Fireplace String-Turned Lamb Leg Roast Recipe

This lamb leg roast recipe, known as Gigot à la Ficelle in France, is a classic Provençal (an area in the South of France on the Mediterranean Sea) recipe. It is a primitive way of cooking a leg of lamb, right in front of your hearth fireplace! The leg hangs on a string and slowly spins, acting like a rotisserie. Your leg of lamb is beautifully roasted and is absolutely delicious!

Just imagine the look on your guests’ faces when they see their dinner spinning in the fireplace!

What you will need:

  • Leg of lamb – Ideally it should be about 6 pounds for this leg of lamb recipe. Too much bigger for this leg of lamb recipe might break the string! It should be the whole leg, bone in but not including the pelvic bone. Ideally, the heel should be intact to have somewhere secure to tie the string to. If the bone is cut above the heal, I can suggest a fix for that problem below.
  • Olive oil – about 6 tablespoons or so total.
  • Several garlic cloves – peeled and crushed.
  • Several bay leaves and sprigs of fresh thyme and savory
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • More fresh thyme – you’ll need several branches of fresh thyme. Tie them together to form a brush. Even better, you can tie them to the end of a stick or skewer to form a brush for basting your leg of lamb.
  • Salt & freshly cracked black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Plenty of seasoned hardwood firewood – This leg of lamb recipe will consume quite a bit of firewood. I like to use fruit woods but oak works well too. For more information on firewood and the best firewoods for cooking see our firewood page.

How to cook this Fireplace String-Turned Lamb Leg Roast Recipe:

  1. Remove excess surface fat from the leg of lamb. In a large dish, rub all the surfaces of the leg with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and crushed garlic. You should then rub the leg with the garlic and herbs and push them into the surfaces of the lamb. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and hold in a cool place for several hours or overnight. If you keep it overnight, refrigerate but remember to remove it from the refrigerator at least 2 to 3 hours before cooking so that it will come up to room temperature.
  2. Prior to starting your fire for this leg of lamb recipe, install a screw or hook above the center of your fireplace. A good place for this is in your wood mantle above your fireplace. Make sure it is a sturdy hook and securely attached. Do not just screw into your drywall above the fireplace because this can easily pullout unless you use an anchor. I just leave my screw attached at all times.

  3. Prepare the fire well in advance of planning to cook this leg of lamb recipe. The majority of your heat for cooking will come from red, glowing, hot embers of wood that has burnt. The actual fire doesn’t give off much heat. Therefore, you want your fire to burn in your fireplace for quite a while before starting to cook this leg of lamb recipe. You want to see a nice core of glowing embers at the bottom of your fireplace, as seen in this picture. This can take anywhere from an hour to two hours of burning to get to this point where the heat is adequate to start cooking. Keep adding more wood to maintain the fire and embers.
  4. Prepare a basting mixture with the lemon juice, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper in a bowl. Discard the garlic and herbs from the marinated leg of lamb and add any juices and oil from the dish to the basting mixture. Tie a long piece of kitchen twine to the shank (heel) bone of the leg. Wrap it around several times and tie very tightly so that it will not loosen as it hangs. Note: If your leg of lamb does not have a heel bone, there may not be anything for the string to “purchase” on and it will slip off if you try to hang it. In this case, I recommend creating a deep groove or ridge in the bone near the heel. You can do this best with a heavy-duty metal file. It will take a bit of strength but you can usually make an indentation deep enough to tie your string in a way that it won’t slip off.
  5. Tie the other end of the string so that the leg hangs directly in front of the heart of the fire, as seen in the photo at the top of this page. Place a heat-proof pan beneath it to catch the drippings. By giving a slight spin to the heel of the leg, it will turn. As it unwinds, it will eventually start spinning back in the other direction. Throughout the cooking process of this leg of lamb recipe, continue to make sure the leg is spinning slowly. If it stops or slows to close to stopping, give a slight turn in the direction it is spinning and it will spin for a while longer.

    fireplacelambbasting 1
  6. After about 15 minutes, begin basting regularly using your thyme “brush” with the basting mixture. Cover all the surfaces as it spins. Continue feeding the fire with fresh wood so that a core of hot embers is constantly present. Don’t forget to give the leg a spin occasionally when it slows down. You want it to gently spin back and forth continuously throughout the cooking time.
  7. One tip to avoid tragedy! Occasionally, especially if you notice the string exposed to the fire getting very dry, use your finger to wet the string above the lamb with some tap water. This will prevent the string drying out, burning and breaking. I’ve never had it happen, but I’ve always been carefull to keep the string pretty wet. That would be a real shame if your beautiful leg fell down right in front of all your guests!
  8. After 1-1/2 hour, stop adding wood and allow the flames to slowly die and the leg only gets heat from the embers.
  9. After about two hours total remove the leg to a platter, cover lightly and let sit 10 to 15 minutes. Discard the drippings in the pan that sat under the leg as it cooked.
  10. Then its time to carve at the table for the spectacle! To carve, hold the leg by the heel with a napkin or towel and cut away from you at an angle, almost parallel to the bone with a sharp carving knife. Start with the more rounded fleshy side of the meat, followed by the thinner meat on the other side and finally the small pieces from the shank near you. Serve a slice of each to each guest and spoon carving juices onto each plate.

I hope you enjoy this string-turned leg of lamb recipe! I certainly didn’t invent it, but we can all enjoy this classic country French recipe!

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