This traditional Roman lamb stew, abbacchio alla cacciatora, uses a relatively simple combination of ingredients including rosemary, garlic and vinegar to create a wonderfully comforting and flavorful dish. Easy and delicious.
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I know lamb is not typically as popular in the US, but since I grew up in Scotland, we had it fairly often. Since we've been in Australia, where it's also more popular, I have been enjoying having it a little more. We've enjoyed both old favorites (like youvetsi and sosaties) and I've been exploring some new recipes.
In many parts of the world, lamb is popular for Easter. This is partly as in the Northern hemisphere, spring lamb season usually aligns. That's very much true in the region around Rome where milk-fed lamb is a local specialty.
This Roman lamb stew is a classic way to prepare it. And while the list of ingredients isn't that long, and it has that "brown food" appearance, believe me the result is incredibly tasty.
I can't even begin to describe how quickly and enthusiastically everyone in our house ate this. The meat is wonderfully tender and the sauce has a delicious flavor.
Variations in this lamb dish
Despite being a relatively simple dish, there are still a few ways to make this. Some versions include tomatoes and/or a cheese crust on top. However this simpler form seems to be the more common version, from what I can figure out.
The Accademia Italiana della Cucina has collected and traced recipes back to their origins and this recipe is based on the one they have, so I have tried to keep it authentic.
The dish can also be called "abbacchio alla romana", ie "Roman-style lamb" rather than "hunter's style" as "alla cacciatora" means. But then I found some people made this as a roast, marinating the meat with the flavors, while others made it as a stew.
From a bit of digging, it seems abbacchio al forno is a roast lamb dish that's very similar in flavors (often with potatoes underneath). My guess is that when people say "alla romana" it can mean one or the other, depending on what you are more used to. And in fairness, the flavors are much the same, the cooking method is just slightly different.
In both cases, the traditional recipes use young milk-fed lamb, a local specialty. This young lamb is much smaller than the lamb you would typically find in your local supermarket.
Maybe not surprising as a result, the meat is typically cooked on the bone, either whole or in pieces. At Easter, it's a Roman regional tradition to roast a whole milk-fed lamb marinated in the flavors used here.
If you do happen to find milk-fed lamb, ask your butcher to cut it into chunks then you can follow the recipe, potentially with a shorter cooking time. For the rest of us who can't find it, it's probably easiest to use diced lamb, off the bone, and cook it slightly longer as below. This way you get just as deliciously tender meat, and it's easier to eat.
How this stew is different
As with many stews, you start by browning the lamb before adding the liquid. Then you let it cook a while so the meat can tenderize. Other common steps used here are adding a little flour to help thicken the cooking liquid and absorb excess fat, and deglazing the pan with wine.
However there are a couple of twists in this. For one, you gently cook some garlic first to help flavor the oil at the start. But you don't add any of the other typical aromatics like onion and carrot. Quite honestly, though, you don't miss them due to the punchy rosemary, garlic and vinegar mixture, which is pretty unique to this dish.
Some recipes don't include anchovies, but I for one am definitely a fan and think they add a wonderful extra depth of flavor. It doesn't make the dish fishy, just more flavorful.
See how it all comes together in the short video!
This Roman lamb stew is a wonderful combination of flavors that comes together easily. Some of the flavors might seem unusual, but the result is wonderfully tender lamb and a sauce packed with fantastic flavor. It was an instant favorite here, and I hope it will be for you too.
Try these other comforting lamb dishes:
- Braised lamb shanks
- Youvetsi (Greek lamb or beef and orzo stew)
- Bobotie (a classic South African dish combining meat with curry flavors and fruit; also not always made with lamb but delicious either way)
- Hunkar begendi ('sultan's delight' - a Turkish lamb stew served over an eggplant bechamel base)
- Plus get more Italian recipes and mains dishes in the archives.
Roman lamb stew (abbacchio alla cacciatora)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 stem rosemary
- 2 anchovies see notes
- 2 tablespoon wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 ¾ lb lamb shoulder diced into bite-sized pieces (see notes)
- ½ teaspoon salt approx
- ½ teaspoon pepper approx
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 3 tablespoon dry white wine
- Peel the garlic and cut one clove in half and set aside. Roughly chop the other clove.
- Remove the leaves from the stem of rosemary and finely chop them. Add the garlic and anchovies to the rosemary and chop them all together until they form a coarse paste. Use the side of your knife to mash the garlic and anchovies a little towards the end, adding a little salt if needed to help them mash.
- Place the garlic-rosemary paste in a small bowl and add the vinegar. Mix all together so the paste breaks up in the liquid. Set aside.
- Warm the oil in a medium-large Dutch oven or similar pan with a lid over a medium heat. Add the two halves of garlic clove and brown on both sides then remove from the pan.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and add the lamb. It can be good to start by adding some, then wait a minute before adding the rest to save the temperature reducing too much. Season the meat with salt and pepper then turn the meat to brown it all over.
- Once the meat has browned, sprinkle over the flour and stir to mix through. Try to avoid having any lumps of flour left.
- Add the wine to the pan and stir to deglaze any browning from the bottom of the pan. Allow most of the alcohol to evaporate then add the rosemary-vinegar mixture.
- Stir through the vinegar mixture then reduce the heat and cover the pan with a lid. Reduce the heat further if needed to have the mixture just gently simmering. Cook for around 1 - 1 ½ hours until the meat is very tender. If needed, top up the liquid a little with some water or stock so it doesn't become dry, but you don't want a very liquid mixture either. Serve the meat with the sauce that has formed.
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