Oh how many ways to cook a lamb there are. I’m just a Greek guy sharing the many ways. You have braised, boiled, grilled, rotisserie and roast. Then you have your whole lamb, or sections of lamb on the spit, leg of lamb, shoulder, chops, steaks and in this case, the shank.
All these recipes are also interchangeable with goat, another oft’enjoyed meat by Greeks, a little more expensive, not as fatty and coveted more than lamb. I can interchange/enjoy both meats, which are a joy to cook and a pleasure to present for a meal. Oh, as if I would forget…delicious!
Today, I’m sharing a method of cooking lamb that’s utilized by Greek homes and tavernas and restaurants: roast lamb wrapped in parchment paper. It’s important to know that it’s NOT wax paper – do not use the latter with this recipe. Parchment paper can be found in the baking section of your supermarket as it’s often used to line baking sheets for cookies and other sweets and treats.
Parchment’s next most popular use is “en papillote”, where a packet of fish or seafood (or other protein) is paired with a starch and vegetables and bundled up and thrown in the oven and then presented to your table of guests. I like this presentation and most people like surprises…as long as the surprise is a tasty one!
One of the traditional pairings with lamb is potatoes, you need lemons, lots of garlic, fresh herbs and a favourite for Greeks…firm sheep’s milk cheese. In this case Kefalotyri cheese.
I emphasize a firm sheep’s milk cheese that bursts with flavour and little of it will melt, retaining it’s shape and giving each portion some bursts of cheezy goodness. This cheese is sharp and in this instance I cut it up into small cubes. You can find Kefalotryi cheese at your Greek grocer and the shop keeper will surely carry it. IF you don’t haveÂ Greek grocer in your area, a firm Pecorino Roamno will also work well.
Most of you will have access to lamb, be it local or imported. Here in the province of Ontario we are lucky to have our own source of lamb and quite frankly, I wonder who buys those piles of frozen New Zealand sitting in supermarket freezers? I could eat either but local is my preference.
This dish is not difficult, with the most valued “ingredient” being time. You will need just over two hours for this dish to be a success: moist lamb meat that falls off the bone, aromatic, delicious and easy on the eye. Lamb goes wonderfully with potatoes and both lamb and potatoes demand a little citrus in the mix. Add some fresh herbs and seasoning and the dish is nearly complete.
I also love the addition of sweet paprika, a warm and subtle spice that enhances both the flavour and colour of the potatoes and lamb. Paprika (sweet, hot and smoked) are all derived from ripe red peppers that are dried and then ground into a powder that you and I recognize as paprika. In my parents’ home town, sweet, hot and smoked paprika are sold by local vendors and we always bring some back.
The packaging of this dish is the last link and you may take the time to bundle up individual portions or just go family style, as I did. I used lamb shanks in this case but you can also use pieces of leg or shoulder. I though shanks would make for a good presentation, my family agreed, empty plates, empty wine bottles and satiated Greeks. What’s on your plate for next Sunday’s dinner?
6 lamb shanks
1 head of garlic
1/2 stick of melted butter
coarse sea salt
fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp. of fresh thyme
6 small sprigs of fresh rosemary
12-15 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup of olive oil
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. of sweet paprika
Kefalotyri cheese, cubed
2 sheets of parchment paper
Pre-heated 350F oven
- Smash your head of garlic, remove the skins and cut the cloves of garlic into slivers. Using a paring knife 9or other small knife), insert the knife into the lamb shanks then insert a sliver of garlic inside, then remove the knife from the opening. Pierce and insert slivers of garlic all over your lamb shanks. Add any remaining garlic into a large bowl.
- Now add your potatoes, your olive oil, sweet paprika, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper, cubes of Kefalotyri cheese. Toss to coat and reserve.
- Melt your butter in a microwave or on your stovetop and pour over your lamb shanks and rub all over. Now season with coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Now take two large sheets of parchment paper and center in your baking sheet/vessel. Lay one sheet vertically and then the other horizontally.
- Place your lamb shanks in the middle and now empty the potatoes (plus liquid and cheese) all around the lamb shanks. Sprinkle the fresh thyme leaves over your lamb shanks and then place a small sprig of rosemary on top of each shank.
- Bring up the four flaps of parchment to the middle and twist to close up the opening. Use some butcher’s twine to tie-up and secure the package.
- Place your lamb package in your pre-heated 350F oven and bake for 2 hours. Remove from the oven and snip the butcher’s twine and open up the package. Place back in the oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until the lamb takes on a lovely brown colour.
- Remove from the oven and place on a serving platter and serve. Divide into portions of a lamb shank, some roast potatoes and some cubes of Kefalotyri cheese and spoon over some pan juices.
- Serve with an Alpha Estate Syrah.
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