The Fishy Twist Jamie Oliver Puts On His Easter Lamb

While many of us associate Easter with chocolate bunnies and eggs, plenty of others think of show-stopping entrees for a traditional holiday supper. Out of all the go-to dishes to whip out during Easter, lamb recipes are particularly fitting, due to the association with spring. Perhaps no cut is more impressive than a roast rack of lamb, so it's no wonder why world-renowned chef Jamie Oliver favors this centerpiece. The secret to his favorite recipe, though, might surprise you: The chef likes to rub anchovies on the meat to add more complexity. 

While anchovies taste super fishy and salty when eaten out of the tin, their pungent flavor diminishes when cooked into other dishes, leaving behind a deep, meaty savoriness that enhances anything from soups to sautéed vegetables and, of course, roasted meat. Your guests won't know that these tiny fish were used to season your rack of lamb — they'll just know that it's totally delicious. 

Oliver prefers to cut holes in the skin of the meat, then stuffs the anchovies inside before roasting. You can also sizzle the fish in oil or butter, so it becomes infused with savory undertones. Rub the fat onto your rack of lamb or any other cut, such as the leg or shoulder, before cooking it. Use any leftover anchovy-flavored fat to make a peppercorn and wine gravy that can then be drizzled on top of the meat, or spread it on toast to serve as a side.

Why lamb is commonly eaten during Easter dinners

Outside of his use of anchovies, Jamie Oliver keeps his roast lamb recipe fairly traditional, using classic seasonings such as garlic, rosemary, and thyme to complement the rich flavor of the meat. If you're looking for another way to spice up this classic dish, bulgur and fennel stuffing is commonly eaten by people celebrating Orthodox Easter, and it makes a great addition to any table. As for the religious significance of lamb itself, this animal didn't become an Easter staple just because it tastes good.

Lambs are commonly referenced within the major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Adhering to the holy texts of these faiths, followers throughout history sacrificed or consumed lambs to commemorate their holy figures. In Christianity, lambs are frequently used as a metaphor for Jesus in the New Testament, hence his moniker of the "Lamb of God." Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ after he sacrificed himself to absolve humanity of their sins, and the consumption of lamb serves as a reminder of this act.

Meanwhile, some Jewish people consume lamb during Passover. In the context of this holiday, the animal represents Abraham's sacrifice and part of the Israelites' exile from Egypt and slavery. Jews who later changed their faith to Christianity likely passed on the tradition of eating lamb, further explaining why lamb roasts have remained a popular centerpiece in both Christian and Jewish celebrations.

Tips for preparing and serving Easter lamb

Lamb can be notoriously tricky to cook to perfection, especially when you're working with it for the first time. The specific cut of lamb that you bought at the grocery store dictates which cooking method you should choose. A leg or loin can be quickly roasted for great results, but tougher parts such as the shoulder or neck will require a much longer time to tenderize. 

For these tough cuts, a low and slow braise will produce a deliciously tender texture. You can toss in some veggies for an instant side dish, as well. If you're looking to buy and cook lamb chops, follow Ina Garten's advice and ask your butcher to French them. This essentially means that all the unwanted fat and tendon will be removed from the meat, leaving you with some exposed bone that looks elegant and Instagram-worthy once cooked.

With a recipe as hearty as Jamie Oliver's anchovy-infused roast lamb, you'll want to include a few lighter side dishes as a palate cleanser. We're not saying to skip the mashed potatoes or buttered bread, but salads are the best candidate for adding a necessary contrast. The greens add a much-needed refreshing crunch between bites of fatty meat, and a tangy dressing makes it even better. Sautéed vegetables like asparagus and carrots are also great contenders, as their light, earthy undertones are a perfect match for lamb's gamey flavor.