By Nick Andriotakis
Kleftiko is a delicious dish from the time of the Greek revolution when bands of Greek guerrillas, called Klephts, hid in the mountains. In Greek, “kleftiko” means “stolen meat.” In order to survive, Klephts would steal a lamb from a flock as it grazed on a hillside. The thieves would cook the meat over many hours in a hole in the ground. With red hot stones and glowing embers, sealed the hole with soil, so no steam could escape to give them away.
Here is a recipe for a Mythical Arcadian Kleftiko, which is from the region of Tripoli.
– 1 lamb 12-20 kg serves 12-20 people
-Thyme, Greek Oregano, Pepper (to taste)
-1 x Eggplant
-8 x Spanish Onions
-4 x Red Capsicums
-6 x Potatoes
-200gm Greek Anchovies in Olive Oil
-600ml Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil
-Unbleached Calico Cotton sheet 2.5 by 2m
-2m by 1 m hessian. 2 sheets
-Steel mesh 0.5 m wide by 2.5 m long
-6 concrete blocks 150 mm high
-450 mm roll baking paper
-450 mm roll aluminium foil
-Fine stainless steel wire
-400 kg dense large flat rocks 150 mm round by 50mm min thickness egg Basalt, Limestone, or Railway Ballast. (if hole has a rock base use 300 kg rocks)
-20 kg heat beads
-Kindergarten Play Sand
PIT PREPARATION METHOD
-Dig a trench at its base 0.7 m wide by 0.5 deep by 1.8m long. Taper the sides of the trench to form sloping sides with the ends at 45 degrees and the sides at 60 degrees.
-Place in base of trench 6 large concrete blocks. These blocks will act as spacers to create a space between the hot rocks/ ash and the wrapped lamb.
-Line the trench with dense large flat rocks stacking them on edge up the sides of the trench making sure the spacer blocks in the base protrude above the rocks.
-Place hardwood or olive wood firewood into trench over the rocks and light large fire for three hours or until all timber converts to ash ( minimum two hours ). When fire settles down spread half the charcoal heat beads over the rocks .
-Whilst timber is burning over 2-3 hours prepare lamb.
-Finely chop up anchovies and create a paste with added dry oregano. Rub the inside and outside of the lamb with olive oil and the anchovy paste to salt the lamb.
-Sprinkle oregano, thyme and pepper into the cavity and over the outside of the lamb. Cut up vegetables into chunky pieces and insert into the lamb cavity.
-Pour half the olive oil over the vegetables and then begin to sew up the cavity with thread. At the halfway mark shake the cavity to settle down the vegetables and add some more vegetables if there is space and pour in the remainder olive oil. Finish stitching up the cavity and close the front rear holes with dough made from flour and water.
-Envelope the lamb with baking paper at least twice and tie off at the ends. The best way is to overlap foil along its length to create a sheet at least 900 mm wide by the length of the lamb. Envelope the lamb with the aluminium foil and slowly fold and crimp the foil over the lamb. Spread the calico cotton onto the bench and place the lamb onto it and wrap the lamb turning the ends inward like wrapping a large Dolma. Envelope the fine stainless-steel wire creating a helix along the lamb and tie off.
-When fire has died down and charcoal beads are all alight , place on the ground beside the trench the steel mesh. Submerge the first hessian sheet into a bucket of water and spread it out over the steel mesh. Place packaged lamb on the wet hessian sheet and fold sheet over the lamb. Sprinkle more water over the lamb. Submerge the second hessian sheet into a bucket of water and cover the top of the lamb folding and tucking the sheet so it’s contained within the confines of the steel mesh.
-Two people pick up each end of the mesh and lower the lamb into the hole over the hot rocks and ash making sure the ends of the mesh are visible beyond the ends of the hole. Immediately cover the lamb with the washed kindergarten play sand making sure there is at least 200 mm of cover. Shake the mesh a bit to ensure the sand gets under the sides of the wrapped lamb. Cover the sand with normal soil. Depending on the size of lamb allow 18-24 hours of cooking. Three hours before digging up the lamb place about 10 kg charcoal over the soil covering the lamb and ignite.
EXCAVATION & SERVING
Slowly shovel the soil and sand in an even way around the lamb until the hessian sheets are visible. Wear gloves before you touch the hessian as it can be very hot. Pick up the ends of the exposed steel mesh and pull up the lamb in a wriggling motion . Slowly unwrap the hessian and pick up the cotton wrapped lamb onto a bench testing the heat, Cut the helical wire and unwrap the cotton slowly. Make a cut through the foil and baking paper and be careful not to get burnt by the steam as it is very hot. The lamb will be so moist and succulent you can cut it with your fingers so let everyone especially children grab a bit before officially serving it.
Watch how it’s done right here- youtube.com/watch?v=Bh0XFVM19Kg&feature=youtu.be