Monday, 9 January 2006

Dinner is ready!

Last week I wrote that I would like to see something different on the Greek table, especially during the holidays. But there are also dishes to which I'm really looking forwards. With Easter there will be the stuffed lamb. And with some luck you will find shellfish in the restaurants around the Bay of Kaloni or in the shops in Mytilini.

A sea creature that I did not eat yet is the giant mussel from the Bay of Kaloni. I still haven't traced it's real name, but I saw a huge specimen of nearly half a metre in restaurant Ellis in Anaxos. When you take a walk along the beach in Skala Kaloni, along the high water-mark line you will find many pieces of this giant mussel. There is also a smaller one, the giant pen mussel, which has a nearly transparent but wrinkly shell. Those animals living inside are already big, the one living in the giant mussel must be enough for a main course.

There is no fish shop near Eftalou, so it is always difficult to make the project of a fish meal. Officially there is a mobile fish shop (a car with fish) that will be each morning at 8.30 at the school. But each time we went there still full of sleep, there was no trace of a fishmonger.

Our latest strategy is to go at night to the brasserie in Molyvos. From there you have a good view over the harbour as well as over the little fish auction which will only open when the bigger fishing boats come ashore. And then still you cannot be sure if it opens. During storms and celebration days they remain closed and Greece has many of those festivity days. On the second day of Christmas, which is not a holiday here in Greece, big boats came into the harbour but the auction did not open it's doors. On the 6th of January it was Epiphany Christos, the day that the papas bless the sea and throw a cross into the water and can be dived up by some boys. That day I did not even try the fish auction, it is a national holiday, especially for the fishermen.

When you plan to prepare meat for a meal it will be no problem, although lamb meat is also not always available. Like in the coming time all lambs will be saved for the Easter meal. The closer Easter will come, lesser chance you will have to get lamb meat. An alternative will be a good pork leg. In December when we couldn't get a nice leg of lamb, because the lambs were still too small, we bought a leg of pig.

It took me one sleepless hour where I was thinking of how I would prepare that leg because our oven is pretty small. Then I remembered the outside oven we have on our land. You regularly see them in gardens, a small stone building close to the house with an oven or grill in it. Never in my life did I cook such good meat in such an easy way.

In the afternoon for some hours you heat up the oven with a bunch of branches. Then you wipe all wood and ash out of the oven. In the mean time you prepare the leg. You put it in a large dish, you make some cuts at the upper part, you pinch in some garlic cloves and you range big pieces of potatoes besides. You spread the meat with a mix of lemon juice, mustard and olive oil, you add some branches of thyme, oregano and rosemary, you pour some water in the dish and cover all with tinfoil and hoopla, the leg is ready to enter the oven. The door is then securely closed and the waiting starts. A whole day long. The next day you check if everything is alright and then at dinner time you take the ready meat out of the oven and for sure it will be good...

In Greece sometimes you have the problem of pieces of meat, or fishes, which are too big to enter one of your pans. I sometimes get chickens the size of a big fat turkey. Or somebody brings you a fish of half a metre. Then it is time to use the outside oven, which is very handy because you just need to do some preparations. Because of the increasing temperature inside the oven the meat will be perfectly cooked.

I wrote that the Greeks are no culinary adventurers, but for the curious eater there will be plenty of culinary adventures in Greece. Last Saturday night we went to a desolate Anaxos. The whole winter through I did not see that many people. Even though it was freezing cold the restaurant was full thanks to an evening of the local football club who brought whole families. A Greek band was playing and the atmosphere was really Greek: chaotic. Under the bright white lights and amidst running children, parents hasting to the toilet, dancing people, friends who walked around, a secretary playing the host and getting around for some money, running people who served out, smoking cooks, we got some magnificent lamb chops and excellent baked liver.

It is the first winter that Ellis has been open. Only for the weekends, but always with live music. If they can continue to serve their superb grilled meat from such a little grill place I'm sure that on Saturday nights in wintertime they will be the most crowded village of the whole island. And at least we found a new place to go.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

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