"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 ?! . . . :)