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Abbacchio is a young, lactating, or recently slaughtered lamb destined for slaughter.
On the origin of the term, there are discordances:
the purely etymological one makes it go back to abecula or avecula, in its turn deriving from ovacula or ovecula, diminutive of the Latin Ovis (sheep);
another interpretation derives the term from ad baculum, “close to the stick,” to indicate the milk lamb, not yet weaned and that, as such, is still used today to tie to a stick stuck in the ground (ad baculum), to force the mother to stay close without moving away;
the other popular from the term abbacchiare, in the sense of killing, kill with a stick (from the Latin baculum, then a lamb that is close to the slaughter “ad baculum,” “near the stick”). This verb is still in use in the Roman dialect and from there in the everyday use of the Italian language, especially with the past participle and adjective abbacchiato, in the sense of a person knocked down, distressed, destroyed, very sorry. The lamb’s slaughter was usually carried out by beating it on the head and then cutting its throat with a knife.
From antiquity to today
Throughout the central part of Italy, including Sardinia, sheep-farming was the primary source of meat supply; in ancient times, mainly mutton and adult sheep were slaughtered. The slaughter of lambs was forbidden, except in the period of Easter and until June.
Lambs or abbacchi were initially destined to the table of Jews and the less wealthy because their meat was considered low. Today the culinary tradition of Latium, Abruzzi, and Sardinia of sheep meat is mainly focused on lamb, which is offered not only during the Easter period (when the slaughter of these sheep is called sbacchiatura) but also during the Christmas festivities.
Most of the lamb is Italian, but there is a significant quota (frozen) of New Zealand imports.
According to the classification of Agnello di Sardegna IGP:
abbacchio is a suckling lamb that is just over one month old and up to 7 kilos in weight (average 4-6 kg), a weight often reached by forcing the animal’s development;
light lamb, from 7 to 10 kilos of weight;
cutting lamb, from 10 to 13 kilos.
- three lbs. baby lamb, a combination of leg, shoulder, ribs, and kidneys
- Four salted anchovies
- One sprig of fresh rosemary
- 3/4 cup good white vinegar
- Three cloves garlic
- Four tbs. olive oil
- two oz. lard
How to make Abbacchio alla Cacciatora:
Cut the baby lamb into equal pieces, each about 2 oz. Rinse them to remove bone fragments and dry them thoroughly. Saute two cloves of garlic in 4 tbs—oil and lard in a saucepan large enough to contain all the lamb pieces in a single layer. Discard the garlic. Add the pieces of lamb, turning the meat until all sides are evenly browned.
In the meantime, wash and fillet the anchovies. Mince the rosemary leaves finely, together with the remaining garlic and the anchovy fillets. Pour the resulting mixture into 3/4 cup vinegar, mixing well. When the meat is browned, add pepper and a small amount of salt (remember that the anchovies are salty), moistening first with the vinegar mixture and then with water, and continue to cook over medium heat for 30 mins.
When the baby lamb is ready, arrange the meat in a preheated serving platter together with its cooking juices and serve.
Regional Recipe from Latium