‘They looked down on a roasted lamb, its skin glistening bronze, flesh falling from its bones… and though only the charred, twiggy remains of mountain oregano and thyme poked through the haphazard string stitching of the belly cavity, a fragrant steam affirmed that all the herbs’ sweet essences had melded with the meat.’
(From The Feast of Artemis)
Literally stolen or bandits’ lamb, kleftiko originated with sheep-rustlers in the mountains of Greece. They would dig a fire-pit to bake a stolen lamb whole, sealing the makeshift oven with earth as the carcase cooked to prevent smoke – and the delicious smell of the roasting meat – giving away their hiding-place.
Interestingly, it is very like the roasting lamb cooked over fire-pits in the high hills of Croatia in Rick Stein’s wonderful cooking/travel series, From Venice to Istanbul.
Happily you can enjoy the same melting, flavoursome lamb without heading for the hills with a shovel or running any risk of arrest. The key to great kleftiko is to let it take its own sweet time – it’s slow food for a feast with family or friends – and the best part is, once it’s assembled, it will pretty well look after itself.
A large joint of lamb, leg or shoulder, approx 2kg
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
Juice of a lemon
1 tbsp dried or fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary or a mix)
3 tbsp good olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Parchment paper and string
Author of the Mysteries of the Greek Detective, books with a touch of mythology set in almost-contemporary Greece, and featuring lots of fabulous Greek food.