A few years ago I attended the annual Cypriot Festival, as hosted by Toronto’s Cypriot Community here in Toronto. There were lots of regional dishes from Cyprus but I was intrigued the most by the large chunks of meat that were slow-roasting over a charcoal rotisserie.
The Cypriots’ preferred way to roast lamb (or goat) on the rotisserie is to skewer large chunks of shoulder and leg on the long spit and roast it in the same way main-lander Greeks do with a whole lamb. This style of lamb is made for Easter Sunday, festivals and other celebratory occasions.
The downside is that you don’t get the “whole lamb” spectacle, the the cost of buying chunks of leg and shoulder will cost more than whole lamb but the pluses are many:
- you get more meat per pound (or kil0) than whole lamb
- you can enjoy rotisserie lamb even if you don’t have the amount of dinner guests needed to do a whole lamb
- the cooking time is shorter than doing whole lamb
The Cypriots call this style of roasting lamb simply as “souvla” but this method is not exclusive to Cypriot cuisine. On mainland Greece, some also enjoy this method and it is called “arni (lamb) kontosouvli”. Prepping the meat involves having your butcher cut lamb leg and shoulder into large chunks…about the size of a grapefruit.
I had my meat prepared by Kostas Meat Market, here in the east end of Toronto. Looking to do souvla, tell Kosta “Peter from Kalofagas” sent you! After, you can season/marinate the meat to your liking. Me? I like using minced onions and garlic, bay leaves, sweet paprika, salt and pepper. That’s it. I should point out that the chunks are large so you have to season your meat well. I like seasoning the meat with salt and pepper along with the marinade – it gets deep into the meat.
I don’t baste my lamb during the cooking process anymore, preferring to allow the lamb to slow cook, allow the fat to render and self-baste the meat and when the lamb has been finally cooked, I’ll toss the lamb chunks in a “ladolemono” or Greek lemon & oil dressing….with dried Greek oregano of course!
Serve this meat as a one of your meat offerings or as the main for your gathering. Be patient, cook the lamb high above the charcoal and cook low and slow. Souvla should take about 2 1/2 – 3 hours to cook. Don’t rush – this is slow food at its best and you’ll be rewarded with tender, flavourful lamb.
Cypriot Style Lamb Souvla
approx. 15 lbs. of lamb leg and shoulder, cut into approx. 4-5 inch chunks
5 medium sized onions, quartered
1 head of garlic, skins removed
1/4 cup sweet paprika
8-10 fresh bay leaves
approx. 1/2 cup fine salt
1/4 cup black pepper
- In a blender or food processor, add the onions, garlic and paprika and process until a paste. Place your lamb chunks in a tub large enough to hold them and empty the contents of the food processor plus bay leaves onto the lamb and mix well with your hands.
- Now add salt and pepper and mix well with your hands. Cover the tub and place in the fridge overnight. The next day, skewer the meat on your clean spit and inserting the bay leaves between each chunk of meat.
- Ensure your charcoal is of medium-low heat and the spit is placed at the highest position on your rotisserie. Your goal is to slow roast the meat. Slow-roast your lamb for 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 hours or until the meat is dark brown. The meat should appear to be moist, glistening. Carefully spit from the rotisserie and place on a large tray and cover with foil. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, mix 1 cup of olive oil with 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/3 cup dried Greek oregano in a large jar. Seal with a lid and shake. Open, taste and adjust seasoning. Remove the meat from the spit and place in a roasting pan. Toss the oil/lemon sauce into the meat and serve with Greek roast potatoes.
- Serve with a Heritage Maratheftiko red from Cyprus.
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