A few nights ago, as a gift to my good friend Eugene, I cooked the leg of lamb he had bought (Eugene can cook himself, but having someone prepare the meal & clean up is something else).
Traditionally, Abbacchio alla Romana is parts of a baby lamb that has only had mother’s milk cooked in a particular way; since this is difficult or impossible to get in the US short of having your own farm, I substituted a butterflied leg of lamb (Normally the leg, cage, and shoulder including the bones would be used). I love this recipe because the anchovies and vinegar take away the heavy, overwhelming flavor of the lamb and make it really delightful. This recipe is from Lazio, specifically, the Rome area.
I started by trimming the pearlescent membrane like stuff off the lamb as well as the excess fat, and made sure the lamb was evenly cut; I then folded it into a round and ideally would have tied it but didn’t have any butchers’ twine.
You will need:
Leg of lamb (butterflied, about 3 1/2 to 4 lbs)
anchovies in oil
sherry or red wine vinegar
Olive oil, into a hot pan. Use pleanty as you don’t want it to stick. Ideally, use a cast-iron skillet, with high sides, or anything other than a non stick, with enough surface space and some squared off sides. I used about half a cup for a 3 1/2 pound leg. Crush three to six large garlic cloves to remove the skins; do not chop, just throw into the hot olive oil (medium high heat). Add chili flakes, about a teaspoon or more or less depending on your taste. Lower the heat to medium low. Let the garlic cook for a few minutes, careful not to burn it. Preheat your oven to 380 degrees.
Raise the heat again to medium high or a little higher than that. Once it heats a little more (a minute or a little less), put the meat into the pan, a nice side down to brown it. It should cook this way a few minutes. Move the garlic around a bit so that it doesn’t burn at this higher heat. Chop the rosemary and the anchovies (use about eight filets). Turn the meat once one side is brown; keep doing this until all sides are brown (pretty much). When you’re on the last side, add about 1 cup of the sherry or red wine vinegar to the pan, as well ast he rosemary and anchovies. Try to put it all over the meat evenly and some into the pan. Cook until the very strong vinegar smell is gone, and then put the pan into the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes–check either with a meat thermometer or with your gut (I just push with a spoon against the meat to see how it responds; it should move a bit like when its raw but more firm for medium rare); remember it will keep cooking quite a bit once it’s out for about ten minutes. Let it rest ten or fifteen minutes before carving.
If you desire, you can remove the meat from the pan, put it back on a burner and add a quarter cup to a half cup of good red wine, let it reduce on medium high heat, and then turn the heat off, add a few tablespoons of very cold butter, and fresh herbs (rosemary, chopped finely), and make the “gravy” into an actual sauce; I did not do this, instead we just spooned the gravy left in the pan over the meat and onto our mashed potatoes (where we also put the garlic). I served it with butter sauteed asparagus.