Croatian Roast Lamb on the Spit, or the village of Gangentine!

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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!

Janjetina

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?

Janjetina s raznja

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.

Janjetina s raznja

You see what I mean when I say that the lamb on the spit reminds me of dinosaurs?

Dinosaur, British Museum

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.

Herbs growing in the carst

Herbs growing in the karst

The town of Pag, on the island of Pag

And the recipe for the lamb? Erm, I’ll have to ask my dad, who’s an expert!🙂

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31 Comments

  1. Silvana

     /  5 July, 2007

    I ja sam dalmatinka koja ne voli janjetinu a ni maslinovo ulje ali zato volim Anu i punjene paprike njezine majke… Pusa iz Vž

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  2. Maninas

     /  5 July, 2007

    I ja tebe! Hug!

    Morat cu napisat i recept za punjene paprike! Al morat cu ga prvo dobit od mame, i probat. nikad ih nisam sama pravila!

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  3. Maninas

     /  5 July, 2007

    Dobrodosla na moj blog!🙂

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  4. What a lovely post. I’m not sure when I’ll get over to Croatia, but you can be sure, I’ll be looking for the janjentina! Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Ive

     /  6 July, 2007

    Super je članak, i ja volim Anu i janjetinu!
    kiss

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  6. Beautiful pictures! And I bet that lamb didn’t taste like dinosaur. But, what do I know? Maybe dinasaur was wonderful! :):)

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  7. hehehe…the lamb sure looks like a dinosaur.🙂

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  8. Maninas

     /  7 July, 2007

    Hvala bracek! Reci, jel tebe ove slike podsjecaju na dinosaure?🙂

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  9. Maninas

     /  7 July, 2007

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Sher, now that you say it, I wonder how dinosaurs did taste!🙂

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  10. Oh my God! I love roasted lamb… I have never been to Spoleto but I would really like to go, I heard so much about it.
    Ciao.

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  11. You are right…it looks like a mini dinosaur grilled…;)

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  12. Manina, I probably would taste this dish if I ever land in Croatia….but I felt sorry seeing those pics😦

    Shn

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  13. Maninas

     /  9 July, 2007

    I know Shn…. The last one is the worst. I was considering not posting that particular photo…

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  14. zoran

     /  12 July, 2007

    LUDNICA, HA HA HA !!!!
    DA GAGNENTINE….🙂 !!!
    Pravi gurmani znaju sto valja…!!!!
    Najjjjjaca si, nema te zemlja – engleska🙂, mlada damo !!!
    Pridruzujem se vec recenom; i ja volim Anu. Ali i anA je moj ljubimica. Ne kucna🙂. I ne kao Gagnentine🙂
    YOU KICK ASS :)))))

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  15. I’m all for eating every part of the animal too. It seems more respectful to me. 🙂
    Amazing photos. Love that you don’t shy away from the reality of meat.

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  16. i live in greece and its done this way too
    pag is pretty…

    one day i will go back to croatia

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  17. Maninas

     /  19 July, 2007

    hej zorane – dobro dosao na moj blog!😀 hug ljubimica? hahaaaahahaa dobro da znan da nisi kanibal (ljubimica kao gangentine)!😉 nadam se da se vidimo uskoro!

    Wendy, I agree with you that it’s more respectful. I don’t mind eating all parts of an animal, though I hate to say that I’m not completely comfortable with handling raw meat… It’s because of it’s cold and slippery structure… but i’m trying to get over that.

    Shalimar, thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed Croatia! You should go to Pag, too, have some lamb, and their famous cheese (mature, tangy, crumbly, made of sheep’s milk)! The landscape is amazing – it resembles the Moon sometimes! I once saw a photo of Pag like this: blue sea, white stone, blue sky, white clouds – and a sheep on the island! If it hadn’t been for the sheep, it would have looked totally surreal!🙂

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  18. Great blog on spit roasting lamb. I have participated in this ritual a couple of times for Greek Easter in the Greek Islands. And done pit roasted lamb on Hvar. I Look forward to your fathers Recipe for the prep and roasting procedure. My wife mara and I will be doing a Greek lamb actually Kid. For my birthday in Jan. In Port Townsend Wa. U.S.A. a place almost as beautiful as Dalmatia. I am in the trows of research. Source for the lamb. Locally. Etc. we ill be useing apple wood as The traditional Olive is not available and we have friends with apple orchards. Mara will be in charge of the Rub. I will be the pit man.
    George

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  19. On Hvar The lamb was pieces. Not the whole animal. But shareing with nieghbors and friends was the best part.

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  20. Hi George, thanks for dropping by! I must admit I admire you two for deciding to spit roast a lamb for your birthday! Well done!

    As for the recipe, unfortunately my dad’s not around now, and I’m not in Dalmatian now either, so I won’t have the recipe in a while. However, if you want, I can try and jott down what I remember from how he makes it.🙂

    What rub will you be using? I’m curious to know! (My dad normally uses a simple rub of coarsely ground sea salt only)

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  21. zeljko

     /  25 December, 2007

    Hello there, i liked your description of the lamb roast. I am from Croatia and roasting a whole lamb is part of my traditions. I use to trun the spit by hand as a kid for weddings for 6 or so hours, it really brings you close to the nature and the whole idea of respect for the food.

    Hvala ti na informaciji i slikama.

    Zeljko

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  22. antonio

     /  4 January, 2009

    well looks like they did know what to do with intenstines and grieads! they are delicius too! try it next time and go a little farther south they have some older traditions !

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  23. Great post. Just back from Croatia and I tried the lamb from the spit, in a “best” restaurant in Zadar, Tamaris. Very, very good!

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  24. Lynn Connell

     /  21 July, 2009

    Just back from Croatia, loved the country! We had roasted lamb at our family farm in Zumberak Croatia. Loved it. Thanks for sharing your blog. I’m trying this out this weekend in Solon Ohio U.S.A.

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  25. I have just come back from Croatia on business and was thinking what to write for my mandatory monthly (minimum!) blog for my blogsite. Had many roadside janjetina meals so thought I’d post a short article. In my research I found you! Great blog, hope you don’t mind but I’d like to borrow some pics (have none) and will provide a link to yours. Rgds, Firefoodie.

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  26. Glad you like the article, and that you enjoyed yourself in Croatia.

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  27. deano

     /  5 August, 2013

    I just happened on this site, as I was doing some research, My father in law is part croatian and we roast lamb on a spit every year as a huge celebration in our neighborhood in West Virginia

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  1. Stuffing for the Croatian roast lamb on the spit « Maninas: Food Matters
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