The reasons so many of us sit down to a lamb or ham roast on Easter Sunday are widely divergent: Eating lamb on Easter is a custom that's steeped in Christian religious symbology, while the ham tradition can be traced back to practical pre-refrigeration matters of seasonality and storage. Regardless, for two types of meat that aren't terribly common on American tables during the rest of the year, they're bound to get a lot of play this coming weekend. If you're still a bit shy around either one of them—and you've got plenty of company if you are—these 12 recipes will introduce you to some of our most useful (and delicious) methods for preparing them in their most common forms. We've got treatments for both juicy city ham and salty, slightly funky country ham (here are the differences between the two if you're unsure), as well as for a range of lamb cuts, including a classic rack, fatty and flavorful lamb ribs, and a jaw-dropping crown roast if you really want to go all out.
Maple-Glazed City Ham
City hams, the type most commonly eaten in the US, are wet-brined, often smoked, and usually precooked, and they produce the moist, blush-pink meat most of us associate with ham. Because it's precooked, a city ham doesn't require anything more than reheating before serving. Here, we do so by slow-roasting it in a low oven, painting it with a traditional maple glaze to get that smoky-sweet flavor, then cranking up the oven to caramelize the exterior.
Sous Vide City Ham With Balsamic Brown Sugar Glaze
Got an immersion circulator? Sous vide is an even better way to get your city ham ready to serve. Most hams come vacuum-sealed in a thick plastic wrapping, which means you can drop yours straight into a 140°F water bath. Letting it cook for at least three hours will heat it thoroughly without drying it out, leaving the ham extra juicy and moist. At that point, you can glaze it with a tangy sweet-and-sour mix of balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, then give it a quick roast in a very hot oven.
Grill-Roasted Coke- and Pineapple-Glazed Ham
If you find yourself short on oven space on Easter, your smoker is another option. The technique is essentially just the same as what you'd use indoors—bring your city ham up to temperature, glaze it, then blast it with high heat to get that deeply browned and sweet crust. Here, we brush it with a glaze inspired by Filipino barbecue: a salty, sweet, and acidic mixture of Coca-Cola, pineapple juice, soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and honey.
Mustard- and Brown Sugar-Rubbed Ham With Balsamic-Roasted Onions
There's no law that says you have to go sugary when glazing a ham. A sharp, spicy blend of Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar, with just enough brown sugar to help it caramelize, serves as a pleasant foil to the ham's smoky and sweet flavors. On the side, we toss pearl onions with honey, balsamic, and olive oil, then roast them directly with the ham so they soak up all those fatty pan drippings.
Cherry Coke-Glazed Country Ham
Unlike city hams, country hams are air-cured (like prosciutto), are typically sold raw, and have a drier texture and saltier, more concentrated flavor. The first step in preparing a country ham is to soak it in water for at least a day to draw out some of the excess salt. After that, you can slow-roast it and glaze it however you'd like—this recipe uses a simple mixture of fruity Cherry Coke, honey, black pepper, and spices. Note that because of their intense saltiness, country hams should be sliced much thinner than city hams.
Crown Roast of Lamb With Couscous Stuffing and Pistachio-Mint Sauce
Not much can top a crown roast of lamb for making a dramatic presentation at holiday meals. To perfectly cook this eye-catching (and pricy) piece of meat, we turn back to our old friend the reverse sear: Bring the lamb almost up to temperature in a low oven, then raise the heat for nice browning all over. Resist the urge to cook the aromatic, dried fruit– and nut-infused stuffing inside the crown—both the meat and the couscous will be better off if you prepare them separately and spoon in the stuffing just before serving.
Sous Vide Rack of Lamb
A rack of lamb is a more basic, less fussy cut that's good for celebratory occasions any time of year. It's still on the expensive side, so you'll want to be sure to prepare it well, and if you have a sous vide set up, then it's as easy as seasoning the rack and sealing it in a bag. You don't need a sous vide device to get the rack beautifully medium-rare from edge to edge—you can use a beer cooler if you don't have an immersion circulator—but whichever way you choose to go, when the rack is fully cooked, you'll sear it over very high heat in a pan or on the grill.
Tender Braised Lamb Shanks With Bitter Herb Salad
Combining the low-and-slow style of cooking that we usually associate with winter and the bright, fresh, and wild flavors of spring, this recipe is a lovely way to transition between the seasons. Tough lamb shanks turn meltingly tender when braised in a mix of white wine and chicken stock. The crunch of a quick salad made of bitter endive and celery is a great way to offset the meat's richness.
Grilled Berbere-Spiced Lamb Chops With Cucumber-Lentil Salad
Having been raised in a lamb-loving Arab-American family, I have plenty of memories of eating lamb chops rubbed with a fiery mixture of spices and browned on the grill. This recipe takes me back to those days: We coat these chops with a hot Ethiopian spice blend called berbere that's loaded with chili powder, fenugreek, cardamom, and clove, among other ingredients. Calm your palate between bites with a salad of lentils and refreshing cucumber.
Roasted Spiced Lamb Ribs With Whole Grain Mustard Sauce
If you've never had lamb ribs, you're missing out—they're gamy, fatty, and incredibly flavorful. They're also simple to cook, taking well to basic slow-roasting, and they're more capable than pork ribs of standing up to bold flavors. Here, we season them with a dry rub containing smoked paprika, fennel seed, chili flakes, and cumin, and serve them with a robust pan sauce flavored with whole grain mustard.
Slow-Roasted Boneless Leg of Lamb With Garlic, Rosemary, and Lemon
Leg of lamb makes for a wonderful Easter roast, and we especially like boneless leg of lamb—it's easy to season inside and out and cooks more evenly than a bone-in leg, resulting in a crisp, nicely browned crust giving way to pink meat that's juicy through and through. In this recipe, we flavor boneless leg with a classic mixture of garlic, shallots, rosemary, and lemon zest, sautéed to soften the raw bite of the alliums.
Sous Vide Leg of Lamb
A butterflied leg of lamb is not only ideal for being stuffed with flavorful ingredients and being rolled into a roast; it's also a great cut for cooking sous vide. We have two options for you: One leg of lamb gets stuffed with a paste made from briny black olives, garlic, and parsley, and the other gets stuffed with a mixture of crispy fried mustard seeds and earthy cumin seed. Once the lamb is cooked, all you have to do is sear the exterior in smoking hot oil.
Sichuan Roast Leg of Lamb With Celery-Mint Salad
This dish may not sound like your grandmother's Easter lamb—and, most likely, it isn't—but lamb is commonly featured in Sichuan cooking, so it makes sense to pair it with spicy-tingly Sichuan flavors. We rub this lamb leg with ground Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, dried red chilies, fennel seed, and star anise before cooking it with our trusty reverse-sear method. A cooling salad of fresh celery, cucumber, radishes, carrots, mint, and cilantro will feel like a welcome sign of spring as it soothes the fire in your mouth.
Braised Lamb Shoulder With Dried Chilies and Dates
Again, this is probably not what your family is used to eating for Easter dinner, but that doesn't make it any less delicious. This braise also happens to be super simple: You make a super flavorful purée out of smokey morita chilies, fruity guajillo chilies, sharp tomatillos, sweet and sticky dates, and toasted coriander and cumin seeds, and then you just pour that purée over a lamb shoulder you've placed in a Dutch oven. After that, you just let it sit in a warm oven until the meat is tender and giving, and then set out some warm tortillas when you're ready to serve.