One of the best Christmas presents I received this year came completely out of the blue. I have somehow managed to get myself into the good graces of the American Lamb Board, and just before Christmas, a huge packaged showed up on my doorstep. Inside, safely wrapped in a duffel-sized cooler bag, was a beautiful crown roast of lamb - something I've heard of, but I don't think I had ever seen in person. My parents immediately claimed it for our family New Year's Day dinner, and it was packed into the freezer to await its date with the oven.
On the big day, I decided to go with the recipe that had been sent along with the meat (well, mostly - we left out the roasted veggies that the recipe places in the center of the roast). It involved two whole heads of garlic, panko breadcrumbs, and fresh rosemary and thyme. I absolutely loved how it turned out, and I would probably make this coating for other cuts of lamb as well. The only problem I had was that it had to cook much longer than the recipe said, mostly, I think, because I never managed to get the lamb into a circular shape, leaving not enough room in the middle for the hot air to circulate.
Of course, I wanted a side dish that was equally spectacular to go with such a great piece of meat. I turned to an idea that I had been wanting to try for ages - smashed potatoes. If you search for a recipe with that name, though, more often than not you'll end up with a recipe for mashed potatoes. Not the same thing at all. Instead, I cobbled together a few ideas to end up with what are, to me, the ideal potatoes. I would eat these every day, no joke. They're crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, and topped with plenty of salt (rosemary is optional, but I think it helps). I even tried the same technique with little cipollini onions, and although they didn't crisp up, the flavor was a hit - sweet and unctuous. In fact, the softness of the onions served as a nice contrast to the crispiness of the potatoes. (You can see the onions on the tray better in this picture.)
Festive Lamb Crown Roast (from American Lamb)
2 heads of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons chopped herbs (rosemary, basil and thyme) I just used rosemary and thyme
1 American Lamb crown roast, cap removed from ribs
Salt and coarse ground pepper
Cut 1/2 inch off the tops of the garlic. Place in small metal pan and drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Roast in 375°F oven for 1 hour. Cool and squeeze soft garlic cloves into small bowl. Mash with remaining 1 tablespoon oil; set aside.
In small skillet, melt butter and add bread crumbs. Stir and cook until browned. Pour into bowl and mix in herbs. Place roast in roasting pan. Rub garlic mixture over outside of roast. Generously season lamb with salt and pepper. Pat on bread crumb mixture. Roast at 375°F for about 45 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Remove roast from oven, cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Carve and serve 2 to 3 chops per serving.
Smashed Potatoes (or, the only potato recipe you'll need from here on out)
*This also works well with cipollini onions - just cook in the same way as the potatoes.*
small potatoes (1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter)
chopped rosemary (optional)
Place potatoes in a small pot and cover with water (at least 1 inch over the potatoes). Add a good pinch of salt and bring water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until you can pierce a potato with a fork but there's still a little resistance (too soft and the next step won't go too well). Drain potatoes and let cool slightly.
Preheat oven to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle olive oil across the whole baking sheet. Place a potato on the sheet and slowly flatten it with the bottom of a ramekin or a large flat-bottomed glass; repeat with the rest of the potatoes. Drizzle more olive oil on top and sprinkle with salt and rosemary. Roast for 30-40 minutes or until desired crispiness is achieved.
Full Disclosure note: The lamb was sent to me for free by the American Lamb Board.