A traditional Greek dish, Lamb Kleftiko takes its name from the ‘Klephts’ (thief or brigand); highwaymen who took it upon themselves to oppose the Ottoman oppression, having taken to the mountains during the 15th Century.
Having no animals of their own, the Klephts would steal goats and lambs, cooking them secretly in sealed clay ovens in the ground. Slow cooked in a sealed container, the method of preparing kleftiko is clearly influenced by the forced conditions of food preparation in Klepht communities.
Trust me when I say that you’ve never truly experienced potatoes until you’ve brought lamb kleftiko to bear upon your household table. Forget the lamb. The excellent flavour of the lamb was a given.
What the potatoes do is to draw up as much of the excess moisture, fat and lemon juice and take on their flavour. And you are left with spuds so soft, perfectly cooked and tantalisingly flavoured, that you’ll almost never want to eat them any other way.
But the best thing about kleftiko? How simple it is. It’s essentially a bake in the bag lamb casserole, except nobody loses. Because it’s sealed everything remains; the fluffy potatoes, concentrated citrus gravy and, inevitably, the succulent, pink and irresistible lamb shoulder.
If, like us, there’s only two of you, you’ll likely end up with plenty of leftovers too. Do away with them by preparing my inimitable Leftover Lamb Hotpot…
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- a sprig of thyme
- a sprig of rosemary
- 5 bay leaves
- 600g lamb shoulder joint
- 500g new potatoes
- juice of 2 lemons, zest of 1
- 1 cinnamon stick
- If you have time you can marinate the lamb overnight in a sealed bag, along with 2 tbsp of olive oil, garlic, salt, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and the zest of 1 lemon.
- If you don’t have time to marinate your meat, simply add the ingredients above as the meat goes into the oven.
- Once you’re ready to start cooking, brown your meat in a pan or large casserole in 1 tbsp of olive oil and set aside. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C(fan).
- In the same pan quickly fry the potatoes, before adding the remaining ingredients, including lemon juice and cinnamon stick.
- Transfer everything to a deep casserole dish and set the lamb on top of the potatoes. Seal the dish with a double layer of foil and bake for 3 hours.
- Once cooked, remove the meat from the bone and serve immediately. Kleftiko is delicious with a refreshing side salad or served with a little parsley and flatbreads.
Cost: Lamb seems incredibly inexpensive at the moment; perhaps it’s the time of year. My relatively good quality shoulder of 600g set us back only £4.
And because the meat is combined only with a hefty number of potatoes and a smattering of herbs and spices, the entire casserole of lamb kleftiko should set you back only around £6.