Lamb kleftiko is a classic Greek recipe of slow cooked lamb with garlic, oregano, olive oil and lemon juice. Kleftiko means stolen and many years ago, sheep stealing was common practice in Greece. Great Papou, on occasion, returned to his home in the wild mountains of Crete and presented Great Yiayia with a stolen sheep to feed the family.
However, Great Yiayia did not approve – even though he insisted the sheep had been stolen from him first! One day, she got so fed up with her husband’s shady dealings that she shopped him to the local police and poor Great Papou was sent to prison for a year!
This lamb kleftiko dish takes it name from when thieves ‘kleftes’ would steal meat and bury it with hot coals under the ground so that no one would smell the delicious aromas of the cooking. They would leave the lamb hidden in the hole to roast slowly for hours.
Although, the traditional way to cook the lamb is in the earth, these days many people wrap it in greaseproof baking paper to keep the juices and flavours inside. However, in Yiayia’s recipe, you will just need a good old-fashioned casserole dish or baking tray.
Serve your kleftiko with potatoes and green vegetables or a salad of your choice.
Preparation Time 25 minutes
Cooking Time 3-3½ hours
1 shoulder of lamb (approx. 1.5kg), as much fat as possible removed & cut into 4 pieces
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp oregano
salt and pepper
1 onion, cut in half
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp olive oil
juice of ½ lemon
4 large potatoes, cut in half
1 cup of water
Preheat your oven to 200 C.
Rub the lamb extremely well with the garlic, 1 tsp oregano and season with salt and pepper.
Place the two onion halves and the bay leaves into the centre of your pot (Yiayia uses a cast iron pot with tight closing lid, but you can use any casserole dish with a lid, or a baking tray tightly covered with strong foil. If using a baking tray, place a piece of greaseproof paper on top of the meat to stop it sticking to the foil).
Place your meat on top of the onions and bay leaves. Drizzle 2 tbsp of olive oil and lemon juice over the meat and using your hands, smear it around the meat.
In a bowl add your potatoes, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp oregano and season with salt and pepper. Mix it all up with your hands and then drop the potatoes into your pot.
Add a cup of water and gently shake the pot to evenly distribute. Cover the pot to seal (with a tight lid or foil).
Cook in the oven for 2 hours.
At 2 hours check your dish and if you feel it lacks enough sauce, add some boiling water (approx. ½ cup). You may also at this point wish to turn the meat over if you feel it has browned sufficiently on the top.
Turn the heat down to 180 C and cook for a further 1-1½ hours.
Yiayia’s tip: a good indicator for when the lamb is ready is when it is pierced with a skewer or toothpick and no juice flows. The meat should easily be pulled apart and fall off the bone.
Yiayia’s tip: Don’t tamper with the potatoes too much as they will break apart.
Yiayia’s tip: You can also use lamb’s leg (but Yiayia does prefer the shoulder as it is more succulent).