When Ski Expert and Movie Maker John Jay is not on the lecture circuit gladdening the hearts of American ski buffs with his exciting films and commentary on skiing around the world, and when he and his attractive wife Lois are not themselves shussing down the slopes in some such unlikely place as North Africa or Russian Kirghizstan, neighbors of this dynamic couple in Williamstown, Mass. are sometimes treated on weekends to the barbecue dish which the Jays are shown above tending with loving solicitude.
The meat is a leg of lamb which has been boned and flattened out by the butcher. Before cooking, it has been "larded" with fresh mint; that is, little pieces of mint have been pushed beneath the surface of the meat with a sharp instrument. As it sizzles on the grill above the charcoal embers, Lois Jay bastes the lamb with a special mixture of aromatic butter which she keeps in a small cast-iron frying pan resting on a candle warmer alongside.
The grill rests neatly between several large fiat stones. "They were here, right in the lawn," Lois explained, "and all John had to do was join them together with cement. Look at the Latin inscription he scratched into the cement before it hardened: Cave canem calorem. That means 'beware the hot dog,' and it could be for our poodle, Roget, when he sniffs the meat cooking." On a bright autumn day in the Berkshires the aroma given off by the lamb roasting in this most primitive fashion—and the one which is perhaps the best—filled the air deliciously.
Cooking, for Lois Jay, is of necessity uncomplicated. "I've had to learn or invent all the shortcuts," she told me. Otherwise there would never be time for tennis or for gardening or for sharing any hours with the Jays' 16-year-old son Jonathan. For this extraordinary woman is also a full partner in her husband's moviemaking endeavors. She not only travels with him and skis with him, but joins in the annual task of cutting and editing the miles of writhing film that pile up on their workshop floor and arranges the musical score for each new show. In recognition of the unique efficacy of their partnership, John and Lois Jay have both been appointed by the Organizing Committee as photographers for the Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley.
But to return to that day in Williamstown. Here is the exact procedure for cooking the memorable dish Lois Jay gave to her visitors—and to the neighbors. For, like Roget, in the crystalline autumn air they, too, had smelled the meat sizzling.
BARBECUED LEG OF LAMB
(serves eight, amply)
Buy a whole leg of lamb ("College-age lamb is what we like," say the John Jays). Have the butcher bone it carefully and flatten it. It will look like a very irregular, thick steak. Two hours before cooking, make small shallow slashes all over the meat with the end of a grapefruit knife and insert little pieces of the leaves of fresh mint. Then rub the lamb with dry mustard, scraped onion and ground aromatic pepper (available in specialty shops). Let stand while preparing the basting sauce.
For the sauce you will need ¼ pound of butter, ½ cup of chopped fresh mint leaves, ½ clove of garlic and a tablespoon of scraped onion.
Start by melting a tablespoon or so of the butter in a small, heavy pan. Add the garlic and onion, and cook for a few minutes gently. Then take out the garlic clove. "The idea," Lois Jay explains, "is to get just a whisper of garlic; it then amplifies the other flavors but does not dominate." Now add the chopped mint and the rest of the butter.
When the charcoal fire has burned down to coals, place the lamb over it on a metal grill. While cooking, it should be basted constantly (by means of a pastry brush) with the sauce, which is kept warm near the fire. Salt and pepper the roast halfway through cooking. The Jays like to have lamb pink inside, as the French do. The meat will be precisely an point in 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the heat of the fire.