Lessons From The Master Chef
I’ll confess, this was an entry I originally wanted to post BEFORE I headed off to Europe, but work and trip preparation caused delay. I then thought I’d post it while in Greece, but realized I left my notes at home.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, most of my cooking skills I owe to my father. He’s not an actual chef, but a restaurant man of almost fifty years with a passion for food. I never really gained interest until I became a teenager, and from there I wanted to learn how to cook. At first he was reluctant, but then realized how much this art form enhanced my life, despite that I never got into the restaurant industry (a choice that actually made him happy).
Nowadays it’s funny when I come to visit him. My mother would joke how most sons who visit their fathers will watch sports, talk about them, or other subjects like cars, tools, or girls. With us we end up watching the Food Network and talking about food.
When Father’s Day came rolling around this year, my father fell into his usual mode of not wanting us to buy him anything. Rather than try to push him to go out to dinner or accept a gift, I felt it would be more fun if he showed myself, Zuzana, and I one of the most familiar and traditional Greek dishes – Braised Lamb, Greek-style potatoes, and a Greek summer salad. Believe me, this is fun for him.
Let’s start off with the lamb:
- 10 lbs of lamb
- 2 tbsp of salt
- 2 tbsp of pepper
- 2 tbsp of oregano
- 6-8 cloves of garlic
- 2 lemons
- 2 tsp of rosemary
- 1 cup of white wine
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- Defrost lamb if it was frozen. If or when thawed, rinse it off in the sink with cold water to wash away any blood and/or juices left.
- Pat the lamb dry with paper towels.
- Preheat oven to 350º.
- Trim any excess fat and cartilage you don’t want, but leave a little on the meat to keep it moist.
- Combine the salt, pepper, and oregano and rub the lamb with the mixture like you would with any spice rub.
- Using a knife, cut a slit into the lamb approximately 1 inch long and 1 inch deep. Stuff one clove of garlic into the slit. Do this all over the lamb for as many cloves of garlic you plan on putting into the meat.
- Place the lamb in a roasting pan that will hold it and so you can cover it.
- Squeeze the juice of the two lemons all over the lamb and place the squeezed halves into the pot with the lamb.
- Take the 2 tsp of rosemary and rub it over the lamb in the pot.
- Pour 1 cup of white wine all over the lamb.
- Pour 1/4 of a cup of olive oil all over the lamb.
- Cover the pot and place in the oven for 90 minutes.
- Uncover and cook for another hour (or until done) to finish the lamb and put a crispy layer on the outside. Use a meat thermometer to check to see if it’s finished.
- When you pull the lamb out of the oven, set it somewhere to rest for 20-30 minutes before cutting.
Whatever kind of lamb you want to use is up to you. You can use chops, a leg, or other parts if you desire. I suggest you go to a butcher to get it, and make sure it’s a decent cut with actual meat. Sometimes the cuts will be more fat than anything. If you get a leg, have the butcher cut it into several pieces to make it easier to cook and handle.
Like the brisket, try to leave a little fat on the meat so it will gelatinize and soak into the meat, keeping it moist.
Greek-style potatoes aren’t anything difficult, but they are simply peeled, seasoned, and baked until golden. Not the typical American-style baked potato nor a fried food. This recipe is honestly the basis of whenever I make potatoes.
- 4 large Idaho/Russet potatoes
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of pepper
- 1 tsp of oregano
- 1 tsp of granulated garlic
- 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 450º.
- Peel all the potatoes, wash them, then slice them into wedges as you desire.
- Place the potatoes in a large baking dish.
- Coat them with the olive oil.
- Add the salt, pepper, oregano.
- Squeeze the juice of the lemon all over the potatoes.
- Mix them up with your hands so all the seasonings and lemon juice are coating the potatoes.
- Place them in the oven for 30-45 minutes, until they are baked to your personal tastes.
When we did these potatoes, we cooked them in a separate dish in the same oven as the lamb. If you choose to do this, then bake the potatoes for an hour or so. I generally like a hotter oven for these potatoes because the oil will make them golden and more crispy on the outside.
If you want to use another kind of potato, go right ahead. My father likes to use Yukon Gold potatoes sometimes.
I use this recipe as a basis for when I make potatoes. I’ve added more seasonings in the past and made the kind of crispy spicy potatoes you’ll get in restaurants. Feel free and experiment.
Finally, I want to share with you a traditional Greek summer salad made with tomatoes and cucumbers. Everywhere Zuzana and I went in Greece, we would order this with our meal because of the fresh ingredients that were in season. Very easy to make and quite different from your typical salads.
Greek Tomato/Cucumber Summer Salad
- 5 ripe tomatoes
- 1 cucumber
- 1/2 of a red onion
- 1 tsp of red wine vinegar
- 4 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 tsp of pepper
- 2 tsp of oregano
- 1/3 lbs of feta cheese
- 4-8 kalamata olives
- Slice up the tomatoes into wedges.
- Peel the cucumbers and slice them into wedges.
- Chop the onion into small pieces to your desire.
- Place the tomato, cucumber and red onion in a bowl and add in the oil, vinegar, pepper, and oregano. Mix thoroughly but carefully.
- Crumble the feta cheese into the salad and either leave on top or mix in.
- Garnish with the kalamata olives.
Try to obtain fresh ingredients if you can. Experiment even with organic vegetables in this one. Part of what makes this salad so good are the natural flavors of the vegetables. Hence why you mostly see this in the summer when tomatoes and cucumbers are in season.
Feel free to use more or less of any ingredient to your choosing. Some I’ve made this for preferred more cucumber.
Use any feta you like, but Bulgarian feta cheese adds a wonderful flavor.
One of these days, my brother or I will have a yard, and we’ll do a whole lamb on a spit. I’ll definitely put the experience and recipe on this site when that day comes.