Roman Roast Lamb

Abbacchio alla Romana

There is something delightfully coarse about this dish, a far cry from prissy roast lamb with new potatoes, mint sauce and garden peas. This lamb comes in man-sized hunks and is drenched in oil, garlic and herbs: just made for ‘eating as an experience’ - holding the meat in your hands, with grease running down your chin. It is the distant, lingering flavour of the anchovy which marks the dish as uniquely Roman or Laziale. This is a race of people who are strong, full-blooded and very earthy, not lovers of the refined side of life!

Any cut of lamb is suitable, but you should include at least a small piece of breast. Roast potatoes and braised artichokes are good accompaniments.


  • 2 lb (1 kg) lamb on the bone, cut into chunks the size of a small apple
  • 1 lamb’s kidney, cubed
  • 2 fl oz (50 ml) olive oil
  • knob of butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 fl oz (250 ml) water
  • 2 X 2½ inch (6 cm) sprigs rosemary
  • 2 large anchovies preserved in salt, cleaned and boned, or 5 canned anchovy fillets, drained
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4–5 tablespoons red wine vinegar


Check the meat over carefully, wipe it with a clean, damp cloth and remove any splinters of bone. Set a wide, deep frying-pan over a low heat, pour in the oil, add the butter and heat for 5 minutes. Lay the chunks of lamb and the kidney in the fat, brown them all over, season generously with salt and pepper and lower the heat. Continue to cook the meat for about 45 minutes or until cooked through, turning over the pieces frequently and adding a little water occasionally to prevent it from drying out.

Meanwhile, strip the leaves from the rosemary sprigs and pound with the anchovies and garlic using a pestle and mortar. Alternatively, you can do this in a food processor. Add the vinegar, mix well and pour over the meat. Stir thoroughly and cook for a further 5 minutes before serving.