Friday, 30 May 2014

Lamb Kleftiko (Arni Kleftiko)

After marinating overnight, this tasty dish pretty much takes care of itself with a long slow roast...

Named after the 'Klephts' - Greek bandits of the countryside who would allegedly steal the odd lamb or goat and cook it in sealed pit ovens, to avoid the smoke being seen - lamb kleftiko is usually cooked slowly on the bone after marinating in lemon juice, garlic, herbs and olive oil.

Needless to say, like many classic dishes from around the world, there are many versions - everything from cooking single lamb portions or cutlets with vegetables in filo pastry to the whole leg or shoulder roasted in a clay pot, sealed as tightly as possible. If you want, you can add potatoes to this dish for the last hour of cooking to cook in the lamb juices, but I prefer to cook them separately if I'm serving it with potatoes, so that they have their own individual flavour.

Kleftiko is delicious served with flatbreads or pitta, Tzatziki and Greek salad (click on highlighted text for my recipes); or if you fancy having it as your 'roast dinner' it's delicious served with roast potatoes (I like to parboil, and then roast them with a little lemon zest and olive oil for this, or use whole baby/new potatoes, parboiled then roasted with whole, unpeeled garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs - roast for about half an hour, or as mentioned you can put them in with the lamb for the last hour), and roasted Meditteranean vegetables, or something like my braised okra in tomato sauce (bamies) which is also popular in Greece (more side dishes to come!).

This serves six - go for the heavier weight if you're serving people with big appetites! However, the quantities can also be halved for a smaller joint (see to the left of the photo above - there is a small, rolled, boneless shoulder joint). Takes 3 hours to cook, and needs to marinade overnight (or at least for several hours).

Calorie wise, (if you're counting) roast lamb shoulder is around 205 to 230 calories per 100g, if you trim the fat off your portion, plus add on another 20 to 40 calories for a drizzle of the juices/gravy. I'd say a portion of around 120g (roughly equivalent to the weight of your average chicken breast) would probably suit most people with normal appetites (especially as lamb is so rich-tasting) so you're looking at around 300 calories with juices/gravy (provided you have that weight of lamb without the fat).

1 shoulder of lamb, preferably bone in, 1.5 to 2kg
1 tbsp olive oil

For the marinade
2 lemons
4 fat garlic cloves
6 sprigs young rosemary (5 or 6 inches long each - use less if woody and bushy)
1 tbsp dried oregano (or 2 tbsp fresh chopped, if you can get it)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ground cinammon
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

(if you want to turn the juices into a light gravy/jus)

Lamb stock / stock cube - e.g. Knorr
Lemon juice

Firstly you need to make up the marinade for your lamb. I find it most convenient to put the lamb into a re-sealable large plastic food bag to marinade (less messy to turn!), but you can marinade it in a covered dish if you prefer. Juice the lemons (you can reserve the empty lemon halves to add to the lamb when you cook it if you want, to add a more lemony dimension, or just add a few strips of lemon zest to the marinade if you want it to be more subtle), peel and crush/finely chop the garlic, remove all of the rosemary leaves from the stalks and chop them up reasonably finely and mix together with all the other marinade ingredients in your bag or dish (Thermomix - you can drop the garlic and rosemary leaves, and even a couple of parings of lemon zest if you like, onto running blades, Speed 8, then scrape down and add the other ingredients and whizz again on speed 8 for a few seconds to combine).

Take a small, sharp knife and stab the lamb all over, especially through the fatty parts to allow the marinade to penetrate into the flesh. Put the lamb into the bag/dish and rub the marinade all over it until evenly coated (if it's in a bag, you can squish the closed bag first, and then put the lamb in, squeeze out as much air as you can, and then massage the bag until the marinade is evenly distributed all over the lamb - it's best to put the bag into a container, just in case you get any leaks). Leave overnight, or for up to 24 hours, turning once or twice if you can.

Once your lamb has marinated, take it out an hour before you want to start cooking it and then when you're ready, pre-heat your oven to gas mark 3 / 170C / 325F. Take a baking tray that will fit the lamb and put a large piece of greaseproof baking paper into the tray (about 2.5 times as long as your tray, and it needs to come at least a couple of inches up the sides to contain the liquids, with an equal overhang on each end - you're going to wrap the lamb up in it once browned).

Pour all of the marinade off into the greaseproof paper lined tray (and throw a couple of empty lemon halves in, if you want to, for a more intense, slightly bitter lemon-y flavour), and season the lamb with salt then set it aside.

Put a large, non-stick pan onto a high heat, and once it's really hot (if you flick a few drops of water in, they will sizzle and disappear instantly), add the olive oil, and then put the lamb in. Leave it to brown for a few minutes (it's not going to brown any further in the oven), then turn over and brown the other side. Hold up-ended using tongs or forks to brown any remaining large areas of lamb, and then put into the paper-lined tin which has the reserved marinade in it.

Fold over both long sides of the baking paper, and gently tuck around the lamb, making sure that you don't push the sides down which will allow the juices to escape from the package.

Put two sheets of foil over the top of the tray and its contents and securely encase everything with as good a seal as you can.

Put into the middle of the oven and cook for three hours - no peeking!

When you take it out of the oven, and unwrap, there will be a lot of
liquid in the bottom (which will have a lot of fat floating on the top. I find the easiest way to get the juices from A to B (or tray to pan) is to use a turkey baster. If you carefully tilt the pan (you might find this easiest if you remove the lamb first), you can just suck up everything from below the oil bit by bit and squirt it into a pan right next to your tray. Put a fine mesh sieve into the pan first, then when you've finished getting all the juices (ignore the last little bit to avoid the fat), you just lift the sieve out and discard the sediment. Your lamb should be really tender by now - you won't need a sharp knife to carve it, you can even use a pair of tongs to just lift chunks off it and serve them, or a spoon and fork. You can put it back into the oven (turn the heat down) to keep warm, or just re-wrap it and put a tea towel on top.

If you don't have a turkey baster, pour off the juices, leave to separate, and then spoon off the fat (or use one of those jugs for pouring off gravy without the fat.

Once you have the juices in your clutches, in a pan, have a taste and see what you think. You're unlikely to find them to your tastes before you meddle with them - they'll either need diluting with lamb stock if they taste a little bitter (plus add a tiny amount of honey if you like - just 1/2 to 1 tsp - which won't make it sweet but will reduce any bitterness); or they will need salt adding, and possibly reducing on a rolling boil if they taste too bland. Or if you don't want them, you don't have to have them, depending on what you're serving your lamb with!

If I'm having it with hot accompaniments, I like to make the juices into a little light gravy, by adding 1 lamb stock cube (I use Knorr if I haven't got lamb stock to hand), then adding boiling water (probably around 300 to 500mls - taste as you're going), a scant teaspoon of honey (to counter-act the bitterness of the lemon - especially if you threw the lemon skins in) and then mix a heaped tsp (or two) of cornflour with a little cold water, and whisk into the boiling stock gradually, until it has thickened enough to just coat the back of a spoon. If you want a bolder flavour, you can add a squeeze of fresh lemon, and/or throw a couple of fresh rosemary sprigs in the (give them a scrunch first to release some oils) to simmer for a few minutes, then remove.

The lamb is very forgiving once cooked - you can turn the oven down to 1 or 2, re-cover it with the baking paper and foil, giving it a quick baste first, and then leave it in there for another hour or two keeping warm while you finish making your accompaniments. That's the beauty of a slow-cooked joint.

Lamb kleftiko
With lemon-y roasted potatoes, braised okra in tomato sauce, and a light lamb jus made from the juices


  1. Is this recipe suitable for a slow cooker? I am going out all day on Saturday with my family and would love to serve this when we return

  2. Mary I'm sure this would be delicious cooked low and slow in a slow cooker - I have friends who have cooked it at a lower temperature for a longer time in a conventional oven for an extra few hours and it is cooked 'covered' anyway.


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