On Forgetting How to Cook, Part I



Anything you learn, you can forget, right? That’s how I figure it.  

I used to grill probably 100, 150 nights a year (I never counted, but that seems about right). I lived in Connecticut, which is not the ideal grilling location, but because I came from New York, where grilling is as illegal as right turns on red, to me it was so exotic that once the opportunity became an unlimited one, I took full advantage of it. One of the first food stories I wrote, back in the early 80s, was about grilling during winter. I had a tiny second floor porch, and I was out there every chance I got, almost regardless of the weather.  

Now, back in Manhattan, I’m out of practice. And I have forgotten more about grilling than I care to admit. So when I was preparing to grill a boned leg of lamb last night, and I stubbornly refused to look up a recipe (there is something really embarrassing, frankly, about writing a book called How to Cook Everything, and then looking stuff up in it), I found myself stumped.  

How long would it take? Twenty to 30 minutes, judging by the look of it, though at least one of my guests insisted I was insane, that it couldn’t possibly be done in less than 40. And should I cover my grill, a kettle in which I was using real charcoal? Damned if I knew.  

I figured I had a shot at getting it right. First of all, I marinated the leg briefly in a mixture of lavender, rosemary, thyme, garlic, olive oil, soy sauce, salt, and a load of black pepper. (See below for a close facsimile; see, I’ll look up the recipe for you, just not for me.) I started the coals simultaneously and then, when they were ready, I added some more – it just didn’t look right.  

I cleaned the grill grate, tossed the lamb on, and thought about things for a minute. I came to the conclusion that of course I’d cover it – I had real charcoal, which would do nothing but give it a good flavor, and I had a huge piece of meat that, left to cook in a hot-on-the-bottom-cool-everywhere-else environment, would take an hour to finish.  

I covered it. I turned it after about ten minutes. It was more than done in some places ten minutes after that, and still quite rare in others. (That’s what’s so great about boned leg of lamb; everyone is happy.)  

I was kind of pleased. My instincts are there, even if my memory is shot.


Grilled or Broiled Butterflied Leg of Lamb

Makes at least 6 servings

Time: About 40 minutes, plus time to preheat the grill

[Adapted from How to Cook Everything

1 (3- to 4-pound) butterflied leg of lamb

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Minced parsley leaves for garnish

Lemon wedges 

1. Start a gas or charcoal grill or heat the broiler; the fire should be quite hot, and the rack should be at least 4 inches from the heat source. (Delay this step until you’re just about ready to cook if you choose to marinate the meat.) Trim the lamb of any excess fat. Mix together the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper; rub this mixture well into the lamb, making sure to get some into all the crevices. If you have the time, let the lamb sit, for at least an hour (refrigerate if it will be much longer).  

2. Grill or broil the meat until it is nicely browned, even a little charred, on both sides, about 20 to 30 minutes, and the internal temperature at the thickest part is about 125dgF; this will give you some lamb that is quite rare, as well as some that is nearly well done. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing thinly, as you would a thick steak. Garnish and serve, with lemon wedges. 

Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Provençal Spices: For the herbs in Step 1, substitute 1 teaspoon fresh or dried lavender, chopped; 1 teaspoon fresh or dried rosemary, chopped; 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds. Proceed with the recipe. 

6 Other Concoctions to Smear on Butterflied Leg of Lamb

1. Cumin mixed with a little honey and some minced orange peel.

2. Minced ginger and scallions mixed with soy sauce.

3. Traditional Pesto

4. Curry Powder or similar spice mixture, moistened with a bit of yogurt.

5. Roasted garlic pulp, mixed with olive oil and chopped fresh mint.

6. A paste made by pureeing 1/2 cup of coconut milk, an inch or two of fresh ginger, a bunch of scallions, an onion, a pinch of saffron or turmeric, and a large pinch of salt.

Posted in American


  1. Anonymous said...

    After all of that work, I would like to know what you served with the lamb??? I do believe it’s possible to forget how to cook….. 😉

  2. Anonymous said...

    Lavender? How much lavender? I have LOTS of lavender, but don’t know what to cook with it.

  3. badgermeetswrld said...

    The first time I ever grilled a boneless leg of lamb, I turned to HtCE for advice and you did not steer me wrong! It’s still one of my all-time favorite meals. I love how the meat comes out anywhere from rare to medium-well, especially since my daughter and I like the former while my son and husband prefer the latter.

  4. GoodStuffNW said...

    We’ve done lamb on the grill several times…bone in, bone out, rolled, butterflied…and find it so easy, fast and totally delicious. As for forgetting, I so hear you! That’s actually one reason I started my blog, so I’d have some record of those recipes that I made once upon a time…and boy howdy has it come in handy!

  5. savingfood said...

    What we cook with matters. We are avoiding GE-corn and GE-soy because they are associated with organ failure and sterility. But now it appears that S 510, a "food safety" bill, is a set up to exterminate normal farm animals so corporations with patents on GE-animals, can take over as Monsanto has with grains."Traceability" is part of this plan. http://yupfarming.blogspot.com/2010/06/farm-animals-r-us.htmlS 510 calls for the DHS and the DOD to control over ALL FOOD AND ALL FARMS in the US in the event of an animal outbreak, but the USDA is creating the circumstances for it to happen.

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