Crete is an island that despite its unique geographical location and huge coast line that at times seems endless is a place with flavors developed around the mountains and hills of the island. As we have explained before the people of Crete were not very fond of the sea. The constant attacks from different enemies that wanted to conquer the island, as well as, the difficult conditions of life for people in the cities close to the shore made life very difficult. On the other hand the hills and the mountain tops offered a safe and relatively productive environment for the people to maintain a descent life through agriculture and herding. Meat for the people of Crete was a celebrational dish! Animals were workers and active members of the society which meant that if you killed your animal for food before it was time, the household would loose a powerful source of income and an important hard working member. Therefore meat consumption was limited to game, poultry, and lamb or goat. Lamb was a good protein source because usually there were more than 1 lamb in one family, thus loosing one did not mean the end of the world. So today we will present you the top 3 lamb based dishes in Crete according to tasting crete.
1) Antikristo- Αντικριστό
The number one dish in Crete when you talk about lamb is Antikristo. The name derives from the cooking method which literally means “across the fire”. This technique is very popular among the mountain areas of Crete where lamb is the predominant economic source. Shepherds cook lamb this way because it is easy to prepare and cook. The only thing you need is fire and salt. Before you place it across the fire you make sure you place salt everywhere.
The next step is to place it across a large fire and just let heat do the rest. Some more gourmand pallets will often smear the skin with olive oil with a branch from rosemary. Similar cooking techniques are used in Latin America as well. The idea behind it is that it does not need constant attention, so the shepherds could go about their business and occassioanlly through a look at the food. Secondly slow cooking makes the meat soft, while salt dehydrates it resulting to a crispy skin. Perhaps an interesting note is that this is a dish that is prepared and cooked by men. If you come across one of the places they serve Antikristo do not miss the chance to try this exquisite delicacy.
Another Cretan dish based on lamb that epitomizes simplicity is Tsigariasto. In this dish lamb is prepared on a frying pan. In older times meat that was not consumed on the first day was “refreshed” on a frying pan with the addition of olive oil and a little bit of onion. This way it could be served again in order to be consumed. Today Tsigaristo is prepared on a frying pan or a pot. After you saute the onions with olive oil you add the seasoned meat and let it cook in slow fire for about an hour. In case the meat is from the day before the time of cooking is much less. At the end you add a bit of lemon and hey presto!!
3) Lamb With Golden Thistle- Αρνακι με Ασκολύμπρους.
In contrast with the Αντικριστό- Antikristo, this recipe is one that requires the experience and elegance of a lady on the stove. This dish is the ultimate celebrational dish and the one that combines the majesty of Cretan nature, the meat protein basis of the Cretan diet and the skills of an experienced cook for the egg-lemon sauce or fricassee.
The golden thistle or as scientists call it Scolymus hispanicus is a flowering plant that has been used in cooking and medicine since antiquity. It is a type of chicory and it has thorns which make it hard to pick. But as always in nature, what has thorns means it has nutrients. Its use has been very popular in Crete despite the fact that the plant grows in other parts of the Mediterranean also.
Combined with lamb it is the perfect Sunday lunch food. Here is a recipe from a very interesting Greek blog :
1 kg askolymproi cleaned (which means that if you find them not whole you need more)
1 kg lamb meat
1 medium onion
Half cup oil
2 lemons (juice)
A few sprigs of dill or fennel (optional)
Peel the Askolymprous and wash very well. Saute the onions and scallops with olive oil in a pan and add the meat. When changed color, add salt and add refreshing water. Bring to boil over medium heat until meat can be pierced with a fork. Add the askolymprous (and dill or fennel if used) and some water if needed. Set to boil until the roots are thoroughly softened. Usually Askolymproi need more time than lettuce, spinach and generally tame grasses we use at fricassee. Once the ingredients are prepared remove from heat.
When you are ready beat the eggs until they become a homogeneous fluid, and add the lemon juice slowly and steadily (make it look like a thread) without stop beating. Once you are finished with the lemon add the broth from the meat and askolymproi preparation. Make sure the broth is not boiling hot but warm. Once your fricassee is ready return it to the pot where you kept the meat and greens. Shake well so the sauce can go everywhere. If the food is not warm enough place it back to minimum heat so it gets warm but be careful not to loose the sauce from overheating.