Meat and poultry

Meat and poultry

By
Pam Talimanidis
Contains
18 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742704869
Photographer
Mark Roper

Greece is traditionally a nation of farmers and fishermen and the Greek economy still relies heavily on agriculture. Greece became a member of the European Union in 1981 and since then the standard of living has improved substantially, particularly in rural areas, which have benefited from secure markets for their produce and generous subsidies for agricultural production.

Meat is still an expensive item however, as most of the arable land is used for crops, rather than grazing animals. There are no large cattle stations to supply beef cattle to the market as there are in Australia. Pigs are farmed commercially, as are chickens, and both are regularly consumed as the most affordable meat. Many villagers keep rabbits in a hutch in the back yard for personal consumption or they’ll have a couple of sheep or goats, or a dairy cow also for their personal use. Some imported meat, such as Australian and New Zealand lamb, is available in city markets, but in village butcher shops, lamb and goat are not always available and most of the beef is of a lesser quality.

Feast days are always celebrated with meat. A whole spring lamb cooked on the spit is obligatory at Easter, roast pork or turkey are served at Christmas, and after church on Sundays there is always meat on the table, usually a beef pot roast consisting of beef stewed with potatoes or kokinisto, which has the addition of tomatoes.

Anyone who has travelled to Greece will know that most tavernas offer a limited range of meat dishes – such as chops, keftethes, souvlaki, or pork ribs – that are grilled over charcoal. Less expensive cuts of meat and fat are used in take-away shops to make the famous gyro (from the word ‘gyrizo’, meaning to turn in a circle). Souvlaki, one of the most famous Greek meat dishes, can also be made from cheaper cuts of pork, diced small and threaded onto a skewer, then cooked quickly over charcoals. For a more elegant dish, souvlaki can also be made from good quality lamb backstraps, marinated in herbs and olive oil.

Prime cuts are particularly expensive, though, so Greeks have a wide repertoire of dishes for tougher secondary cuts. They are often minced finely and made into keftethes, or combined with rice and herbs as a stuffing for zucchinis, tomatoes or capsicums. Some cuts are ideally suited for slow-cooking. A piece of beef topside might be pot-roasted, pork shoulder combines beautifully with honeyed quinces in the autumn, and in the heat of the summer a free-range chicken or rooster can be made into casserole with lots of capsicums and tomatoes from the garden.

In Greece, every part of the animal is eaten, from a pig’s head and trotters to beef cheeks and lamb’s lungs. Offal is made into a fricassée with spring herbs and greens, and sheep’s heads are often seen still connected to the carcass as it turns on a spit, and are picked over as a delicacy.

Nowadays all Greek village kitchens are well-equipped with ovens, but not long ago it was a common sight to see trays of meat and vegetables carried through the streets to the local bakery for roasting. They were carried home again afterwards when they were cool enough to hold, and this, I imagine, is the reason why Greeks generally prefer to eat their food at room temperature rather than very hot. It also allowed time to rest the meat and for flavours to develop.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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