Lamb on the spit, or ‘Janje na ražnju’ in Croatian, has according to some local experts been a favourite method of cooking in Croatia for over 8,000 years.
If you ask most Croatians what their favourite meal would be, lamb on the spit would be right up there. Every chef has their own tricks to get it spot on and we have consulted our own local expert, who has cooked over 80 lamb on the spits, to give us a beginner’s guide on cooking the perfect lamb using a mechanical spit.
Origin of the lamb is important
The tastiest lambs in Croatia are found on the islands of Cres and Pag, mainly due to the type of grass their that they graze on which gives the lamb a rich aromatic taste. Lambs from Istria, Dalmatia and Lika are also very good. The optimal weight of the lamb to go on the spit is around 10 kilograms.
The next important thing is the salting of the lamb. A usual rule-of-thumb is around 2% of the weight of the lamb of salt. Massage the salt into the lamb, both on top and inside and do it a few hours before cooking. Ideally the night before is the best.
Placing on spit
Pass the spit rod between the lamb’s hind legs, tying them to the rod. Tighten its legs by pulling one leg trough the opening in the tendons of other leg. The spit rod should go through the stomach cavity and come out the front of the lamb just under the neck and through the mouth.
Tie the middle of the lamb to the rod and sew the stomach cavity closed with soft wire.
The fire needs to be well prepared. Remember the lamb cooks on embers and not on the flame. Once the fire is made you will keep adding wood throughout the cooking process. The lamb needs to cook on a heat and be at least 60 centimetres away from the heat.
After about 45 minutes, when the lamb is well heated, add more embers underneath the thigh, where the meat is the thickest. After another 90 minutes cooking on low heat, increase the heat of the embers under the lamb. Cook for another 2-3 hours, depending on the size of the lamb.
Throughout the cooking process brush the lamb with olive oil using a rosemary branch every half an hour or so. A lot of people like to pour beer over the lamb but for me that spoils the clean taste of the lamb.
Pouring of beer probably came about as it was usually hard, hot work cooking lambs on the spit so many would drink beer whilst cooking and decided to experiment but spraying some on the lamb.
You know when it is done when you put a knife into the thickest part (thigh) and no juice runs out.
Serve with bread and spring onions and enjoy.