The early Creoles chose lamb for dinner far more frequently than today’s New Orleanians. They ate not only the legs and breasts but also the brains, feet and tongues. With a heritage like that, it’s odd that we buy lamb so seldom. The grocery store where I usually shop carries only the center-cut chops and not many of those. Customers here just don’t buy lamb, the butcher told me.

But the meat case in the local discount members-only warehouse indicates there must be a market somewhere in town, because luscious chops, racks and legs of lamb are placed right alongside the beef and pork. And I expect that most grocers will step up their orders of spring lamb in time for the Easter season. Eating lamb in spring became a tradition for climatic, cultural and even religious reasons. And, here in New Orleans, if it’s traditional and food is involved, we’re in.

The 1901 The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book says lamb was the standing dish for the Easter dinner in New Orleans. Its recipe was simple. Simply roast the hind quarter of a lamb for 20 minutes per pound. “The Creoles always serve it rare,” the cookbook states. And it requires no larding because the meat is rich and juicy. After standing for a few minutes, the juice will spurt from the leg when carved, it says.

Lamb comes from an animal less than 1 year old. Milk-fed, the best is 3 to 5 months old when the meat is still tender and has developed flavor. Just as vegetables are shipped in from Central America, and seafood from China, some of our best lamb comes from as far away as New Zealand.

A leg of lamb takes little effort on the part of the cook. Just season (salt, pepper, Creole seasoning, etc.) and roast in a 425-degree oven for 30 minutes, then at 350 degrees until the internal temperature reflects the way you like it on a meat thermometer. Some people serve it with mint jelly, but others say that’s old hat. I noticed that the local food warehouse usually sells boneless legs of lamb. Since we locals like to stuff things, I welcomed this as another opportunity for a Cajun dressing. Crawfish are still in season, and I considered that, but after a day or two of muddling it over, I decided that lamb is so rich, I’d rather do something more subtle like an herb mushroom stuffing. I was glad I did because my family loved it.

Rack of Lamb

2 8-rib racks of lamb, about 2
      to 2 1/2 pounds total
1/2 teaspoon each coarse
      salt and freshly ground
      pepper, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin
      olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon chopped
      rosemary, preferably fresh
1 tablespoon chopped
      flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Creole mustard

Make sure the bones are “Frenched.” This means that the meat is cut away from the end of a rib so that part of the bone (about 2 inches) is exposed. Rub meat with about half the salt and pepper. Heat a heavy skillet to hot, add 2 teaspoons of the olive oil and sear the racks on all sides where possible. Remove from skillet.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix all other ingredients, including remaining salt and pepper and olive oil, in a bowl. Brush mixture on all sides of meat and place in a roasting pan fat side up. Insert a meat thermometer in the center of meaty part and place pan in oven. Put strips of aluminum foil over the exposed rib ends. Roast to desired degree of doneness, preferably until medium rare, about 20 minutes or until the thermometer registers about 135 degrees.

To serve, cut 2 chops together and serve 2 pieces (4 ribs) per plate.

Serves 4.

Optional gravy: The lamb will be so juicy that gravy is unnecessary. If you want gravy for a side, deglaze the skillet in which you browned the racks with about 1/2 cup of water. Add 1 tablespoon of flour, mix well and heat until thickened.

Stuffed Boneless Leg of Lamb

1 3- to 3 1/2-pound boneless
      leg of lamb
Salt, pepper and Creole
1 tablespoon plus
      1 teaspoon olive oil
4 green onions, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced fresh
      mushrooms (white,
      portabello, shiitake, crimini
      or a mixture)
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped
      flat-leaf parsley
2 cups herb-flavor croutons
1 egg, beaten
1 cup lamb or chicken stock,
Dry white wine for basting

Season both sides of the boneless leg with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning. Lay flat with the inside up in a roasting pan.

In a skillet, heat oil and sauté the onion and celery until soft. Add the garlic, mushrooms, thyme and salt and pepper to taste, and sauté for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add parsley, croutons, egg and 1/2 cup of the stock. Mix thoroughly and let soak for 10 minutes. Spoon onto the center of the lamb and fold lamb over on all sides so that stuffing is well contained. Tie with kitchen string. Place in a preheated 425-degree oven and roast for 10 minutes. Insert meat thermometer. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and bake, basting occasionally with juices from the pan, wine and remaining chicken stock, if needed, until meat thermometer reads 140 degrees for medium rare, about 1 hour, or 155 degrees for medium.

When done, let sit for 15 minutes. Cut in slices to serve.

Serves 6.