Chef James Rigato has a small restaurant named Mabel Gray in Hazel Park, MI (with big accolades) with a vibe that he’d describes as “really homey, earthy.” It’s a restaurant built on the idea of celebrating Hazel Park and the good things that grow in the farmland outside of it, but sometimes Rigato likes to get outside and do some cooking far away from the city.
“I think cast iron is great for live cooking outside,” Rigato says. He recently cooked in Northport, Michigan as part of a screening celebration for “Dinner in Abruzzo: A Journey Home with My Culinary Godfather,” a film in which he was featured alongside his mentor, Luciano DelSignore. Rigato wanted to bring to life the rustic Italian countryside cooking style that was featured in the film, and he immediately thought of cast iron over an open live embers and under a spit-roasted leg of lamb.
“There is a reason why cast iron skillets have been around for so long,” he says. “They are known for durability and retaining even heat. This recipe is a great example of both. One of my favorite sauces to go with this is an Italian salsa verde. Its funky, herby, garlicky flavors go perfect with the lamb and potatoes, and I like Yukons because they are waxy and caramelize nicely.” If you don’t use lamb, whole chickens, pork butt, turkeys and prime rib all work perfect for this method too.”
Although there can be a temptation to socialize during the long outdoor cooking process, once the potatoes go under the lamb, make sure and keep a close eye. “Once the fat from the lamb really starts dripping into the pan, you can get some flare ups, and on the other side of things, you need to preserve the fire. But spending time with it is part of the fun.”
what you need
1 10-pound leg of lamb
20 garlic cloves
20 sprigs of thyme
whole stalks of rosemary
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
5 pounds Yukon potatoes, quartered into large wedges
Using a paring knife, make small cuts all around the lamb leg and fill them with garlic, thyme and rosemary. Season heavily with salt and pepper. Skewer leg and either fasten to the grill or spit, and place over a medium flame. Let cook for at least an hour.
Coat bottom of a cast iron skillet with butter and set aside.
When the lamb is halfway cooked (approximately 1 ½ hours), add potato wedges to skillet and place directly under the lamb, allowing the drippings to fall into the potatoes.
Let cook until tender, about 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. If the potatoes end up sticking, you can rest finished lamb in skillet with the potatoes when it’s done, and all the moisture will help deglaze the charred bits.
Your leg of lamb should also be cooked through by now (after 3 hours), depending on the size of the fire, the size of the lamb and what temperature you cook it to. (Chef James suggests cooking it to 135° internal temperature and then letting it rest.)
what you need
1 red onion, minced and rinsed
8 slices preserved lemon
8 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon chile flake
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 cups parsley, picked from stem
½ cup oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
1 ¾ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste
servings: Enough to accompany lamb
In a food processor, combine onion, anchovies, preserved lemon, garlic, chile flakes, lemon zest, juice and red wine vinegar. Pulse for a few minutes until combined. Add parsley, oregano and thyme. Slowly add olive oil and blend until a chunky consistency, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and Tabasco.
To serve, pour the salsa verde either directly on top of the leg of lamb, or on the side.
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