Introduction: STRING TURNED ROAST LEG OF LAMB
Since the dawn of cooking, techniques to do so have advanced. As these techniques advanced, more primitive methods were left to history. One method that was once commonplace centered around a homes hearth. Meat, generally a roast or fowl, was trussed and suspended from twine and left in front of the hearth to slowly rotate on axis. As the hearth warmed the home, it also cooked the meat over the course of the day. If you ever have the opportunity to tour an old home, especially in the northeastern states, look at the hearth. You will notice that many of them have wrought iron hinged hooks mounted to the walls and some have a metal loop at the top of the fireplace mouth. These were all implements used for cooking- rather that roast meat in a separate oven or stove, the hearth was originally a multi use fixture in a home. There is no reason that your backyard chiminea cannot also serve as a way to cook as well as heat a patio. The next time you are having company over and everybody is centered around your little outdoor fire, give string roasting a try. Regardless of appetite, everybody will be salivating by the time the meat is done roasting, having developed a deeply flavored outer crust and intensely juicy center. Think of it as a vertical rotisserie, one that everybody will want to take part in. It's tactile, it smells heavenly, and the end result is extraordinary.
This instructable requires that a live fire be built. Regardless of the fact that it is built in a contained enclosure, fire is HOT and can cause serious injury if not handled appropriately. Keep a bucket of water nearby at all times. Do not use accelerants such as gasoline or lighter fluid, as it is not necessary to do so with a chiminea. If you are using your chiminea on a deck or wooden patio surface, place stone or tile below to catch any fallen embers. Keep an appropriate distance from any buildings, trees, overhead wires and lines, and follow local ordinance. If you are using an outdoor chimney or fireplace in a ry or drought-prone area please buy or fashion a spark arrester. Home and wild fires can and have been started this way. I cannot stress these points enough. Be safe. Have fun. Use your noggin.
Step 1: Special Equipment
The equipment for this sort of cookery is as simple as it can be, and only slightly less rudimentary than a fire built on the ground. Most people may already have everything needed already around the house:
-A chiminea, outdoor fireplace, or chimney. It's best to have one that only has one opening, as this concentrates and projects the heat outward.
-A ground mounted plant hook. Taller is better, but if you only have a short one around, thats alright too.
-Firewood and kindling/fatwood. Try to use seasoned hardwoods for this, as they will help develop much better flavor and burn longer and cleaner than softwoods.
-Pliers, large washers, and a metal barbecue skewer.
-Twine. Jute, hemp, or cotton bakers twine are best.
The major piece of equipment you will need is a chiminea. If you don't already have one, somebody you know might, and you can ask to do this at their place. Host a roast party. Check local online adds as well. They sell for very little through these outlets, and are sometimes even given away. You will also need firewood, at least two bundles. I generally see it on sale in front of our local stores, two bundles for ten dollars. It also helps to have kindling, solid fuel fire starters, or fatwood. a lot of pre-bundled firewood comes with a pack of firestarter. These are fine to use, but try to avoid liquid accelerant such as gasoline, lighter fluid, alcohol, or charcoal starter. All of these produce fumes which build up in the body of the confined space, and combust violently when ignited. Your face is beautiful, lets keep it that way. It also imparts a less than pleasing chemical taste to the meat.
You will also need a ground mounted plant hanger, a shepherds crook, or a post from which to suspend your protein . It doesn't need to be as tall as the one I have in the photo- but it is what I had available. A shorter post would be much sturdier, however I was confident this would bear the weight of the roast. A taller hook allows you to rotate and situate the roast above the chimney to be seared over very high heat and smoke.
To easily string this roast, which I purchased boneless, I chose to use a steel barbecue skewer. You can fashion a rod from wood, too. Alternatively if you have a bone-in roast or a chicken, you can run the twine through the bones. In order to prevent the protein from sliding off, I affixed a couple clean metal washers from the tool room to the base of the skewer. A vice would have been ideal, but a couple pairs of pliers worked well too.
Twine. You will need a good length of heavy jute or cotton bakers twine. Do not use nylon, poly, or filament. These will melt. You may be afraid of the twine burning up, but trust me, it stands up to heat even better than the meat does.
Step 2: Ingredients
For this instructable I chose to use a boneless lamb leg with the fat cap still intact. I personally love lamb, I love the flavor, and it was on sale. This method works for all sorts of meats though. Whole chickens/duck/ game birds. Pork loin or shoulder are great cooked this way. Beef is an excellent protein to roast, and is easily available almost anywhere. Seasoning the lamb is a little different than most methods, but requires a very basic list. There is no marinade needed, no resting period. I used what we had on had in our herb garden- rosemary and thyme. We also just finished curing the garlic from our most recent harvest. Aside from that, all I needed was salt and black pepper. But don't let this list stop you- if you have a favorite seasoning, use it! and then let me know in the comments, I am always interested to hear what seasonings people use.
-Something to roast. I used a boneless, fat on leg of lamb. You can also use beef. Or pork, or chicken.
-Fresh herbs. Avoid dried herbs as the sole seasoning, as they will burn up on the outside before having a chance to really season the meat.
- two or three heads (not cloves) of garlic. You will need it all, so it's better to have more on hand than not enough.
- a few strips of thick sliced bacon (not pictured)
-Salt and (FRESH) black pepper.
Step 3: Skewering or Trussing Your Chosen Protein
This step matters more than you would think. You have to be able to easily suspend your protein without fear of it falling off the skewer or string and landing on the ground or in a drippings pan. That looks way less than cool in front of your friends or family, especially if you're trying to impress them with your newly acquired cooking magic. So, push the skewer through the length of the meat. Leave the netting on, and only make one hole. Once it is through, slip a couple washers over the end and bend the tine back on itself with pliers to prevent the washer from slipping off. Lift up the skewered roast, give it a little jiggle and see if the washers or skewers try to pull through. If they do, use a larger washer. Don't be gross, wash your pliers off after this with soap and hot water.
Step 4: Seasoning the INSIDE of the Meat
This meat is seasoned inside and outside. When you push crushed garlic under the surface of the roast, it softens over the course of cooking and spreads its flavor throughout. The process is simple enough- make an incision an inch or two deep with a sharp narrow knife, like a petty knife, and push some fresh herbs down into the opening. Then push a whole smashed clove of garlic in alongside the herbs to help hold them in place. The easiest way to break a garlic clove is to smash it under the heel of a larger heavy knife. Do this all around the roast until you have used your garlic and herbs up. Make a lot of other small incisions as well, as this helps tenderize the meat. Use caution as to not slice the netting.
Step 5: Seasoning the OUTSIDE of the Roast.
Having left the netting on the roast allows me to hold fresh herbs and bacon against the meat. As the fat renders out of the bacon at the top of the roast, it drips down the herbs, and into the extra incisions, flavoring the meat and allowing it to develop a gorgeous char around the exterior. Fat is also a good insulator, so as the meat roasts, leaving the fat cap on helps it cook a little more evenly while sizzling and crackling. The sound alone of a crackling wood fire and sizzling meat, coupled with the aroma of roasting lamb and smoke is unlike anything you could ever make inside your kitchen. Slide bundles of fresh herbs under the netting of the roast all around, and near the top slide four or five slices of bacon under the netting as well. pat the exterior dry with paper towels and season liberally with salt and pepper, patting it into and behind the hers and folds. Don't be shy, use that salt! Since the meat isn't internally seasoned, marinated or brined, you'll want to use more salt than you think.
Step 6: Position and Adjust Your Roast.
Prior to starting the fire up, position your roast so that it hangs just in front of the mouth of the fire. Leave extra twine so that as the fire reduces to hotter, more intensely heated coals you can lower it to where the heat is best situated. Once the roast is where you think it will receive the most intense heat (almost directly in the mouth of the chiminea) go ahead and start your fire up.
Step 7: The Magic Behind String Turning
If you notice, this instructable is titled "string turned leg of lamb", not string suspended. Or string dangled. Because neither of those sound nearly as inviting as string turned. And also because the suspended roast IS turned in front of the fire. That's the best part of this whole process though- every couple minutes you give the roast a few spins to wind up the string. Stop it, then gently let go. As it unravels it will slowly rotate in front of the fire, come to a stop, and rotate the other direction, and back and forth until it needs to be re-wound. And after a couple wind-ups, when the meat is smoky and sizzling, teasing everybody, your friends will all want to reach in and give it a whirl. Literally. Since this was a boneless roast, I turned it and adjusted it in the heat about an hour and ten minutes per pound of meat. The time is about the same for chicken, less for bone-in meat.
Step 8: Adding That Smokey Goodness
This step isn't necessary. But if you have a tall enough hanger it is absolutely worth trying out. Untie the roast, raise it up a few inches above the top of the chimney, and readjust your hook so that the meat is situated right above the opening. It really helps to use another friends help with this, and if you have heat proof gloves I HIGHLY SUGGEST using them. Use common sense with this step. The heat emanating from the chimney is very intense, very very hot, and very smokey. It is this high heat and smoke that will give your roast an unparalleled crust and flavor.
Step 9: Resting Period
It's been a couple hours now, the roast is cooked through. The fire has died down, and you and your friends are now ravenous. Check with a thermometer to ensure you have registered the correct internal temperature for your chosen protein. Carefully cut your line, and bring your roast inside. It's time to slice that gorgeous hunk of meat open and marvel at your creation, right? Nope. Let the meat rest, a few minutes per pound. The juices will redistribute evenly throughout. The crust cools and tightens. The anticipation builds, but so does the flavor. This step is like torture. You can set out some snacks to help quell the grumbles. Throw chips at your friends faces. Just don't touch the roast yet. It's worth the wait- you put hours into creating this beautiful piece. Whats another few minutes?
Step 10: Carving
Thats it. It's really that simple to get a nearly non-replicable piece of roasted meat. Friends will be envious. Family will be impressed. Everybody will have had a good time- a night with friends, a live fire, a gorgeous roast, and you'll look like a star chef. Or just a chef that does things a little differently. Sliced thin with a sharp carving knife, dotted with soft roasted garlic, your roast will be unforgettable.