Leg of Lamb with Moroccan Spices

A partially carved leg of lamb with Moroccan spices on a wooden board with small dishes of spices, oil, and pan sauce beside it.

This leg of lamb recipe can be your savior on those evenings when you’ve got a bunch of strangers around the table and the mood feels as lighthearted as a dentist’s waiting room. Serve up the dish Moroccan style, with its bowls of table herbs and spices, and a plate of lettuce leaves. The idea is that everyone has permission to eat with their fingers and try the lamb with different combinations of spices, fresh herbs, pan sauce, and even honey all rolled up in the lettuce. Conversations can’t help but take off.

Start the leg of lamb a day before by marinating it. Start the oven the day of about 2 1/2 hours before you want to sit down to dinner, as the lamb takes a total of 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cook and needs to rest before serving.–Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift

LC Hands On Note

You heard Lynne Rossetto Kasper—this is hands-on food! Set out some wet naps, roll up your sleeves, and have at it.

Leg of Lamb with Moroccan Spices

  • Quick Glance
  • (7)
  • 45 M
  • 2 H, 45 M
  • Serves 6 to 8
5/5 - 7 reviews
Print RecipeBuy the The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends cookbook

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  • For the marinade
  • For the table herbs and spices
  • For the pan sauce


Marinate the lamb

Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a food processor or blender and purée. Taste for a distinct snap of lemon and a hint of chile heat, adding more of whatever you think is needed.

Spread the lamb out in a shallow dish. Make about 12 deep slits in the meat and stuff in spoonfuls of the marinade. Pour the rest of the marinade over the lamb, turning the meat to thoroughly coat it. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Roast the lamb

Take the meat out of the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C). Transfer the lamb from the marinade, fat side up, to a large, very shallow pan (a half-sheet pan is ideal). Pour in enough of the marinade to coat the meat; reserve the rest. Roast the lamb for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300°F (149°C) and roast for another 15 minutes. Pour the rest of the marinade over the meat and continue roasting the lamb, basting often with the pan juices, for about 1 more hour, or until it is 10°F (-12°C) below the doneness you want. [Don’t know your desired final temperature? Figure rare is 130°F (54°C) to 135°F (57°C), medium rare is 135°F (57°C) to 140°F (60°C), and medium is 145°F (63°C).]

Serving the lamb

While the lamb roasts, pile the romaine leaves on a platter, cover, and refrigerate serving. Place the salt, cumin, Aleppo pepper, honey, and lemon wedges in small individual serving bowls to pass at the table. Pile the mint, watercress, and cilantro on a plate, cover, and refrigerate.

When the lamb is about 10°F(-12°C) below the final desired doneness, turn on the broiler. (Because the acids in the marinade slow down browning, a finish of a fast broil is needed to make the lamb all burnished and becoming.) Broil until crusty, about 5 minutes. Turn the meat and repeat. Transfer the lamb to a platter and let rest at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes so the juices can settle and the meat can rise to its final temperature.

While the lamb rests, make the pan sauce by placing the roasting pan over two burners cranked to high heat. Stir in the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan as you bring the pan juices to a boil. Cook, stirring, until the sauce is thick and rich tasting, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low to keep the sauce warm. Thinly slice the lamb across the grain and arrange the lamb on a platter. Pour the pan sauce over the lamb, garnish with a few sprigs of the herbs, and place it on the table along with romaine, spices, honey, lemon, herbs, and so forth. Instruct guests to roll the lamb in the romaine along with the spices, honey, herbs, and a squeeze of lemon.

Print RecipeBuy the The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends cookbook

Want it? Click it.

Recipe Testers Reviews

This lamb recipe couldn’t be simpler or tastier. Making the marinade — which is really more like a loose paste — took mere minutes. Then I smeared the marinade over the leg, covered it, and shoved it in the fridge overnight. The hardest thing to do was remember I had raw lamb juice all over my hands, so I had to refrain from licking them. The next day, the roasting went off without a hitch. My five-pound leg of lamb took exactly 1 1/2 hours to cook. The only thing is, it was a wee bit overcooked — we like our lamb rare to medium-rare. But it was my thermometer’s fault. I didn’t test it first. (You can do this by bringing water to a boil and inserting the thermometer. It should read 212° on the nose. If not, turn the small nut underneath to adjust it, or toss it out and buy another.) The best part, though, was devouring the lamb at the table using our fingers. My guests loved it. We couldn’t stop trying all the combinations of spices and herbs. A few thing we discovered: Do not, on pain of death, pass up the honey or the Aleppo pepper. They add just the requisite sweet heat. The One had a great suggestion: Make sure wet hand towels are placed alongside the napkins. We kept wiping our fingers on our cloth napkins, and by the end they all looked like artist rags.

Since I didn’t have any Aleppo pepper on hand, I used a 4:1 ratio of sweet paprika and cayenne. The pan sauce was amazing — we all raved about it. None of us reached for additional spice at the table, although we did like the combination of lamb, cilantro, and lemon. I had a grass-fed leg of lamb that weighed a little more than five pounds, and it took a lot longer to cook than the recipe stated — about 2.5 hours total. I was aiming for a final internal temp of 140, and after fifteen minutes of resting, the meat was inedible, even for those who love it rare.


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  1. I am making this for a party, my Mum’s 76th birthday along with other meats. Will let you know the outcome.

  2. I set out to make this according to the recipe, but for some reason (I blame the weather – it was a really cold spring day), it turned into a braise with the marinade ingredients… I served it with a lemon-cilantro-vadouvan basmati rice pilaf, and everyone needed a two-handed boost to hoist themselves from the lunch table (David, I have to blame your absolutely scrumptious pasteis de nata too…) and stagger off home or to the nearest bed/couch. Going to take a long nap now…

    1. Ling, only you could have turned this into a braise. As long as you enjoyed it, that’s all that matters to me. And which pastéis de nata recipe did you use? We have several.

  3. I made this over the weekend, with the recommended orange/olive salad and carrots cooked with allspice and preserved lemon. The marinade on the lamb was DELICIOUS, and I’m already plotting how quickly I can make it again. The only problem I had was that my 3-lb leg of lamb cooked much too quickly–after 30 minutes, I went to add the second half of the marinade and the internal temp was already 145 in the middle, and 155 in places. Since I like lamb to be only slightly above rare, the meat was overcooked even though the first half of the marinade was still pretty green, and well before putting it under the broiler to get some nice browning. I ended up cutting the leg in half, so I could keep half the meat from cooking any further and get some browning on the other half, just to taste it,even though it meant those bits were well done. Both pieces were delicious, even though not perfect.

    1. Joey, so sorry that the meat was overdone. The recipe calls for a 5- to 6-pound leg of lamb. Yours was 3 pounds. It would cook faster–in about half the time, which is about 30 to 45 minutes in total. Also, the recipe calls for the meat to be taken out of the fridge an hour before, but with a leg half the size, 15 minutes would be plenty.

      1. Wasn’t blaming the recipe, it was totally my own fault! I knew my smaller leg would cook faster, but underestimated HOW fast. I thought I would have about an hour, but it was done in under 30 minutes. Will make it again, the marinade was fantastic.

        1. Not problem. I just wanted to put that out there for you and anyone else who might make the dish. “Avoid as many problems in the kitchen as possible,” is my motto. When you make it again, let us know how it turns out.

  4. This is just fabulous! We love Moroccan flavors and often make couscous, harira, etc, but this I must try. I have never prepared a leg of lamb and this would be a wonderful place to start. Beautiful recipe – thank you!

    1. Good question, Monica. We’d opt for a simple salad of sliced oranges or clementines with olives and red onions and a dribble of olive oil, as pictured above. You could embellish it with either a sprinkling of the same spices as in the lamb or you could simply strew some fresh mint on top. Some perfectly cooked rice would also be a welcome addition, perhaps infused with warming spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and the like. Or couscous. Or flatbread. You could also serve a simple carrot dish, whether raw shaved or grated carrots with fresh orange juice and spices or quickly cooked in oil with honey and cumin.

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