Lamb Kleftiko

Lamb Kleftiko

During the winter months there is nothing quite like a good roast dinner; succulent meat accompanied by roast potatoes and Yorkshire puds with a rich, meaty gravy.  By time we get to Easter though my thoughts turn to spring and, whilst I still love the traditional roast, I crave some lighter accompaniments.

Spring lamb always seems appropriate at Easter but this year I decided to go Greek and make Lamb Kleftiko.  I served this with a Greek inspired salad of tomatoes, red onions, feta and black olives which is perfect with a little tzatziki on the side.

Lamb Kleftiko, or stolen lamb as it is also known, is a traditional Greek recipe which involves slow cooking a lamb joint with potatoes and herbs all wrapped up in parchment paper.  The name stems from the Klephts; brigands who roamed the Greek mountains and stole food to eat.  (Out of interest “kleptomaniac” has the same linguistic origin.)

Stolen lamb would be cooked in sealed pots buried in a fire pit so that no one would see the fire or smell the meat as it roasted, thus keeping the location of the brigands secret.  Today’s cooking method follows the tradition in the sense that all the flavours and juices are sealed into the paper parcel but unless you bury it in the garden be prepared for some wonderfully tantalising smells.

Eleven years or so ago, Martin and I went out to Greece to learn to sail in the Ionian.  After a day’s lessons we would wander along the rows of tavernas in Nidri, tired and hungry and looking for somewhere to eat.  Kleftiko became a firm favourite for both of us.

Later in the holiday, when we were trusted to sail alone, we visited various Ionian islands and tried Kleftiko again (and again!).  Some tavernas served up simple sliced lamb and potatoes, others delivered individual leg steaks still in their paper parcels.  Lamb and potatoes were constant ingredients but the recipes varied significantly from there with the inclusion of resin rich Greek wine or roasted peppers and, on one occasion, some feta which had been sliced and mixed in with the other ingredients.

You must be tired of hearing me say this by now but it really reinforces the idea of experimentation.  There is no single “correct” way to make this dish.  Play around with it and see what suits you.  I am quite sure that the Klephts cooked whatever they could get their hands on.  I roasted a leg of lamb but a shoulder joint is cheaper and perfect for long, slow cooking too.  You can use any combination of Mediterranean herbs (on the basis of what grows together goes together) and there’s no reason why you couldn’t add some extra veg too.  I used anchovies because I always use anchovies when I roast lamb – they aren’t particularly traditional in Greek cooking but they add a lovely savoury seasoning and you are left with no hint at all of fishiness.

This is a great way to roast lamb giving you sweet, tender meat, the most flavoursome roasties you will ever eat and very little washing up.  What more could you ask for?

Lamb Kleftiko Recipe


2 kg Leg of Lamb

6 Cloves of Garlic

6 Sprigs of Rosemary

A small handful of Fresh Oregano

Zest and Juice of 2 Lemons

4 or 5 Anchovy Fillets (optional)

3 Tbsp Olive Oil

3 Bay Leaves

1 kg Potatoes (skin on, quartered – Desiree or Maris Pipers would work well.)


Pinch out the tips from the rosemary and set aside.  Put the rest of the rosemary sprigs into a large plastic bag (a Ziploc bag works well).  Chop the Oregano and crush 3 cloves of garlic, add them to the bag with the olive oil, lemon zest and juice and the bay leaves.

Peel and slice the remaining 3 cloves of garlic.  Use a sharp knife to make small but deep slits all over the surface of the lamb.  Push small pieces of anchovy, the reserved rosemary tips and slices of garlic into the slits.

Place the leg of lamb into the bag and seal it.  Make sure the meat is well covered in the marinade then put it in the fridge to steep overnight.

Remove the lamb from the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it so that it can return to room temperature.

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas Mark 2

Lay 2 long pieces of greaseproof / parchment paper (one lengthways and one widthways to form a cross) in a roasting tin large enough to hold the leg of lamb.  Put the potatoes into the centre of the paper.  Remove the lamb from the bag and pour the marinade over the potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and toss together to coat the potatoes.

Place the lamb on top and pull up the paper to create a package.  Scrunch the paper together to seal well.  Place in the oven and leave to cook for around 4 hours.  You want it to be tender but slightly under cooked at this point.

Remove the roasting tin from the oven and turn the heat up to 220°C / 425°F / Gas Mark 7.  Open the paper parcel and fold the paper back under the rim of the roasting tin.  Return it to the oven until the joint is browned and glistening (around 30 minutes).  If you have a meat thermometer you want the centre of the joint to be around 60 – 65°C when it comes out of the oven – it will continue to cook as it rests.

Remove the meat from the oven and transfer to a warm plate to rest.

Return the potatoes to the hot oven to brown.

Carve the joint and serve with the potatoes and a Greek salad with some tzatziki on the side.

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