Greek kleftiko is a traditional Greek dish of slow cooked lamb and potatoes.
The Origin Of Kleftiko
Kleftiko comes from the Greek word kléftis which means thief. This doesn’t tell you much other than the fact it has something to do with thieves. So let me tell you the story how I was told it.
A long, long time ago in the Greek mountains lived farmers who had lots of sheep. These farmers used to fear their lambs safety because it had become tradition that thieves would come and steal their lambs. These thieves would go unnoticed. They would steal the lamb and cook it in an underground pit they had dug to hide the aroma and smoke so the wouldn’t get caught.
What is Kleftiko?
Kleftiko is a Greek dish of slow cooked lamb and potatoes. But this isn’t your typical roast lamb. When cooked right the lamb is so succulent it falls off of the bone and the potatoes are so soft they cut like butter.
It’s roast lamb and potatoes on another level.
Have you heard of pulled pork? Or any kind of pulled meat?
Well because Kleftiko is slow cooked on a low heat the lamb not only falls off of the bone but each fibre falls off simultaneously just like pulled meat. The only difference is that with kleftiko you don’t need to physically pull the meat with two forks (or however you choose to pull your meat), the lamb just separates when you push your fork in.
When it comes to kleftiko the slow cooked lamb is always the hero but I would like to take a minute and talk about the potatoes. Kleftiko potatoes are like no other kind of potato.
If you are looking for the perfect roast potatoes that are crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy in the center then click here for my perfect toast potato recipe. Kleftiko potatoes are velvety and soft. Kind of like a cross between a boiled and mashed potato, with the texture of butter and a subtle meaty flavour.
How To Make Kleftiko Slow Cooked Lamb And Potatoes
Kleftiko slow cooked lamb and potatoes are really easy to make. The hardest part is waiting for it to cook.
Watch how I make my traditional kleftiko slow cooked lamb and potatoes below
What Cut Of Lamb To Use
I like to use lamb shoulder for my kleftiko because it gives the best flavour. It is fattier than other cuts but when the fat renders out onto the potatoes, trust me, you will be thank me.
What Type Of Potato
If you ask any Greek they will probably say you should use ‘Cyprus Potatoes’. I know they are not as common as Maris Piper or a King Edward potatoes so that is why I used Maris Piper potatoes in my video below and I can honestly say there wasn’t that much of a difference. Just make sure to peel your potatoes.
My Mum always flavours her kleftiko with salt, pepper, bay leaves and cloves. I’ve continued flavouring my kleftiko slow cooked lamb and potatoes with these flavours. But you are not limited to these flavours. You can experiment with mint, oregano, thyme, rosemary, garlic cloves, onions, whatever tickles your fancy.
I suggest you try with my flavour combination first to see what a traditional kleftiko tastes like and then have fun experimenting.
What To Cook Your Kleftiko In
I’ve grown up always eating kleftiko slow cooked in a clay pot which produces the most tender lamb and succulent potatoes. I know a lot of you wont have a clay pot so I will show you how to make it in a roasting tray, Dutch oven or whatever you usually cook your roast dinner.
In A Clay Pot
If you have a traditional clay pot I have a great tip for you. Fill your pot up with water and swirl it around so all of the inside of your pot covered. Now pour all the water out. This is for two reasons:
- To stop our clay pot cracking in the hot oven
- The little bits of water left behind will steam up in the heat and soften our lamb and potatoes
When using a clay pot you have to work in layers. Your bottom layer should always be potatoes, so when all the lambs juices drip down they can saturate as much of the potatoes with delicious flavour. Make sure you finish with a layer of lamb. If there are any potatoes above the meat gravity will make sure those potatoes wont get covered with delicious meaty flavour and they wont taste as good.
Always season your lamb and potatoes first with salt and pepper first. Add a layer of potatoes and a few bay leaves. Then a layer of lamb and a few cloves. A layer of potatoes and a few bay leaves. A layer of lamb and a few cloves and continue layering this way, but make sure to end with a layer of lamb.
Add a layer of foil over your clay pots opening to seal in the heat, put the lid on and then cook in the oven.
Dutch Oven Or Roasting Tray
If you are using a Dutch oven or roasting tray you wont be able to have as many layers. But you can still have a few. Start with your potatoes on the base Add your bay leaves. Then a layer of meat and a few cloves. If you can, try with another layer of potatoes and bay leaves. Make sure you can fit a layer of lamb above so it can render as much flavour onto your potatoes.
Add a splash of water to your pan so it can steam up in the oven and make your lamb and potatoes soft and juicy. Cover your Dutch oven or roasting tray with a 3 layers of foil to keep as much of the heat in as possible and then cook in the oven.
Cooking Times For Your Kleftiko
There are two ways you can cook your kleftiko, it just depends on how much time you have.
If You Have A lot Of Time
When I say a lot of time I’m talking 6-7 hours.
Preheat your oven on the highest heat for at least 30 minutes. Turn your oven temperature down to 170C and cook for 6-7 hours. Or until your lamb is falling off of the bone and your potatoes are soft and tender.
If You Are In A Rush
Preheat your oven on the highest heat for at least 30 minutes. Cook your kleftiko for 30 minutes on the highest temperature. Turn your oven temperature down to 170C and cook for 2-3 hours. Or until your lamb is falling off of the bone and your potatoes are soft and tender.
What To Serve With Your Kleftiko
I like to serve my kleftiko with some pourgouri, Greek salad, taramosalata, houmous, tzatziki, Kalamata olives, chillies and some crusty bread to soak up all the kleftiko’s juices and to dip in the dips.
- 2 kg lamb shoulder
- 1 kg potatoes
- Bay leaves
- Clay pot / Dutch oven / Roasting Tray
- Preheat your oven to it's highest temperature
- Season your lamb and potatoes with salt and pepper
- Add a layer of potatoes to your pot/tray
- Add 2-3 bay leaves on top
- Add a layer of lamb
- Sprinkle over 3-4 cloves
- Add a layer of potatoes and a few bay leaves
- Add another layer of lamb and cloves and continue layering. Make sure to finish with a layer of meat.
- If you are using a clay pot add a layer of foil over the top then add your lid. If you are using a Dutch oven or a roasting tray wrap everything in 3 layers of foil.
If You Have A lot Of Time
- Preheat your oven to the highest heat for at least 30 minutes then turn your oven temperature down to 170C and cook for 6-7 hours or until your lamb is falling off of the bone and your potatoes are soft and tender.
If You Are In A Rush
- Preheat your oven to the highest heat for at least 30 minutes. Cook your kleftiko for 30 minutes on the highest temperature then turn your oven temperature down to 170C and cook for 2-3 hours or until your lamb is falling off of the bone and your potatoes are soft and tender.
Did You Know?
For the first time ever a few years ago I got to try kleftiko cooked in a clay oven when we went to Cyprus. It was amazing! I filed the whole experience from lighting the clay oven to all of us sitting down and enjoying our kleftiko. Click here for my Cyprus Travel Guide vlog if you want to see it plus more of our adventures.
If you make my kleftiko recipe let me know what you thought in the comments below or tag me in your kleftiko pictures on Instagram @gg_mix
If you are wanting to go with the Greek theme why not try one of my delicious Greek desserts like kataifi, galaktoboureko, Greek frappe cheesecake, or bougatsa for dessert? Or how about a tasty Greek coffee or Frappe (“,)