This is a story about my father, a young man in the 1950’s, about to leave his island home of Kythera to come to the great unknown land of Australia.
He had to obtain his papers to travel to Australia, so he set out for Athens to get the paperwork completed. His father gave him a live lamb to take as a gift to his hosts in Athens, with whom he would be staying and who would help him with the government officials (one never goes to another home empty handed!).
He arrived at the port of Kythera where a large ship was moored. In those days, there was no pier where the ship might anchor. Instead, passengers would board a smaller boat and would be transported to deeper water to board the ship.
So my father with his small pack of luggage, some garden produce wrapped in a cloth and the lamb, boarded the small boat. There was a look of horror from the other passengers when they saw the animal. “Get this animal off the boat! they exclaimed. The young man stood his ground. “No, you get off the boat!”, he retorted. On seeing the fierce determination of this young man, the passengers settled back into the boat and they were able to continue the journey.
My father made the journey with his small pack of luggage and lamb to Athens, and obtained his travel papers. At age 18, it would be a long journey to the other side of the world, and he would not return for yet another 18 years to his homeland.
We don’t know what happened to the lamb, but it is likely to have been enjoyed by the family as a hearty meal of Roast Lamb.
Roast Lamb ON THE SPIT with Oregano and Lemon
This is an iconic Greek dish, the herb flavours permeate the rich meat. Lamb is traditionally eaten at Easter, which occurs in Spring in the northern hemisphere. In Australia, we are lucky enough to have access to lamb all year round. Ideally you will have an spit with a motor to make the cooking of the lamb easier.
Prep: 20 mins, plus marinating time
Cook Time: Depending on the thickness of the meat, around 1.5 to 2 hours, plus 15 minutes resting time
1 lamb leg (about 1.8 kg or 4 pounds), deboned and left as a whole piece (ask your butcher to assist)
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut into slivers
2 garlic cloves, peeled, extra
3-4 lemons, juiced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons dried oregano (ideally Rigani)
1. Trim lamb of excess fat. Rub salt and pepper onto both sides of the lamb. Using a small sharp knife, make incisions into the flesh of the lamb leg, and put a sliver of garlic into the slit. This will perfume the lamb with garlic. You do not need to cover the whole lamb, about 10-12 incisions spread around should be enough.
2. To make the marinade, mix about two tablespoons salt, 2 teaspoons pepper, chopped fresh oregano and dried oregano in a bowl. Add about 4 tablespoons juice and two tablespoons oil to make a sticky paste, set aside.
3. Slice the lamb into thick slices, about 4 cm wide along across the boned lamb. Rub most of the marinade all over the lamb. Reserve about 3 tablespoons. Leave the lamb to marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours, to allow the flavours to be absorbed.
4. When you are ready to cook, prepare the spit for Roast Lamb. Depending on the type of spit you have, this may involve lighting coals. Ensure that the coals are sufficiently heated before starting the cooking.
5. Remove lamb from refrigerator and let it come to room temperature, this will ensure that the lamb cooks evenly.
6. Thread lamb pieces evenly onto the spit, baste with reserved marinade.
7. Set the spit to rotate and wait until cooked. This will take around 1.5 to 2 hours depending on your heat, and the thickness of the lamb pieces.
8. When the lamb has completed cooking, cut it from the spit, an electric knife is helpful. Remove it to a warm platter, loosely cover with foil and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes.
Serve with tzatziki and pita bread, if desired.