Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Greek lamb

An acquaintance of mine who just started reading my blog, asked me the other day if I was a vegetarian. I guess I can see where he's coming from. I haven't posted a recipe containing meat of any kind since the beginning of February and the total number of meat/poultry recipes on the blog is fifteen. I actually couldn't believe it when I counted them. Only fifteen?

Truthfully, I have no idea how this happened because, dear reader, I'm not a vegetarian nor I think I could ever become a vegetarian. The thing is, I love meat, I just choose not to cook red meat often. Chicken, I have every week.

When I do eat red meat, I make a big deal out of it. I want it to be special and I always cook dishes that I absolutely love, like pork souvlaki, mousakas, grilled rib-eye steak, keftedakia (meatballs), a good kokkinisto (veal in tomato sauce), or pastitsada.

By the way, I desperately want to share with you my recipes for all the aforementioned dishes that I haven't shared with you already, and it will happen, one at a time, I promise. We're off to a very good start with this one though. Greek leg of lamb roasted in the oven with potatoes.

You know, everybody thinks that Greeks eat lamb all the time. Let me tell you this, we don't. Us Greeks love lamb but it's a special occasion-kind of meat. We always eat it on Pascha (Easter day) and it is usually reserved for celebrations and Sunday big family lunches, where grilled lamb chops and lamb roasted in the oven are special treats. Oh, and mousakas and pastitsio, two famous Greek dishes that I'm sure you're familiar with, are never made with minced lamb but with minced veal.

Ok, now that I got that off my chest, let's talk about this dish, my favorite lamb dish. Whenever I cook it, I'm instantly transported back to my childhood, when I would wake up to the smell of lamb roasting in the oven. My mom would always slow cook it for hours, making everyone crazy with hunger.

This is the way I've learned how to cook it, no frills, no flamboyant preparations, just simple flavors that depend on the quality of the lamb. Preferably spring lamb, which is the lamb of choice in Greece.

The combination of crispy skin, flavorful, succulent meat with lemony, garlicky accents and melt in the mouth potatoes that are fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside, is a magnificent one. There's no going back to any other kind of lamb dish after tasting this one, trust me.

Arni me Patates sto Fourno (Greek Oven-Roasted Leg of Lamb with Potatoes)

The way the potatoes are cut for this dish, a traditional Greek way to cut potatoes for oven-roasting, is called "kidonates", which means like a quince, because they resemble quince wedges. Cut in this way, the potatoes take a longer time to cook, which is why they're added to the roasting pan from the start along with the lamb.

It's best if you trim the excess fat off the lamb, leaving just a thin layer of it that will keep the meat juicy, not only because it's healthier but also because the fat tends to make the flavor of the lamb very heavy.

Serve the meat on individual plates, arrange some potatoes on the side and drizzle with the cooking juices. Put some dijon mustard, or any other kind of mustard you prefer, on the side of your plate and dip your forkful of lamb in it. That's the way to go. Along with a glass of white wine, yes white wine works with lamb, believe me, or a cold glass of beer, a rocket salad or a Greek Horiatiki salad, and of course lots of bread to dip in the juices, you're all set. Enjoy!

Yield: 4 servings

1½ - 2 kg leg of lamb, on the bone, trimmed of extra fat
6-7 large, floury potatoes, peeled and cut in large wedges ("kidonates")
2 large lemons, freshly juiced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
150 ml good-quality olive oil (I always use extra virgin)
250-300 ml water
1 tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper

Special equipment: roasting pan, large enough to hold the lamb and the potatoes

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius.

Place the leg of lamb in the roasting pan and score it on 8-9 different places (bottom and top of the leg), making small incisions that will fit half of a garlic clove. Squeeze a garlic clove-half into each incision with your thumb and scatter the rest of the garlic clove halves on the roasting pan.
Arrange the potato wedges around the lamb, in one layer. Sprinkle the lamb and the potatoes with salt, black pepper and dried oregano on all sides.
Drizzle with the olive oil and add the lemon juice over the lamb and potatoes.
Add the water on the bottom of the roasting pan and jiggle the pan around to mix the liquids.

Place the pan on the low rack of the preheated oven and roast for about 2 hours (for well done), turning the potatoes (being careful not to break them up) and lamb over halfway, and checking from time to time to see whether the potatoes need more water. You don't want them to be dry.
If you like your lamb rare or medium-rare, you may want to check it after 1 hour and 15 minutes. Make a cut with a knife in the middle of the leg and check the color. If it's too pink for your liking, cook it for a little longer.

Remove the pan from the oven, allow to stand for 10 minutes and then serve.


  1. This does look a dish so good it should be appreciated on a special day.

  2. Love, love, love greek lamb!!

  3. I miss Greek food so much! I've been following your blog for awhile now-thank you for posting authentic, delicious recipes in English! :)

  4. A classic! I tend to forget to cook meat also but if I see this on the table, I guarantee you I will savor tons of it!

  5. Thanks for this recipe, Magda! I have only once roasted a leg of lamb and it was a disaster. I need to try this - it looks amazing. ~ David

  6. Denise — it does, doesn't it?

    Pola — me me me too! :)

    christine_medina — I'm so glad you enjoy my food. Thank you!

    joumana — my boyfriend always reminds me to cook meat but it seems like I'm forgetting to do any posts about it. Time to rectify that!

    David — only once? Oh, you must get back in the game. I hope you enjoy it!

  7. Magda, This lamb looks so succulent! It is such a special dish. I cannot tell you how much I love lamb cooked this way. I also can't express to you the amazingness of those potatoes!

  8. Looks wonderful! My husband loves lamb and our anniversary is coming up, I'll have to give it a try. I've butterflied and grilled legs of lamb, but have never oven roasted one.

  9. Mmm looks great! I will definitely bookmark this to be my first lamb recipe!

  10. Anna — I'm very happy you like the dish. I do hope you give it a try!

    Rinsewind — oh you must try it. It is a special dish, perfect for an anniversary!

    sweetmaddy — good luck to you, I hope you enjoy it!

  11. I have a serious soft spot for lamb, and when I saw these photos I really wished I was invited for dinner, but you live a little far.... :)

  12. Lamb is my absolute favorite meat and my mouth is watering just looking at your pictures.

  13. The smells coming from a leg of lamb roasting in the oven is so good. The potatoes must pick up all the delicious tastes and be delicious.

  14. beautiful succulent lamb. I'd be crazy with hunger growing up in your house too. love learning about the special way to cut the potatoes. (like you, I rarely post meat-based things--not sure why that is.)

  15. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

  16. Looks like a great recipe thank you. But what happened to cooking Greek Lamb for 6 hours etc, 2 hours seems a short time?

    1. No one I know cooks 1½ kg of lamb for 6 hours. 2 hours is enough, trust me.

  17. Wonder how to obtain that perfect blend of juices from the fat, olive oil, lemonjuice, and water. Just so it is enough to scoop up some sauce, but not too much to keep meat and potatoes crisp. Some receipies ask for wine, do you?

    1. I'm not sure exactly what you mean. The perfect blend of the juices happens on its own when you cook the lamb and potatoes with all the ingredients I have listed. No need to add anything else, or wine. In Greece we don't make gravy or the like. We always serve the dish with the juices from the pan that are naturally delicious. I have never added wine to this dish but you can try it if you think it would help. Traditional Greek cooking is very simple ;)

    2. Yes very simple but again very challenging; my mom is Greek and I have done the chicken in the oven many many times. Turned out ok, but never as good as the real thing. Must be the proportiones, the timing, and every other detail that goes into it. No wine it is. Rather drink it.

  18. This looks delicious! I remember the many lamb dishes I tried while visiting Athens, maybe I can recreate the experience at home with your recipe!