Kleftiko – Greek Slow Cooked Lamb! Lamb Kleftiko Recipe

Kleftiko – Greek Slow Cooked Lamb! Lamb Kleftiko Recipe

Kleftiko is the original Greek slow cooked lamb recipe. Nothing will send your tastebuds to a Greek Cypriot taverna quicker than lamb Kleftiko.

Kleftiko is slow cooked lamb that remains totally succulent and literally falls off the bone (you can cut it with a spoon, seriously, you can) and it’s almost impossible to get wrong!

Kleftiko, slow cooked lamb, is derived from the Greek word Klephti which means to steal (which is where the English word Kleptomaniac, etc. comes from). Kleftiko roughly translates to Stolen Meat; legend has it that the outlaws or bandits in Cyprus would steal a goat and take it up to the Troodos Mountains where their hideaway was to slow cook lamb.

To avoid being caught they would dig a large pit and make a fire during the day when the flames wouldn’t be seen, eventually the fire would burn out leaving just the glowing embers. The beast would be placed on top of the ashes, covered and in essence, slow cooked until the next day, by which time they would unearth their feast and tuck in!

Want more Greek Recipes? Or just love lamb?

Nowadays Kleftiko is a meal in a bowl; usually cooked with potatoes to soak up the juices (I prefer to cook mine separately but if you can’t be bothered – just follow my recipe below and throw some spuds in before you wrap up the lamb!)

My first experience of Kleftiko was in the Troodos mountains, but minus the bandits. Sitting on long communal tables with a steaming foil wrap being delivered to you in a bowl it’s genius is in its simplicity and there is nothing like slow cooked lamb to melt in your mouth..

Traditionally Kleftiko would be goat; which is starting to make a come back; so if you fancy going traditional then get a goat – otherwise Lamb Shoulder is the best for this slow cooked lamb recipe. And please, please, don’t use the leg.

To clarify, anything slow cooked needs fat, needs marbling which keeps it moist and tender, thus slow cooked lamb shoulder is perfect. I’ve seen lots of recipes saying to use leg of lamb to slow cook. To be blunt, don’t bother. More than likely it will come out dry, if you are slow cooking use the shoulder. And that goes for pork as well – slow cooked pork shoulder is delicious.

Anyway, I digress…

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My Kleftiko recipe as featured on Womans Own and NetMums! Full recipe below my video of making Kleftiko!

Kleftiko – Greek Slow Cooked Lamb Recipe:

Ingredients:

1 shoulder of lamb (not leg!)

2 large ripe tomatoes cut into thick slices

1 onion sliced

3 bay leaves

5 cloves of garlic cracked open

6 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Few heavy glugs of extra virgin olive oil

1 lemon

Tablespoon of dried oregano (preferably Greek of course!)

Few pinches of sea salt

Teaspoon of smoked paprika (OK, not a traditional ingredient but I think it adds a little smokiness that is missed by cooking it in the oven)

Lamb Kleftiko – Method:

  1. First; season your meat all over.
  2. Then lay out a large piece of foil; and prepare the base to sit the meat on.
  3. Drizzle some olive oil, sprinkle half the sliced onion, a bay leaf, some rosemary, some of the oregano, some of the tomato slices and a couple of slices of lemon and half the garlic. Season well and place the meat on top.
  4. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the meat and place the rest of the ingredients all over the top. Squeeze lemon juice all over the meat before slicing the rest into thick chunks and layering on top. Season well and sprinkle the smoked paprika over the meat.
  5. Point to remember – cut the tomatoes quite thick and use the majority on top of the meat; they will almost turn into sun dried tomatoes; very concentrated and rich… lovely!
  6. Wrap in foil several times to ensure it is sealed.
  7. Pop on a rack on a roasting tray and pour some water in the bottom (if you don’t have a rack to raise the meat from the bottom of the tray put just an inch of water in the bottom – this is just to stop any juices that leak from the package from burning when you cook it.
  8. Pop into the oven at 160C/330F for about 4 hours for a whole shoulder (about 3 hours for half a shoulder) – if in doubt – leave it in longer rather than less.
  9. Once the 4 hours is up; remove the meat from the oven, turn the oven up to 200C degrees and let the wrapped meat sit for 20 minutes outside the oven. Then cut the foil wrap open at the top, peel away as much as possible and pour the juices into a saucepan to make some gravy.
  10. The oven should be to temperature by now (about 200 degrees), so return the unwrapped meat to the oven for another 10-15 minutes (check it after 10 minutes – you want the meat to start to crisp but not burn).
  11. Remove the meat and pop it on a serving dish and stick it in the middle of a table for people to help themselves – this is all about sharing the pleasure.

Goes well with some Tzatziki, rosemary roasted new potatoes and a rowdy bunch of friends or family to share it with – this is a feast for noisy companions not boring fine dining!

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Kleftiko Greek Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder Recipe by Theo Michaels
5 from 1 vote
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Kleftiko - Greek Slow Cooked Lamb

Kleftiko is the famous slow cooked lamb recipe

Ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 shoulder of lamb (not leg!)
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes cut into thick slices
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 cloves of garlic cracked open
  • 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • Few heavy glugs of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • Tablespoon of dried oregano (preferably Greek of course!)
  • Few pinches of sea salt
  • Teaspoon of smoked paprika (OK, not a traditional ingredient but I think it adds a little smokiness that is missed by cooking it in the oven)

Instructions

Lamb Kleftiko - Method:

  1. First; season the lamb shoulder.

  2. Then lay out a large piece of foil; and prepare the base to sit the lamb on.

  3. Drizzle some olive oil, sprinkle half the sliced onion, a bay leaf, some rosemary, some of the oregano, some of the tomato slices and a couple of slices of lemon and half the garlic. Season well and place the meat on top.
  4. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the meat and place the rest of the ingredients all over the top. Squeeze lemon juice all over the meat before slicing the rest into thick chunks and layering on top. Season well and sprinkle the smoked paprika over the meat.
  5. Point to remember - cut the tomatoes quite thick and use the majority on top of the meat; they will almost turn into sun dried tomatoes; very concentrated and rich... lovely!
  6. Wrap in foil several times to ensure it is sealed.
  7. Pop on a rack on a roasting tray and pour some water in the bottom (if you don't have a rack to raise the meat from the bottom of the tray put just an inch of water in the bottom - this is just to stop any juices that leak from the package from burning when you cook it.
  8. Pop into the oven at 160C/330F for about 4 hours for a whole shoulder (about 3 hours for half a shoulder) - if in doubt - leave it in longer rather than less.

  9. Once the 4 hours is up; remove the meat from the oven, turn the oven up to 200C degrees and let the wrapped meat sit for 20 minutes outside the oven. Then cut the foil wrap open at the top, peel away as much as possible and pour the juices into a saucepan to make some gravy.
  10. The oven should be to temperature by now (about 200 degrees), so return the unwrapped meat to the oven for another 10-15 minutes (check it after 10 minutes - you want the meat to start to crisp but not burn).
  11. Remove the meat and pop it on a serving dish and stick it in the middle of a table for people to help themselves - this is all about sharing the pleasure.

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41 thoughts on “Kleftiko – Greek Slow Cooked Lamb! Lamb Kleftiko Recipe”

  • Hi Theo. Recipe looks great! Can’t wait to give it a try later. Can I just double check with you, in point 8 you say cook the whole shoulder for 4 hours and then say only 4 hours for half a shoulder so just wanted to check if this was a typo and you meant a lower number of hours for the half? If so for how long please for the half? I’m asking as it’s only me and I’m cooking for one! Many thanks!

  • Thankyou for this recipe! I love lamb done in any way – its my ultimate meat. As an Aussie, I’ve tried making ‘Greek Lamb’ before and my Greek friends enjoy it but giggle and tell me its not ‘real Greek food’. So, I kept looking, found your site and recipe – and I plated this up two days back now, for a couple of good Greek mates. Mummy’s boys too, bless them – so they’re always critical of my Greek efforts compared to their Mum’s 🙂 – Anyway. This was a raving success! They loved it and couldn’t fault it. Thanks for this great recipe! I’m going to try doing it with goat next. Sarah x.

  • I had no problems using a leg of lamb rather than shoulder. It turned out beautifully. I did turn the heat up higher for the final 15 minutes (250 C) after reading one of the comments about leg not crisping.
    Served this with Greek green beans (cooked slowly with garlic and tomatoes) and roast potatoes with rosemary. I also did the English thing and made a thick gravy with the juices. Fabulous!
    I also notice through the comments that greaseproof paper should have been used before the foil – I should have read all the comments first, although I used Turkey foil to ensure this wouldn’t leak during cooking.
    I will definitely use this recipe again, but maybe try the shoulder next.

    • Pleased it went well Clive! I’d be interested to hear how you think the shoulder compares to the leg of you do it again. You’ve made me hungry reading your comment first thing this morning!

      • Hi Theo
        This was my first attempt at cooking lamb and it was the best lamb I’ve ever tasted! I love throw it all in recipes and this was easy to follow and georgeous
        Thanks
        Cathy

      • Thanks Cathy, I’m so pleased you enjoyed it! Always makes my day hearing comments like yours! So… What recipe are you going to try next?! 🙂

      • Hi Theo, I’m surprised you changed your kleftiko recipe to say “not leg”. I get great results with leg. It’s a firm favourite with my family. Just takes a little bit longer, and higher temperature at the end.

      • Hey Clive, Thank you for commenting – I really appreciate it. Actually it came about as someone asked me what was the best cut and they were planning on using leg and I’ve had a few experiences of it going a little dry and just found that the shoulder nails it every time. Thus I felt obliged to give my honest opinion… Obviously that’s just my opinion! If you get a chance Clive please do give the shoulder a test run and let me know how you think it compares to the leg. I love cooking the leg but always tend to roast it pink rather than slow cook.. be good to hear your thoughts on it!

  • Thanks for the confirmation Theo. Unfortunately my lamb wasn’t great. I used a leg and, whilst the flavours and aromas were lovely, the meat was dry and uninteresting. It also didn’t crisp up well at the last bit even though I had the fat side uppermost. I guess the moral here is don’t mess with the tried and tested recipe!

    Theo’s Reply: Hi Lizzy, oh no!! I’m sorry to hear that! If it’s any consolation I’ve tried it with the leg previously and it’s just too lean to keep it juicy… The leg is great for a traditional roast (or even cut up for souvlaki) but it does tend to dry out when slow cooked. I hope you give it a try again with the shoulder and I promise it will be a whole new experience! Best of luck for next time but thank you for letting me know how it went I’m sure other readers will also appreciate your comment aswell. Txx

  • Hi Theo!
    Love your blog and hence have signed up. But….I am confused regarding the kleftiko lamb being wrapped in foil (btw cooking the recipe right now and so excited to eat the end result!) In one response to a subscriber’s question you say you only wrap the tray and the meat should be protected by either baking paper or potato slices, but in both the recipe and the video demo of the recipe, it clearly shows you wrapping the piece of meat. :/

    • Hi Lizzy!

      Sorry for the confusion! I’ve amended my previous comment to make it clear. Wrap the actual meat in baking paper and then foil for best results. The liquid in the bottom of the tray is just to catch any juices that leak from the foil wrap and stop them burning.. I hope that helps and thank you for your lovely comments! Let me know how your kleftiko turns out! Txx

      • I didn’t see the bit about baking paper until i had already put inthe oven. Hope it all works with just foil

      • Hi Heidi, it will be absolutely fine without the baking paper! As long as it’s sealed in foil it will be delicious and fall off the bone succulent! Love to hear how it goes!

  • Morning Theo – I have a 2.2kg lamb shoulder, so am planning on wrapping it well with foil and cooking it for about 6hrs (does this sound ok?) maybe with splash of red wine in bottom of foil to make sure it doesn’t dry out……but I have a question as to what the pint or two of water in the bottom of the tray does….why do you need a humid oven if the lamb is totally sealed in foil?

    Many thanks

    • AMENDMENT:
      Hi Lisa, you can do both and both will come out soft, succulent and delicious; I wrap the lamb in baking paper and then foil (which is more traditional), alternatively you could just cover the roasting tray with foil. Both will work fine. Wrapping the lamb in foil will give a more authentic feel to the meat. I hope that helps an let me know if you need any other help! Theo x

  • Thanks Theo! This was a huge hit with my friends on Saturday night. Simply amazing and so easy…I can’t wait to cook it again and again! Also, thanks again for the tips following my questions.

  • I’m going to cook this for friends on Saturday night, I can’t wait it looks amazing! I ordered a lamb shoulder from my butcher to pick up tomorrow, but as I am having 5 guests (plus myself), he suggested a shoulder still joined to the fourquarter (i think that’s what he said). Do you think this will be ok? Do you suggest any modifications to your recipe (I’m thinking 5 hours cooking time for 2.5kg?) I’m now wondering if I should have ordered 2 shoulders instead. Hopefully it will still be as amazing as yours looks 🙂

    • Hi Selena, it will be wonderful! Having the shoulder still joined to the forequarter is fine (and Greek hospitality states to always have ‘too much food’ (plus it’ll make make great leftovers if you’re lucky!)). I would increase cooking time to 6 hours (you could go 7 but 6 is fine) but I would also throw in a small glass of white or red wine before sealing the meat in foil to keep it extra moist. If you have the meat in the fridge beforehand remove it about an hour before you want to cook it to bring it to room temperature then follow the recipe and you’ll be the talk of the town! 🙂 Good luck and please do let me know how it turns out! Tx

  • Hi theo! , lamb in fridge marinated in your recipe with the addition of a little red wine over night. Tomorrow will bring to room temp before cooking. Just one myth ide like you to look into if possible,that is that we should now avoid aluminium foil contact with roasted meats as the heat and acids react with the foil and may be linked to alzerheimers ?. So I’ve witnessed many cooks now wrapping there food in grease proof paper first ,then the foil . Maybe your friends or fellow chefs know more about this ?thanks Chris .

    • Hi Chris, awesome! The Kleftiko will come out delicious I’m sure! OK, the foil debate… There’s nothing scientifically conclusive about the health aspects of food being cooked in foil. However, if the foil does touch the meat during cooking (especially slow cooking) invariably it will rub off alittle on the food. Which is why either sacrifice a couple of potato slices on top of the meat (in between the meat and foil) or just a small patch of baking paper on top of the meat. Good luck for the feast and let me know how you get on! Theo

  • Theo,
    I cooked this a couple of weeks ago and followed your recipe to the letter, (apart from some Greek Seasoning!). It was absolutely perfect and an instant family favourite. It’s on the menu again for tomorrow night.
    Thanks!

    • Hi Steve, that’s brilliant! It always makes my day hearing about people enjoying my recipes! (Goes well with tzatziki!). Theo

  • Thank you for the great recipe that is so easy & authentic tasting. Love all the flavours, esp the dried tomatoes. Making it for the 2nd time in the slow cooker today. It turned out delicious last time & reminded us of our Greek holiday flavours. It’s now a firm special day favourite. I use leg cos it’s most easily available but still has enough fat on it to give it a full flavour.

    • Hi Veronica,
      I’m so pleased you’ve been enjoying the Kleftiko dish! It’s one of my favourites! If you fancy a trip down memory lane, check out my mums lemon lamb recipe – delicious (and a good mid-week crowd pleaser)! Txx

    • Hi Carol there is a slightly different version you could do! Use a lamb shank instead (the small 1 per person size, you could do several in one go). Brown the meat first on the stove, add the other ingredients, and a bottle of red wine. Bring to the boil then pop into the slow cooker for 6-8 hours (or overnight on low). Once done, remove the meat, reduce the cooking juices to thicken and serve with some mash! Finally – let me know how you get on! T

      • Hi theo
        Thanks for the reply, I bought a half shoulder of lamb today because I wanted to try out the receipe before Christmas day as that’s when I want to make the kleftico. Do you think I could do this dish in the slow cooker with the lamb shoulder?
        My partner is greek and I have never tried this dish before and I wanna make it perfect.

      • Hi Carol,

        If you decide to use the slow cooker and the redwine recipe I mentioned, then a nice leg of lamb would work great (shoulder would still be fine but might be a bit more sloppy – when cooking the shoulder in a dry heat (oven) it renders the fat really well, not sure you would get the same effect in the slow cooker with the shoulder), either way, you’ll want to do it long and slow (possibly get it going the night before on low setting in slow cooker), and then once cooked; let the lamb leg rest inside the slow cooker submerged in all the juices for an hour – this will keep it really tender. If you take it straight out it may dry out a bit. Alternatively if you want to go full-authentic Greek, go with the shoulder but in the oven as in my recipe (depending on how big the shoulder is you may want to increase the time to 4-5 hours).. Hope that helps!

      • Hi theo
        I’ve decided to do the kleftico in the oven, I watched your video on how to make it and it looked delicious, therefore I will make it the way it’s suppose to be made. I will be serving the lamb with tzaziki along with rosemary potatoes. I’m so looking forward to making this dish

      • That’s great Carol, it’ll be wonderful! If using a large lamb shoulder leave it in the oven for an extra hour. Merry Christmas! Theo x

      • Hi theo,
        Happy new year too you.
        My kleftiko turned out wonderful! My other half was very impressed with it and it was my first attempt too! I served it with rosemary potatoes and it made a change from the traditional xmas meal.
        I have to confess that I have made it again and it turned out even better than the first one

  • I done this recipe last night for friends it was amazing everyone loved it. The meat was so tender the tomatoes were juicy. Think I’m going to add it to our Christmas table. Thank you.

    • Hi Annie, in short – yes! Prep the lamb day before & leave in your fridge. Remove from fridge about an hour before cooking. Once cooked, rest (covered) for 20-60mins before unwrapping & roasting on high heat to colour. You could cook it the day before wrapped, let it cool then pop it in the fridge. Reheat the next day while wrapped for an hour before unwrapping to roast. (Just make sure you get it in the fridge quickly once cooled & is piping hot when reheated the next day). Let me know how you get on!

  • Cooked this at the weekend and it was fabulous, thank you. So tender and just fell off the bones. Plus there was also so much juice for mopping up with crusty bread too. I didn’t add tomatoes as had none bit will next time.

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