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 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.
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!
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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.
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 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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Kleftiko – Greek Slow Cooked Lamb Recipe:
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
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:
- First; season your meat all over.
- Then lay out a large piece of foil; and prepare the base to sit the meat on.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Wrap in foil several times to ensure it is sealed.
- 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.
- Pop into the oven at 165C/330F for about 4 hours for a whole shoulder (about 4 hours for only half a shoulder) – if in doubt – leave it in longer rather than less.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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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