A simple cranberry pesto made with basil, mint, garlic and pine nuts makes this stuffed American lamb recipe a gorgeously festive and delicious winter dish perfect as a holiday dinner party centerpiece.
I love cooking meat. That’s a weird thing to enjoy, right?
Most people enjoy baking or something like that but the satisfaction I get from a perfectly cooked main meat dish like this cranberry pesto stuffed lamb is pretty much second to none.
Ok, yeasted bread is a close second I guess.
Meat is also one of my favorite things to photograph which makes it even weirder but I’ll just leave that alone for now…
*This post is sponsored by the American Lamb Board. All content and opinions are my own.
What do you all eat for Christmas dinner? We’ve never really had a strong tradition in my family.
Sometimes it was lasagna, other times pork roast, I think we had prime rib one year and a few years here and there over the decades, lamb would make an appearance.
It’s the perfect meat for a holiday dinner in my opinion because it’s just a liiiitle bit more special than the rest and truly complements winter herbs and flavors so well.
This stuffed American lamb recipe has so much depth of flavor (one of the reasons I love using pasture-raised American lamb), it’s really truly a showstopper piece for a holiday dinner.
Whether you’re hosting a small gathering with friends (like we did!) or putting it at the center of your family’s Christmas meal, everyone will enjoy this dish.
How to make stuffed lamb
The first step in this recipe is to make the cranberry pesto. Cranberries are everywhere right now in the stores so finding a fresh bag shouldn’t be difficult but frozen will work just as well if that’s all you have access to.
In the food processor, combine:
- pine nuts
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper
That gets processed until a paste forms that’s easily spreadable. You’ll have to scrape down the sides of the food processor a couple of times to reach this consistency.
Note – this will make more cranberry pesto than you need for the 3 pounds of lamb. Save it for another use or use more when you serve the meal. I put some extra on the table and people used it on top of their roasted potatoes which was delicious!
Asking your butcher to butterfly the lamb for you is the easiest route to go and what I did. Their knives are nice and sharp and that stuff is literally their job, take advantage!
Season the butterflied lamb meat liberally with salt and pepper then spread the pesto all over the lamb. You’ll want to leave a small border without pesto so when you roll it up, the pesto doesn’t get pushed out.
Roll the lamb lengthwise into a log shape and secure in a few places with butcher’s twine by tying in a double knot.
Sear the lamb before roasting
In a large cast iron skillet, heat some avocado oil (or use another high smoke point oil) over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the lamb and sear on each side until browned.
Transfer the entire skillet to a preheated 425°F oven (convection roast – see recipe notes if you don’t have a convection setting) and cook for about 8-10 minutes longer.
Remove the skillet and let the lamb rest in the skillet for a few minutes before slicing.
The result is a perfectly cooked medium-rare (cook closer to 10 minutes for medium) piece of juicy lamb rolled with a bright and festive herby cranberry pesto.
Drizzle any pan drippings from the skillet over the sliced lamb before serving for some extra flavor!
While I’ve made a balsamic dijon crusted beef tenderloin for a special occasion before, I think this stuffed lamb recipe steals the show. The tenderness can’t be beat and the cranberry pesto stuffing is just perfect for the season.
Can I use different herbs?
I realize basil and mint aren’t necessarily winter herbs so feel free to use rosemary, parsley, sage and/or thyme in their place.
The cranberries are really the predominant flavor in the pesto, the herbs are just the supporting role. Alter to your preference, pesto is forgiving!
Can I substitute a different cut of lamb?
I will admit, a rack of lamb is not the most cost conscious cut of meat. But that’s why this is a special occasion meal! Prime rib or beef tenderloin are also costly so keep that in mind.
Finding lamb meat already deboned from a rack of ribs and packaged in the store might prove to be a little tough.
Ask the butcher if they have a rack of ribs that they can debone for you. That’s exactly what mine did for me and while I paid for the entire thing (ribs and all), I took the ribs home and made lamb stock with them. Nothing goes to waste around here!
Another option is to use a lamb loin. If you want to go that route, just ask the butcher to butterfly the loin and you’ll be all set.
While you could use a butterflied boneless leg of lamb, they will be much larger (better for a big crowd) and require a longer cooking time.
The meat off the rack of ribs is such a delicate and tender cut, it’s really a great one for special meals over the holidays.
Why choose American lamb?
If you’re in America (as most of you reading this are), American lamb is fresher! It’s essentially buying “local” on a grander scale. Lamb from New Zealand is over 10,000 miles away and can take up to 30 days to get here.
Most American lamb farmers are family run businesses. Buying American lamb means you’re supporting them and their livelihood which I know always makes me feel better about my purchase.
And most importantly, taste. As a kid, I was never super fond of lamb to be honest. I didn’t enjoy the taste at all like I do today and I now realize the difference was the sourcing.
American lamb is much more flavorful and incredibly tender. This is due to their diet. Sheep graze on a variety of nutrient-dense grasses, legumes and forage. It makes all the difference in the flavor that ends up on your plate.
From a kid who didn’t really love lamb to now, with 18 lamb recipes on this site, things have done a total 180.
And while I love each and every one of those lamb recipes (these pistachio crusted lamb chops with red wine cherry sauce is another great festive holiday option), this cranberry pesto stuffed lamb recipe definitely goes straight to the top.
It’s festive, visually stunning, simple and downright delicious.
The perfect recipe for your holiday party!
More lamb recipes to try:
Peach Honey Grilled Lamb Chops
Smoky Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Apricots
Skillet Lamb Chops and Cipollini Onions with Tarragon Honey Mustard Sauce
Citrus Braised Lamb Shanks with Green Harissa
Wild Mushroom Couscous Lamb Stuffed Kabocha Squash
- 3 pounds American lamb, butterflied (*see note)
- salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil for browning
- 2 cups fresh cranberries
- 1/2 cup packed fresh basil
- 1/4 cup packed fresh mint
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 425°F convection roast. Or, 450°F if you don't have a convection setting.
- Place the cranberries, basil, mint, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and salt & pepper to taste in a food processor. Process until a paste forms, scrapping down the sides as necessary.
- Place the lamb flat on a cutting board. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
- Spread the pesto across the surface of the lamb leaving a small border without pesto around the entire lamb.
- Carefully roll the lamb lengthwise and secure in 3 to 4 places (depending how long your tenderloin is) with butcher's twine.
- Heat the avocado oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
- Once hot, place the rolled and tied lamb into the skillet and brown on all sides. This will take about 1-2 minutes per side.
- Once browned, transfer the entire skillet to the oven and roast for 8-10 minutes depending on how you prefer your lamb cooked.
- Remove from oven, let rest in the skillet for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
*Ask your butcher to debone a rack of lamb ribs and butterfly the meat. You'll likely have to purchase the whole rack of ribs. If so, save the rib bones and make broth with it! Lamb loin is another option if deboning a rack of ribs isn't possible.
**In order to get about 3 pounds of lamb meat from the ribs, you'll likely end up with 2 separate pieces of meat.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 522Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 249mgSodium: 189mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 71g