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Grilled leg of lamb with olive-fennel tapenade

By Rene Lynch

Los Angeles Times

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You'll need to plan in advance for this one since the lamb needs to marinate a few hours.

That makes it a nice dish to make for guests -- you'll have the kitchen cleaned long before anyone arrives.

Grilled butterflied leg of lamb with olive-fennel tapenade

Total time: 55 minutes, plus 2 hours marinating time
Servings: 6 to 8

Note: Use wine cask chips for this, or oak or cherry. Prepare the tapenade while the meat is marinating.

Grilled leg of lamb:
1 (2 1/2-pound) butterflied leg of lamb
3 to 4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup red wine

1. If the lamb has been tied into a roll, untie it and lay it flat, skin-side down. There will be a range of thicknesses to the meat, with some areas fairly thin and some very thick. Slice partway through the thickest portions to allow the meat to lie flat.

2. Slice the garlic into thin slivers. Turn the lamb over so that the skin side is facing up. Use a paring knife to cut slits all over the skin side roughly a half-inch deep and a half-inch apart. Stuff a garlic sliver into each slit (it's easiest if you use the tip of the knife to hold the slit open; don't worry about everything being perfectly neat).

3. Sprinkle both sides of the meat with salt and pepper and place it in a zip-lock bag. Pour the wine over the lamb, press out all the air and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours to marinate.

4. When you're ready to cook, soak about 2 cups of wood chips in water to cover. Light the coals and when the coals are glowing hot, empty them into one side of the grill, banked against the side. Drain the wood chips and place on top of the coals.

5. Pat the lamb dry with a paper towel and place it skin-side down over the hottest part of the fire. Sear the lamb 3 to 5 minutes per side, until browned.

6. Turn the meat again and move it to a cooler part of the grill and cover. Cook 10 minutes on one side, turn and cook about another 10 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into a thick part of the meat reads 115 degrees. That makes about 30 minutes cooking total. After allowing the lamb to rest, this will give you a range of doneness from medium-rare to medium.

7. Remove the meat from the grill and set aside 10 minutes to rest before carving against the grain. Serve with tapenade on the side.

Olive-fennel tapenade:
1/2 pound pitted black olives in brine
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Pernod
1 tablespoon minced parsley

1. Rinse the pitted black olives, shake them dry and place them in the bowl of a food processor.

2. With a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and the fennel seed into a coarse paste and add it to the black olives along with the vinegar and the olive oil.

3. Pulse into a coarse paste that holds together; add a little more olive oil if the mixture is too dry. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to serve.

4. When almost ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and stir in the Pernod and parsley. Makes 2 cups.

Nutrition information:
Each of 8 servings: 254 calories; 27 grams protein; 3 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 14 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 85 mg. cholesterol; 390 mg. sodium.