Christmas must really be in the minds of Filipinos because requests for Noche Buena ideas are pouring in. Not surprising, actually, considering that they’re playing Christmas carols in supermarkets and queso de bola and ham in festive holiday packaging are already lining the shelves. The subliminal effect is just tremendous and it’s hard not to think about family reunions centered around delicious meals.
The thing is, I’m probably the last person to ask about traditional Noche Buena dishes because Christmas in our house is anything but traditional. Only once during the last 15 years did we have a whole leg of ham and it’s something we never repeated because my daughters complained about all the ham-laden dishes that I cooked for two weeks after New Year as I grappled with all the leftovers. In a household of four, it wasn’t exactly a good idea to buy such a huge piece of ham, so, after that, we’d only buy a kilo or so.
Even with main dishes, I always strayed away from the traditional. There was one Christmas when we had grilled ox tongue. Another time, it was a sweet pata stew. Last year, I was sick, no one cooked, so my husband and daughters had hotdogs and bread.
It’s not the food that matters but the togetherness, after all, although I must say that it never hurts for any get-together, casual or formal, impromptu or planned, to be accompanied by good food. If you’re planning a meal for about ten people and you don’t want to stress over too many pots and pans to cook, here’s an idea “? a whole leg of lamb. Roast it then serve it with hearty side dishes like baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, a good salad and crusty bread or rice.
- a whole leg of lamb (2.5 to 3.5 kilograms)
½ c. of grainy mustard
2 tbsps. of dried rosemary
2 tsps. of dried thyme
½ c. of honey
Preheat the oven to 450F.
- Thaw the leg of lamb. Wash and pat dry with paper towels. Coat the entire surface with the grainy mustard. Sprinkle the rosemary and thyme over the mustard then pat to make sure that the herbs don’t fall off. Sprinkle liberally with salt and freshly-ground pepper.
Place the leg of lamb on a roasting rack and pop into the oven. Cook at 450oF for 30 minutes then lower the heat to 350oF and continue cooking. Thirty minutes per pound is the formula I use and it hasn’t failed me yet. Or, you can use a meat thermometer, insert it at the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone. Depending on how rare you want your meat (roast lamb is best when the meat is still pink at the center), the leg of lamb is ready when the thermometer registers an internal temperature of 140oF to 160oF. Take the lamb out of the oven and brush all over with honey.
Now, here’s the most important part. After taking the lamb out of the oven, let it rest uncovered for about half an hour before cutting. Resting allows the juices to settle and for the meat to re-absorb the juices so that they don’t drip off when the meat is cut. Ergo, you get moist meat. Trust me, patience gets well rewarded in this case. And don’t worry about the meat getting cold. Meat that thick takes a long time to turn cold.
After the meat has rested, take your knife and start slicing and carving, making sure that every slice has some of the wonderful crust. For an informal set-up, you can place all the sliced meat on a platter and let everyone get his share buffet-style. Or, you can place the slices directly on the individual dinner plates for a more formal approach.
Cooking time (duration): 2 and 1/2 hours or more, depending on the weight of the lamb leg
Number of servings (yield): 8 to 12