We love lamb in this house. Juicy, tender, versatile, and a flavorful departure from beef. I get a lot of blowback when I profess my love of lamb; look, I know they’re cute, but that cuteness is by far eclipsed by how delicious they are. Besides, baby chickens and cows are cute, too. I don’t hear y’all making a case for them.
Another thing I unapologetically love as much as lamb is Sichuan food. Sichuan cuisine, Szechwan cuisine, or Szechuan cuisine (/ˈsɛʃwɒn/ or /ˈsɛtʃwɒn/; Chinese: 四川菜; pinyin: Sìchuān cài or Chinese: 川菜; pinyin: Chuān cài) is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan province in southwestern China. It’s famous for the use of chilis, chili oil, cumin, onion, and the delightfully tingly Sichuan peppercorn, which is my favorite spice found anywhere on the globe. Spicy? Yes. Savory? Yes. Meaty? Yes. Cooling? Somehow, yes.
And those peppercorns! They’re delicious and addictive- here’s a delightfully nerdy NPR piece about scientists exploring the frequency of the tingling caused by these magical little berries (!!!) as they tease the tongue and lure it back for more. If you haven’t tried Sichuan food, an ancient, prismatic world of flavor awaits.
Lamb is used often in Sichuan cooking- you may know variations of the Sichuan dish cumin lamb (my fave pictured above), so the Serious Eats Sichuan peppercorn-spiked leg of lamb that gave us leftovers during a busy week was a perfect fit for our home. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
SICHUAN LEG OF LAMB WITH COOL CELERY SALAD AND MISSOURI JASMINE RICE
For the lamb
- 1 3-lb butterflied leg of lamb
- 2 tbsp cumin seed (whole)
- 3 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 tbsp red pepper flakes
- 2 star anise pods
- 2 tsp fennel seed (whole)
- 2 tbsp brown or white sugar
- 3+ cloves garlic
- Kosher salt
For the salad (I used a mandoline slicer to chop and ribbon these veggies):
- 1 head celery, chopped thin on the bias
- 4 carrots, peeled and cut into ribbons
- 8-10 radishes, sliced thinly
- 1.5 c cilantro leaves
- 1/2 bunch green onions, sliced on the bias
- 2 cucumbers, sliced into ribbons
- Handful mint leaves, Whole or cut into chiffonade
- 3.5 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 2 tbsp soy or tamari (gf)
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- 1/3 c vegetable or other neutral oil
- Kosher salt
- Cracked black pepper
For the rice:
- 1. 5 c Martin Jasmine rice (who knew the best jasmine rice comes from the bootheel!)
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1.5 tsp vegetable or other oil
- 2 1/4 c water
Read more after the jump!
We’ll start with the lamb, and while it rests in the fridge for a few hours, you can julienne and ribbon your veggies for the salad. Rub the butterflied lamb leg all over, even in the nooks and crannies, with kosher salt.
Ready a small pan to toast your spices: cumin seed, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, fennel seed, and star anise. Note to cooks: don’t preheat the pan when toasting your spices. I smoked us out of our house having let the burner heat for five minutes without thinking about it; the hot spices basically melted and Dave and I ran outside, choking on black pepper smoke. No bueno.
Toast those spices in a small saucepan until fragrant and without burning the house down. Place the spices, along with the brown sugar and garlic, in a spice grinder to combine, or use a mortar and pestle. Rub the spice mix all over the lamb and let it rest and marinate in a roasting rack in your fridge for 2-8 hours.
While the lamb marinates, slice and dice your veggies as directed in the ingredient list, or however you like them. I used a mandoline slicer to make ribbons from my cucumbers and to slice the celery and radishes very thin. This is such a pretty salad! Flavorful and nice to look at. You can refrigerate until you’re ready to serve it. Mix up all dressing ingredients in a mason jar or blender, or whisk in a bowl.
When you’re ready to get going with the meat, which takes about 2.5 hours, preheat your oven to 275. Move the oven rack down to the middle-bottom rack, and roast the lamb for an hour and 45 minutes for medium-rare, or until a meat thermometer reads 130 degrees. When the lamb is done roasting, let it rest for 30 minutes. Perfect time to cook your rice!
Bring the water, salt, and oil to a boil, then add your rice, bring back to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 15-17 minutes, then remove from heat and fluff with a fork. My husband was given some jasmine rice by the Martin Company, who farm in Bernie, Missouri- the bootheel. Let me tell you, this was DELICIOUS. So much flavor and amazing texture. No joke, I “taste-tested” this rice about 15 times while our lamb rested. Ha! Also cooked and consumed all 2 pound of our bag in a week. It’s good stuff.
Now that the rice is done and the lamb has rested, you’re ready to eat! Carve the lamb against the grain for maximum tenderness and dress the salad. Serve alongside the fluffy jasmine rice and the cooling salad. Enjoy the tingly magic of the peppercorns and umami goodness of the lamb.