The Use of Lamb in Greek Cooking
According to the Economic Union (E.U.), sheep and goats provide about six percent of the agriculture production in Greece. These large populations of sheep and goats have made both meats popular in native cooking. The Greeks, however, prefer lamb for holidays and celebrations.
Greece’s terrain and ecological system is grass sparse and mountainous. According the Encyclopedia of nations, 70 percent of Greece cannot be farmed because of poor soil conditions. This makes raising large grass feed animals, such as beef an expensive proposition for the farmers. Sheep, on the other hand, provide not only meat, but also give milk to be used in making cheeses, and wool for clothing making them a valuable commodity. In some parts of Greece, sheep were considered a sign of wealth and women seeking marriage often used sheep as part of their dowry.
Lamb and Easter
Lamb also has a historic significance in the Greek Orthodox Religion making it the meat eaten during a traditional Easter feast. In Greek, the word Easter is Pascha derived from the Jewish word “Pesach” for Passover. Greek Orthodox Christians believe that, like the lamb from Passover, Jesus sacrificed himself to give us eternal life. In remembrance of this sacrifice, Greek Orthodox Christians eat lamb the way Moses’ people did at the first Passover when the Angel of Death “Passed Over” their homes.
Best Time to Buy Lamb
Many Greeks in America believe eating lamb in the spring is just a tradition, but there is a culinary reason, also. When purchasing lamb buy only the “Spring Lamb”. This lamb is the best to cook, because it was harvested at a young age prior to it eating grass. The meat at this time is less fatty, tender, and it does not smell when it cooks. Older lambs tend to have a tougher meat, tend to be greasy, and have such an overpowering taste that it becomes the only flavor of a dish.
Cuts of Lamb
Most Greeks purchase a “Spring Lamb” once a year normally during Easter. Whole lambs are often cooked on spits and roasted slowly throughout the day, but most households purchase their lambs cut. The head is often used for soup, while the front part of the lamb is cut into pieces for stews. The hind portions are cut into what is known as a “Leg of Lamb”. One hind portion should give a buyer to legs of lamb and two rump roasts.
The Sotiropoulos Family Easter Lamb Recipe
The most popular way Greeks eat lamb is by roasting it. Each family has their own recipe for cooking lamb. To find a recipe try looking online or use our family recipe which has been modified over the years so that we can cook it in an oven and avoid the endless turning of the spit and the constant basting.
One leg of “Spring Lamb”
The juice of one lemon
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Three cloves of Fresh Garlic
Three sprigs of Greek Oregano or one tsp of Dried Greek Oregano (If using fresh Oregano make sure to remove it from the sprigs and chop finely)
One pinch (this is literal I mean a pinch) of salt and One pinch of pepper
- Pre-heat over to 350 degrees
- Cut all hanging fat, rinse leg, and place on a cutting board
- Take the three cloves of Fresh Garlic. Peel and cut each clove into quarters. If done correctly you’ll have 36 slivers of garlic.
- Take a very sharp knife and cut thirty-six small slits of various depths around the leg of lamb making sure they’re spread evenly apart.
- Place one sliver of garlic into each of the 36 cuts and put the lamb into a covered roasting pan.
- Using a measuring cup where you measured the olive oil, add the lemon juice, the Greek Oregano, salt and pepper. Add one tsp of water and mix until the top forms tiny bubbles that stick to the cup.
- Take this mixture and pour half of it over the leg of lamb, making sure to rub it into the meat with clean hands. Once the meat is covered in the marinade, flip it over and do the other side.
- Place meaty side up in pan and cover.
- Cooking time vary depending on personal taste. The Greeks prefer well done to the bone. The lamb will be completely cooked when its pierce with a fork and the juices run clear.