Thursday, March 20, 2008


Easter Lore and Other Celebrations

Big white bunnies, baby ducks and chicks, colored eggs in baskets and chocolate goodies have all become recognized commercial symbols of our secularized Easter celebration in America. This is a major religious observance for many Christians, and it is also near Passover in the Jewish tradition. The Vernal or Spring Equinox is a time of celebration for modern day Wiccans and Neopagans, as well. Even the public school systems get into the act with spring breaks and vacations. Clearly there is a deep urge within humans to note the change and passing of the seasons.

Most scholars believe that many Easter customs have their origins in earlier pagan celebrations and that the name Easter itself may derive from “Eostre,” an ancient pagan goddess. The dating of Easter each year is the result of an arcane calculation process, and should you wish to delve further; Google “Easter” for a wealth of information.

For those of us that are more interested in the culinary aspects of the season, spring is a perfect time to enjoy the savory flavor of lamb. My friend Donald Wertz of Austin, Texas has been the personal chef to a prominent Texas family for 25 years. He attributes his Mint-Smoked Leg of Lamb with having landed him his job. Over the years this dish has been served to a virtual Who’s Who of Texas celebrities. A story about the dynamic chef (and his ongoing influence on my writing and cooking) is coming soon.

Chef Donald Wertz’s Mint-Smoked Lamb

Preparation time: leg of lamb will require about 45 minutes per pound to reach a temperature of 125 degrees- which is medium rare… Medium is 140 degrees.
Servings: a small (3 to 4 Lbs.) leg of lamb will yield 4 to 6 servings

(*Available at Avanti Savoia,

2 qts. strong spearmint tea
1 small leg of lamb
Several cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. Sel de Mer* #35021
1 tsp. Ground Black Pepper* #32001
1 tsp. Tarragon* #32104
1 tsp. Thyme* #32055
¼ cup Chilean Olive Oil, Sol De Aculeo* #10030

1. Prepare 2 quarts of strong spearmint tea and keep warm.
2. Rinse the lamb and pat dry. “Stud” the lamb by making a number of slits around the lamb and insert a slice of garlic clove into each slit. The small cuts in the meat will seal themselves as they cook and the garlic will greatly enhance the flavor.
3. Combine flour, salt, black pepper, tarragon and thyme and coat lamb with seasoned flour.
4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and sear meat on all sides, remove from skillet and place it on the smoking rack in a prepared grill.
5. Coals in grill should be hot with smoking wood added and spearmint tea poured into pan. **See previous article about information about preparing the grill for smoking.
6. With the lid closed the lamb should take about 45 minutes per pound to cook (medium rare). Replenish tea after about 1 ½ hours.
7. Remove meat from smoker and let rest a few minutes before slicing it vertically along the bone.

Our answer for a reader’s question.

Lew Rudisill said- “…I would like to make the Chocolate Baked Alaska for Easter, shaped like an Easter egg. My question is, would it ruin the meringue if I tried to add food color to the reserved bit to pipe on as a decoration?”
Chef Joseph says-Yes, it would! It would break your egg whites to add color after they had been whipped, but you could add a tint about the time that the egg whites begin to thicken during the initial beating. Bon Appetit Y’all!

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