A Mallman Recipe: Leg of Lamb on Strings with Mint-Chile Salmuera
By Chef Francis Mallman
If you like rotisserie cooking but don’t have a rotisserie, here is a low-tech alternative. Hanging a leg of lamb or a whole chicken (or both) from a high tree branch with butcher’s twine over a fire works perfectly. I first tried this at my little restaurant in Trancoso, and I was quite pleased with my new invention. Then Peter Kaminsky told me that he had once seen the same method used by a Masai cook in the Serengeti, where the result is known as “poacher’s lamb.” He said the man was an A-1 chef, so I wasn’t disappointed to learn that the same inspiration had visited another lover of wood-fire cookery.
If you have a high, sturdy tree branch at least 10 feet above your grill that extends far enough from the tree itself to prevent it from being harmed by the fire, climb up a tall ladder and loop double lengths of heavy twine over the branch, with enough left over to truss the lamb and chicken. If you don’t have such a tree, you will need to rig a sturdy iron or steel stand to hang the meat so that it will be about 2 feet above the fire.
Use a double thickness of butcher’s twine or food-grade stainless steel wire to tie up the lamb, configuring loops on the sides and ends for hanging them. Turn occasionally as they cook, and raise or lower them as necessary.
Leg of Lamb on Strings with Mint-Chile Salmuera
Serves 8 to 10
1 semi-boneless leg of lamb, about 7 pounds
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mint-Chile Salmuera (recipe follows)
1. Build your fire and rake the coals out for medium heat.
2. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. If desired, brown it on all sides on an oiled grate over the fire before hanging it from the tree or metal stand.
3. Truss the lamb securely with butcher’s twine or wire. Attach the lamb securely to the twine or wire at the end of the shank bone so it is suspended butt end down about 2 feet over the coals. The lamb will be done in about 31⁄2 hours—the internal temperature should read 135°F for medium-rare. Let it rest for 15 minutes before carving. Keep in mind that some parts will be more done than others, so you can serve your guests to their taste.
4. Arrange the lamb on a platter and serve the salmuera on the side.
Chicken on Strings
Suspend a trussed, 4-pound, farm-raised chicken and cook over fire. The chicken will be done in about 2 hours—an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh should read 160°F. Let it rest for 5 minutes before carving.
Serve with lamb or chicken. Makes about 2 cups.
1 cup water
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small red or green chile pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the salt and stir until it dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool until tepid.
2. Meanwhile, wrap the peppercorns in a kitchen towel and pound with mallet until cracked. Place in a mortar, along with the garlic, lemon zest, juice, chopped chile, mint, parsley, and red pepper flakes and pound together to a rough paste. Whisk in the vinegar, half the salted water, and the olive oil. Taste for seasoning and stir in more salted water if desired. Let stand for 30 minutes to blend the flavors before serving.
Excerpted from Mallmann On Fire by Francis Mallmann (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Santiago Soto Monllor