Orange-Cranberry-Crusted Leg of Lamb

This image courtesy of Leonardo Frusteri

You can’t beat the presentation of a bone-in leg of lamb, and this recipe is a showstopper. I serve it during the holidays and throughout the autumn and winter. The dish is easy to prepare, allowing you to enjoy time with friends and family. The tart elements of cranberry and orange cut through the richness of the lamb, and the result is a delicious balance of flavors.


The obvious use for lamb leftovers is in sandwiches, such as panini and wraps. Also consider shredding the meat and stirring it into a risotto, stew, soup, or chili. A hearty lamb chili is the perfect next-day way to feed hungry holiday guests.


The average cut of lamb is “lean” by FDA standards. Compared to other meats, lamb contains very little marbling (fat throughout the meat), since most lamb fat is on the outside edges of the meat and is easily trimmed. Lamb is a delicious red meat alternative to beef, providing satisfying flavor and protein without adding too many calories (less than 175 per 3-ounce serving). Lamb also contributes many essential nutrients, such as protein, B vitamins, selenium, zinc, and iron. As part of a balanced diet, rich in a variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, lamb fits. The orange-and-cranberry crust ups the flavor and the antioxidants.


A leg of lamb, at approximately $4 per pound, serves many and provides delicious leftovers. Don’t forget to boil the bone to make stock for lamb soup, stew, and risotto.

Makes6 to 8 servings

Cooking Methodroasting


Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Equipmentfood processor

Five Ingredients or LessYes



Taste and Texturegarlicky, herby, juicy, meaty, salty, savory, spiced, sweet, tart, umami


  • One 6- to 8-pound bone-in leg of lamb
  • 14 thin slices garlic (from 3 to 4 cloves)
  • 14 very small thyme sprigs
  • Slivered zest of 1 orange
  • 1 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce, homemade or canned
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 small shallot, quartered
  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala, or a pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 cup unseasoned dried bread crumbs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

  2. Trim the lamb of all but a ¼-inch-thick layer of fat. Cut fourteen ½-inch-deep slits all over the lamb with a small sharp knife, and insert a slice of garlic, a thyme sprig, and a sliver of orange zest into each slit.

  3. Combine the cranberry sauce, grated orange zest, orange juice, maple syrup, mustard, shallot, and garam masala in a food processor and pulse a few times, until the cranberries and shallots are chopped. Add the bread crumbs, season with salt and pepper to taste, and pulse until just combined.

  4. Place the lamb, fat side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Spread the cranberry mixture over the top and sides of the lamb. Roast for 2½ to 3 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted 2 inches into the thickest part of the meat (and not touching bone) reaches 125°F. Remove the lamb from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. (It will finish cooking to 135° to 140°F for medium.)

  5. Serving Suggestion

  6. Transfer the lamb to a warm serving platter and surround it with fresh herb sprigs (thyme, rosemary, and parsley) and orange slices.

  7. Variations

  8. • Seasonal: Consider using other fresh local fruits, such as blueberries or currants, in place of the cranberries. Pat the crust on top of a butterflied boneless leg of lamb and grill outdoors in the summer.

  9. • Asian: Substitute lime for the orange juice and zest, ¾ cup hoisin sauce for the cranberry sauce and maple syrup, and Chinese five spice powder for the garam masala.

  10. • Indian: Eliminate the thyme and maple syrup. Substitute lemon for the orange, and mango chutney for the cranberry sauce. Add 1 tablespoon curry powder.

  11. • Provençal: Substitute ½cup olive tapenade for the cranberry sauce, and lemon juice and zest for the orange. Eliminate the garam masala and maple syrup.


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