Some of the happiest years of my life have been spent on the beautiful Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Long sun-drenched days roll into balmy summer evenings spent with friends with good food, wine and music.
Cypriot food is a lovely mixture of Greek and Turkish influences. Both cultures have influenced the island cooks, but one of the most popular recipes is Greek-style lamb shanks or Kleftiko.
Incredibly tender and juicy, this meal bursts with flavour and makes a spectacular dinner party feast for a special occasion.
What is Kleftiko?
Kleftiko is a method of cooking meat, usually lamb or goat, in an underground pit. It’s named after the Klephts or thieves, a group of anti-Ottoman highwaymen who lived in the Greek mountains.
Having no flocks, they would steal a goat or sheep and then cook it in an underground pit to avoid detection. This clever cooking method not only hid the smell and smoke from the meat but made it incredibly delicious, no wonder it is so popular!
Some restaurants in Cyprus still cook meat like this, which makes for a fantastic party. But before you get the shovel out and start digging up the back yard, but there is a simple way to create your own Kleftiko at home.
Why this recipe works
To recreate Kleftiko in the home oven, the trick is to wrap the lamb, vegetables and flavourings in a parcel of baking parchment paper. This is how I was taught to make it in Cyprus and it is completely fool proof.
This cooking method (en papillote) traps all the moisture and flavour into the meat, making this tougher cut fall off the bone delicious.
To make my Greek Lamb Shanks Recipe, you’ll need the following main ingredients:
- Lamb Shanks: You can make Kleftiko with larger cuts of lamb like the leg or shoulder, but I prefer shanks. This cut of meat can be packaged up individually and are a little easier on the wallet than a big lamb roast.
- Rosemary, thyme, garlic and lemon: These aromatics add all the flavour to the finished dish.
- Potatoes, tomatoes, olives and red onion: Cooking alongside the lamb in the parcel, they soak up plenty of delicious flavours. Use waxy potatoes for best results.
- Feta: I first tried Kleftiko with feta cheese on the island of Santorini and have never looked back! It melts into the sauce and adds a gorgeous tanginess to the finished dish.
How to make Greek Lamb Shanks
One of the best things about this lamb shank recipe is that it is so easy! There are only 4 main steps.
‘Frenching’ Lamb Shanks
I like to ‘French’ my lamb shanks for the most beautiful presentation. To French your shanks, trim the meat away from the bone around 2.5cm (1 in.) from the end.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Can I make Kleftiko with a different cut of lamb for a larger crowd?
Yes! You’ll need to put it on a big oven tray and wrap it well. Lamb leg or lamb shoulder typically needs much longer. For a 2 kilo / 4 lb. piece of lamb, you’re looking at around 4 hours of oven time.
How can I tell if the lamb is cooked?
If you follow the recipe, the lamb will definitely be cooked after this long in the oven! To test, open one of the packages (yours) and use a fork to pull on the meat. When cooked, it should come easily away from the bone.
Do I need to remove the silver skin from the lamb shanks?
No, these connective tissues will break down while cooking.
What to serve with Greek Lamb Shanks
Though this is a complete meal in one package, no Greek table is complete without a a big, fresh Greek salad and some homemade Tzatziki. For dessert, some Revani / Kalo Prama (lemon semolina cake) or Baklava is always a treat. Click here for more Greek recipes!
Greek Lamb Shanks Kleftiko
Looking for an easy and impressive dinner that is packed with flavour? Look no further! My Kleftiko-style Greek Lamb Shanks Recipe ticks all the boxes. Perfect for a special occasion!
for the marinade:
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- juice of 1 lemon
- splash of white wine
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 sprigs rosemary
for the lamb:
- 4 x 350g (12 oz.) lamb shanks
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 20 kalamata olives
- 8 smallish new potatoes, sliced thickly
- 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 red onions, sliced
- 250g (½ lb.) cherry tomatoes, halved
- small bunch of fresh rosemary, leaves chopped
- small bunch of fresh thyme or fresh oregano, leaves stripped
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 250g (½ lb.) Feta cheese
- 2 Tbsp honey
- sea salt and black pepper
- MARINATE MEAT: Up to 24 hours before cooking, crush the garlic cloves with the side of a knife, leaving them whole. Stir together with the olive oil, lemon, cinnamon and a few grinds of salt. Transfer to a freezer bag, add the lamb shanks, then seal and put in the fridge.
- BROWN SHANKS: Remove lamb shanks from the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking. Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pat the lamb shanks dry with a paper towel, then brown well on all sides for at least 5 minutes.
- PREPARE: Heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas 4 with a rack in the lower third. Stir together the kalamata olives, potatoes, garlic, red onions, cherry tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, lemon juice and olive oil in a large bowl. Season well with salt and pepper.
- ASSEMBLE: Lay two long pieces of baking parchment paper in a cross on the bench top. Place one of the seared lamb shanks on top, then surround it with a quarter of the vegetable mixture. Crumble over some feta cheese and drizzle with honey.
- SEAL PARCELS: Bring up the sides of the paper to make a parcel and tie it with kitchen string or twine. You need to be able to undo this eventually! Fold together any loose edges, then transfer to an oven tray, repeating with all shanks.
- ROAST: Roast in the preheated oven for 2 hours. After two hours, remove the shanks from the oven and turn it right up to 220°C / 425°F / Gas 7. Undo the strings, open up the parcels and return to the oven for 10 minutes.
- SERVE: To serve, lift the parcels onto plates, slide out the bottom piece of parchment paper and trim the top sheet to size. The bone will keep the meat nice and hot so take your time. Drizzle over a little more honey if you like, then serve with a fresh Greek Salad and a bowl of Tzatziki.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 453Total Fat: 29gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 15mgSodium: 252mgCarbohydrates: 45gFiber: 5gSugar: 14gProtein: 6g
Nutrition is calculated automatically and may not always be accurate.
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Delicious will be making this can’t wait to taste it
Hi Rebekka, Lamb Kleftiko is a real is a favourite of mine! I hope you enjoy it 🙂 All the best for the new year! J.
This may sound like a silly question, but…Would using foil work as well? When I worked with parchment paper it seems to get brown rather quickly.
Hi Lyn! Great question! Yes it will, you can tent with foil or use a layer of paper then foil. You may need to add a few minutes to the cooking time as foil deflects the heat a little. Let me know if you
Have any other questions! J.
I made this last night and it was a great hit! My husband was amazed by the taste, as was I. I halfed the recipe, but otherwise followed the instructions as written (except didn’t have fresh lemon, so used bottled). I was a bit concerned with the parchment paper possibly going to get too brown being in the oven for such a long time, but I worried for nothing. So glad I found your website….Bavarian Pretzels will be my next attempt! Cheers from Alaska!!
Hi Lyn! You have absolutely made my day. Thank you so much for taking the time to come back and let me know how this recipe went for you! It is one of my real favourites and always transports me back to Cyprus when I smell it cooking in the oven. Bottled lemon is perfect in this recipe, in fact, we use it a lot in Cyprus when lemons are out of season in the summer 🙂 I hope you have just as much success with the pretzels and many more recipes! Happy cooking, J.