If you’ve ever been to Croatia and taken ‘the old road’ (i.e. not the motorway) from Zagreb to the Croatian coast, you would have seen the signs saying ‘Janjetina‘ dotted all the way along the road! As a matter of fact, they’re everywhere! There are so many of them that someone once told me how her English friends once asked her ‘Why is every other village in Croatia called Gangentine?’ This was their pronunciation of ‘janjetina’; pronounced ‘yanietina’ in Croatian, and meaning ‘lamb’ (lamb meat)! We both thought that was hilarious, but I must admit that they kind of did have a point! The signs are everywhere, and sometimes it just says ‘ Janjetina —> ‘. If you don’t know the Croats’ especially enthusiastic affinity to lamb, it’s easy to get confused! I can forgive you that, but I won’t forgive you if you miss trying this speciality when you go to Croatia! There will be plenty of opportunities, trust me!
Now, ‘Janjetina’ does not mean any old lamb! All these sings mean only one thing: ‘Janjetina s raznja’, or Roast Lamb on the Spit! Warning: pictures to follow! At this point, don’t scroll down any further, if you’re sensitive to animal body parts that look like real animals (though these ones remind me of roast dinosaurs!). We Croats are generally not, and happily eat all the parts of an animal, or in this case, we happily eat the whole animal! This is what ‘Janjetina s raznja’ is – a whole lamb, heavily salted before cooking (though it doesn’t taste too salty when done), roast on a spit for a few hours, basted in its own juices, as it rolls rolls and turns around itself! The result is a melt-in-the-mouth, slightly salty, tender, juicy and meaty sensation in your mouth, contrasted by the crunchy salty skin! Gorgeous! Here it is! Look at that gorgeous colour!
The intestine and liver are taken out, but kidneys, the brain and sometimes ehm testicles are left inside to roast. Sometimes, the lamb is also stuffed. My granny makes a delicious stuffing, consisting of bread crumbs, lamb’s intestine, the liver, eggs, cheese, prsut (pronounced prshut), which is the Croatian cousin of the Italian Parma ham, or the Spanish Serrano Ham or jamon, and a few other things (I shall have to ask her the recipe). My mother doesn’t like lamb on the spit or otherwise (!), but she does eat the stuffing! We all suspect that she can’t be a real Dalmatian, though born and bred in Dalmatia, because she doesn’t like neither lamb nor olive oil – shock-horror!
You will notice that I said that my granny makes the stuffing. However, cooking the lamb itself is normally a man’s job. In the past, the men used to turn the lamb by hand. Nowadays, they use an electrical motor, that slowly turns the spit around. Cooking it is a bit of an art. You have to know when it’s done, without being bloody on the inside – because in Dalmatia we like our meat thoroughly cooked! It mustn’t be dry either, so a happy medium has to be achieved. The best parts are the shoulder and the leg (the thigh bit). Some, like my dad, like the ribs, and others, like my brother’s godfather, like – the testicles! The brain is also delicious!
Are you cringing now? Well, don’t! I bet you would love it if you tried it without knowing what it is! Also, if you’re going to kill an animal, isn’t it better to eat the whole thing, rather than throwing some away?
Dalmatians and all the Croatians alike love their ‘janjetina’! Everybody’s favourite ‘guest’ at parties, it is a special, festive food, not eaten everyday (which is obvious, given the scale of the roasting project)! This dish is not cheap, but it’s worth it!We have it in restaurants or make it for major family celebrations, weddings, christenings, festas (festa is Dalmatian for a feast, or fiesta). It used to be traditional to eat lamb roasts for Easter. For a starter, we normally have a platter of prsut and cheese with gherkins and olives, followed by beef or lamb bouillon, clear soup with small pieces of thin pasta. (As a kid, I used to love the letter-shaped small pasta!) The dessert can be anything. (I’ll write about Croatian desserts another time) The lamb is normally served warm with various salads, spring onions, sometimes pickled gherkins and bread. It is also delicious cold, but I love it hot, straight off the spit. Don’t be shy to pick it up in your hand and eat it like that, sometimes it’s impossible to use only a knife and a fork. Nobody will look at you strangely. Some might smile and nod.
You see what I mean when I say that the lamb on the spit reminds me of dinosaurs?
You’ll notice that I don’t have photos of the served dish. When it comes to that stage, I tend to forget about my camera! 🙂
The lamb normally weighs less than 20 kg; our sheep are small in general, especially when compared to say British sheep. Dalmatian lamb, especially the lamb grown on the islands (for example the island of Pag, see picture below), is considered to be the best, because the sheep feed aromatic herbs growing in the karst, and the meat contains natural salt, which has an effect on the taste of the meat.
And the recipe for the lamb? Erm, I’ll have to ask my dad, who’s an expert! 🙂