata

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Serves 6


Pound the lamb to a uniform 1-inch and place in a large plastic bag with a resealable closure. (If the lamb is too large to fit in the bag, place in a nonreactive baking dish large enough to hold it flat.) Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, paprika, cumin, cayenne, salt, marjoram, ginger, saffron, and cilantro in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over the lamb and seal the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and up to overnight. Turn often to distribute the flavors.

Prepare a charcoal fire and allow the coals to burn down to a gray ash. Lightly oil the grill. (Alternatively, preheat the broiler to medium-high and adjust the oven shelf so that the broiling pan will be about 6 inches from the heat.) Remove the lamb from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Sear well on both sides over high heat; then move to a cooler side of the grill. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes longer or until a meat thermometer registers 130°F for medium-rare. (Or broil for 5 to 7 minutes per side.) Transfer to a cutting board and cover loosely with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes.

To make the relish, very finely chop the lemons. Place in a small bowl and add the onion, parsley, cilantro, olives, lemon juice, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. You should have about 1 1/2 cups.

Thinly slice the lamb on the diagonal and serve each portion topped with some of the relish. Serve the remaining relish on the side.


Note: Preserved lemons can be found in many specialty food stores and ordered on line. To make your own quick version, cut 2 1/2 thin-skinned lemons (preferably organic) into 1/8-inch thick slices. Arrange half the lemons over the bottom of a nonreactive pan and sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of salt. Place the remaining lemons on top and sprinkle with another 2 tablespoons of salt. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the top of the lemons. Leave at room temperature overnight or for up to 48 hours. Rinse the lemons, remove the seeds, and pat dry before using.

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2 Responses to Moroccan Spiced Leg of Lamb with Preserved Lemon Relish

  1. Elizabeth Gustavson says:

    I found the relish much too salty. I used Meyer lemons from my own tree. The skins were not thin. Perhaps the skins absorb the salt much more salt was retained by the lemons than intended.

    • moulton says:

      I am sorry to hear that it was too salty. Did you rinse the lemons after they had been marinated in salt?

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