‘kleftiko’ (mountain-thief) roast leg of lamb‘kleftiko’ (mountain-thief) roast leg of lamb‘kleftiko’ (mountain-thief) roast leg of lamb‘kleftiko’ (mountain-thief) roast leg of lamb‘kleftiko’ (mountain-thief) roast leg of lamb‘kleftiko’ (mountain-thief) roast leg of lamb‘kleftiko’ (mountain-thief) roast leg of lamb‘kleftiko’ (mountain-thief) roast leg of lamb‘kleftiko’ (mountain-thief) roast leg of lamb

"YEAH, GO STEAL A LEG OF LAMB TODAY !" (a whole lamb would be too much to ask, but you are forgiven) . . . ARNI (lamb) KLEFTIKO (stolen) is the name of this dish. I can almost picture the scene : me stealing a lamb from a farm in the countryside and dragging the thing back to my Parisian apartment by bus, train, subway … A pilot for a new urban/rural/comical/cooking tv series ?!

The name actually refers to the Kleftes (or Klephtes) mountain-living & hiding  rebels considered to be bandits or thieves during the Ottoman Empire occupation of Greece from the 15th until the 19th century. The “kleftes” would steal lambs and goats and actually slow-cook them in buried clay pots over hot embers to avoid being discovered and caught from the wafting smoke trails and escaping mouth-watering smells.

This is the spring & summer VERSION #3 of the roasted leg of lamb recipes (and probably the last unless I decide to experiment with a dark, mysterious & smoky version #4). The previous 2 versions were a sweeter & milder winter version with dried fruits and chestnuts (see recipe here) and before that, the more earthy autumn version actually cooked in a nest of hay but still similar in flavor & spirit as this one (see recipe here) but not quite the same.

As you may know, Easter is coming around quite early this year (earlier for the Catholic and Protestant version and 1 week later for the Orthodox) but still too early since it still feels like winter. I guess everyone will be making their roasted leg of lamb in the oven this year and not outside on a spit which is a “whole different story” and “vibe” and probably the best cooking experience and memory you can ever have because it’s kind of chaotic (in a good way) and everybody around just keeps picking the meat off (and delicately stuffing their faces) as the whole beast is still turning and cooking” … very “old school” !

The idea here is that the sealing (no, not stealing) & wrapping of the whole thing (meat & vegetables) in a “paper parcel” requires much slower and lower cooking, providing a very tender, melt-in-your-mouth result, finalized by a finishing touch of quick high-temperature flash of heat in a hotter oven to crisp everything up.

Yeah, it’s my favorite way to make this.

I wish I could be doing this will all my family members (immediate, second and third cousins, removed and twice removed members and the whole village) in some countryside pasture in Greece, preferably up north near Mount Olympus in the village of Pythio (in the valley) or even better in beautiful Livadi (perched on a hill) close-by and both in Larissa, Thessaly, northern Greece.

Now there’s another childhood memory (I think) but who really remembers what’s real and what’s imagined anymore ?! . . . :)

‘kleftiko’ (mountain-thief) roast leg of lamb




meat :

  • 2 kg leg of lamb (frozen or fresh spring lamb if possible)

1st primer marinade/baste :

  • 60 ml (¼ cup) lemon juice
  • 12,5 grams (1 tbsp) sea salt (or a mix with lemon salt and/or smoked salt)
  • 25 grams (3 large cloves) garlic (sliced thinly into 24 slices)

2nd marinade (half for the meat & half for the vegetables) :

  • 120 ml (½ cup) lemon juice
  • 120ml (½ cup) olive oil
  • 30 grams (2 tbsp) grainy mustard
  • 30 grams (2 tbsp) shallot (grated)
  • 10 grams (2 tsp) anchovy paste (or 4 mashed anchovies)
  • 6 grams (2 tbsp) dried oregano
  • 6 grams (2 tbsp) fresh rosemary needles
  • 25 grams (2 tbsp) sea salt
  • 2 grams (1 tsp) ground mixed peppercorns (white, black, green, pink, allspice)
  • 2 grams (10 whole) fresh bay leaves (kept separately from the marinade)

vegetables :

  • 1,25 kg (18-24) small potatoes (washed & unpeeled & halved)
  • 250 grams (6-8) small onions (peeled & halved)
  • 50 grams (6-8 large) garlic cloves (whole & skins removed)
  • optional : 4 lemon quarters (1 sliced lemon after squeezing)
  • + add 1 tbsp coarse wheat or corn semolina to the mixed vegetables (it helps absorb the extra water while baking and crisps the potatoes and onions


  • prepare the 1st primer marinade/baste of lemon juice and salt, slice the garlic thinly and cut 24 small slits all over the leg of lamb
  • insert the sliced garlic in the slits, pour the lemon juice and salt mixture all over the leg of lamb, collect the drippings and repeat several times and let sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes
  • prepare the marinade for the meat and the vegetables by hand or in a food processor (except for the bay leaves and rosemary that remain whole)
  • baste the leg of lamb with half of the marinade, add 6 bay leaves and then wrap tightly in cling film and reserve in the refrigerator overnight or preferably up to 24 hours
  • when ready, slice the vegetables, toss with the remaining marinade (add some more olive oil if you like) and reserve (add the wheat semolina only at the end of the baking)
  • preheat the oven to 150°C
  • use a very long and wide piece of waxed/baking paper about 1 meter long (I used 2 sheets) and lay it in a large baking dish, place the vegetables on the bottom and the lamb on top (after removing the plastic film) and fold/wrap well like an enormous  envelope or gift (I used staples to secure the 2 smaller sheets and the wrapping and brushed the edges with oil), cover the dish with a large sheet of aluminum foil and place inside the pre-heated oven
  • bake for 4-5 hours and use a meat thermometer (standard or digital) pierced through the paper into the meat to test the internal temperature or “doneness” of the meat, (when it has reached 50°C it is rare, 55°C is medium-rare, 60°C is medium, 65°C is well-done, 70°C is very well-done), remove from the oven when ready and to your preference (but ideal and safest between 60°C and 65°C)
  • turn the oven temperature up to 210°C
  • open up the wrapping (beware of the steam), remove the leg of lamb, stir the vegetables and recuperate most of the juices at the bottom (about 2 cups that you can reduce by simmering into a thicker sauce), toss the vegetables with the semolina, place the leg of lamb back on top of the vegetables and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes on each side, and 5 minutes on 'broil' for each side, remove the leg of lamb from the oven, wrap it up in aluminum and let it rest 10-15 minutes on the counter and roast the vegetables for an additional 10-15 minutes if you like them crispier or simply turn off the oven to keep them warm
  • slice and serve the lamb with some vegetables and sauce.