As one of the most ubiquitous Greek dishes, it is surprising that very few cookbooks give a recipe for it. Basically a braised lamb shank, kleftiko is simple in the extreme and is therefore open to many interpretations. Expatriates and Greek restaurateurs will doubtless state their case in due course, when they take exception to this version, but for the time being assume that it is as authentic as any version not cooked on an island in the Aegean. The shank is the bottom portion of the leg, which when trimmed, presents nicely as an individual if substantial joint. Serve it with plain boiled rice or mashed potatoes. Play Zorba’s Dance as you frisk the plates to the table.
Rub the shanks generously with salt and pepper, then brown them vigorously all over in a frying pan in
Add some more olive oil to the frying pan and, over a low heat, sweat the onions until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and fry for 2 minutes, then transfer to the casserole, distributing around the shanks.
Over a high heat, deglaze the pan with the wine, stirring and scraping, then pour over the lamb. Add the can of chopped plum tomatoes with its liquid, the bay leaf and oregano. Bring to the boil, put on the lid and lower the heat to a bare simmer. Check from time to time that it is not drying out, adding a little water if it does. Test the meat is done after 90 minutes. Depending on the size of the shanks, it may be; if not, continue cooking until the meat is tender enough to pull easily from the bone.
Taste and season about 5 minutes before you judge the meat will be cooked. Remove the shanks and keep warm on serving plates. Discard the bay leaf and transfer the tomato and onion mixture to a food processor. Blitz briefly and pass through a sieve. Spoon this sauce around the shanks and dress with lots of coarsely chopped flat-leaved parsley.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.