A great Greek Easter tradition is to roast whole lamb on Easter Sunday. Ever since I left Brown University I have been craving that dish. The problem was that for years I had no place to cook it. Living in apartments meant that I would have to find some largish open space that would let me cook a whole lamb over an open fire for approximately 5 hours.
This past August I bought a house. So my wife insisted that we use our large back yard to cook the lamb.
Little did I know that my adventures were about to begin.
To cook a whole lamb you need three essential components, a lamb, a fire pit and a 5 foot long rotisserie spit rod. The lamb was fairly easy to find. Draegers has a full service butcher that as long as you give them a two week warning will find a small whole lamb. The lamb was about 22 pounds in total and cost about 185$.
The fire pit was assembled from cinder blocks. We went to HomeDepot and bought them for a couple of dollars each.
The rotisserie spit rod was damn near impossible to find. In the land of tofu eaters (also known as the bay area) where eating meat is a crime against the animal kingdom and folks spend 100$ for the priviledge of eating raw uncooked vegetables, tools to cook whole animals are not easy to find. And unfortunately, since I’ve never done this before and I only knew the Greek word for souvla, Google was no help either.
I spent weeks on the web scouring for a solution. I found Big John’s how to roast a whole pig web site that had a 5 foot spit rod for sale for the bargain basement price of 250$. I got so desperate that I started looking at stainless steel rods, rebar, aluminium etc. The problem with all of those options was the toxicity of the metals. Rebar is made from recycled steel containing who knows what. Stainless steel may contain all sorts of very very bad stuff.
So out of sheer desperation we bought a 7 foot dowel that was 1″ thick for 8 dollars.
Turns out that it was the right decision.
However, the dowel had to be prepared. You need to pierce the animal and a 1″ flat top has very little piercing powel. So my wife had to wittle the dowel to a sharp point.
With the dowel in hand
and the lamb
we could actually start cooking.
First you have to prepare the lamb. Thankfully Vefa Alexiadou: Greek Cuisine helped. Vefa provided the key information about how to place the legs so that the lamb stayed in place.
My wife did most of the preparation.
But once we had finished preparing the lamb, it was time to cook it!
Cooking a lamb requires patience and good friends. The problem is that you have to continuously rotate the lamb else the juices fall into the fire pit. The lamb either gets burned or worse dries out.
Having friends is critical to cooking lambs. It takes approximately 5 hours to cook and it can be brain numbing work. Every 15 minutes my friends and I swapped. Critical to the whole cooking of the lamb is a well balanced fire and liberally and regularly basting it with a mix of oil, lemon and oregano.
When the lamb is finally cooked you know it’s cooked if removing the meat from the bone does not require the use of a knife. Ideally you should just tap the bones on the table and the meat should just fall off. We were not that good. But close.
Once the lamb was diced, the feasting could begin. Because we’re Greeks just having lamb was insufficient. My wife and her friends cooked spanakopita (Cheese+Spinach Pie), tiropites (cheese pies), mageiritsa (a soup made from the internals of a lamb), dolmades (vine leaves + meat and rice) and a Greek salad.
When everyone had finished eating there was much contentment.