Many Croatian families all over the world will be cooking lamb on the spit this Christmas. There is a special love between Croats and lamb on the spit which is witnessed at festivals, Christmas, Easter and other celebrations, but also by caterers who best testify that there is almost no family or business celebration where lamb is not served.
The fact is that lamb is one of the most delicious and best types of meat, and in addition to its high nutritional value and optimal amount of minerals and vitamins, its flavours and aromas make it so tempting.
“For generations, lamb on the spit has been an indispensable dish that has entered our gastronomic history. As a method of preparation, the spit extracts the best of the lamb meat, which is lightly roasted, fragrant and sweet, with a light roast over dry beech wood, in the open air, and with a golden skin crisp. When the lamb is roasted in the fresh air, the meat gets a special quality,” reveals Ivan Žganjer, chef of Žganjer restaurant.
If you are wondering what is most important for the lamb meat to be finger-licking good, it is very simple. The most important thing is that the lamb is fresh, and this is the time of year when many enjoy young lamb, especially from the island of Pag. In terms of spices, one spice has no competition.
“When preparing lamb on the spit, we stay with salt and notes of dried beech wood and no other spices are needed, and for our other lamb-based dishes we always use traditional spices like pepper, thyme, sage, spiced paprika, onion… Because it is these spices and foods that are best paired with first-class island lamb,” explains chef Ivan Žganjer, who cooks a number of tasty lamb dishes at his restaurant in Jaškovo near Karlovac.
With lamb on the spit, less is more, especially lamb from Pag, so one should not experiment with side dishes and move the focus from the Pag lamb. So homemade bread, roast potatoes and spring onions is enough the chef says.
In Croatia, lamb from Lika and Cres are well known, but lamb from the island of Pag lamb has delicacy status. For many, lamb from the island of Krk is the best because of the quality grazing of various aromatic island herbs. For some its lamb from Lika. Each region has specific varieties of lamb and it all depends on the taste of the consumer, but if you ask most, many will put the Pag lamb on the throne.
“Croatia is absolutely at the top of the world in lamb quality. Not many other lambs in the world can compete with young Pag lamb. There is room to further promote Croatia as a country with high-end lamb on the gastronomic scene and better exploit the potential of lamb as a distinctive Croatian dish,” says Lidija Žganjer Gržetić, who has been working for a while to make roast lamb synonymous with Croatian gastronomy which will also be recognised around the world.
Today, there are various modern combinations and versions of lamb, but when you have top quality raw materials, you should emphasise it by preparing it according to old recipes with a minimum of spices and highlighting the fresh quality products.
Along with lamb on the spit, Ivan Žganjer also recommends lamb liver cooked with onion and parsley, roasted lamb fillets with homemade brandies, and emphasises the delicacy of lamb liver pate as a fantastic appetiser or an exclusive snack at the upcoming holiday celebrations.
And finally, here are some secrets on how to cook the best lamb on the spit. It is important to place the lamb in a preheated spit oven. Place wood on two fires – at shoulder height and at hip height. The distance of the fires from the spit should be 30 cm to allow the meat to cook gently without burning. Bricks in the oven should be coated with a fireclay brick (due to the high temperature tolerance) and the skewer should be placed 30 cm from the bottom of the spit oven.