This meat has unreal tenderness from being wrapped in clay, Stone Age style

Get ready to get your hands dirty and eat heartily. An Italian chef in southern Italy is resurrecting an ancient cooking method that makes the most tender, fall-apart lamb.

In Martone, a mountain town in the region of Calabria, farmer and chef Pino Trimboli wraps herb-flecked meats in wet clay to seal in the aromatic flavors and delicious juices. After the meat cooks and the clay hardens in the oven, he gives the clay shell a hard whack to break it apart, revealing the savory meat within.

This time-honored tradition dates to the Stone Age.

At Trimboli’s restaurant, La Collinetta, one of his most popular specialties is the ancient Greek dish agnello cotto nell’argilla, which is lamb cooked in clay.

“It melts in your mouth,” Trimboli said, describing the lamb.

During season two of “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy,” Tucci visited the restaurant and declared the lamb delicious.

“It falls apart,” Tucci raved.

Lamb Cooked in Clay

(Agnello Cotto nell’Argilla)

Be sure the parchment layer separating the lamb from the clay covers the meat completely; you can find clay for baking online. Chef Trimboli uses prosciutto from the black Calabrian pig, but you can substitute pork skin or bacon. Look for orange peel powder at online specialty stores.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

Whole leg of lamb (about 3 ¼ pounds | 1.5 kilograms)

1 pound | ½ kilogram pork rind or bacon, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

1 rosemary sprig, finely chopped

4 bay leaves

¼ cup | 55 grams unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (about 1×2 centimeters or ¾ inch)

Pinch of dried oregano

Pinch of orange powder (any citrus powder works)

Equipment

2 sheets parchment paper

6 ½ pounds | 3 kilograms clay for baking

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees Celsius (480 degrees Fahrenheit).

2. Debone the leg of the lamb by cutting straight toward the bone and then trimming around it until it can be removed along with the bone joints. To facilitate the cooking, roughly chop into 3×9-centimeter pieces (about 1 ¼x3 ½ inches). Then place the lamb on a sheet of parchment and mix the meat with the pork rind, garlic and rosemary. Add the bay leaves; leave them whole.

3. Sprinkle the butter, oregano and orange powder on the meat. Using the second sheet of parchment, wrap the meat, making sure all surfaces are covered.

4. Shape the clay around the parchment layer, using a bit of water to soften it. Make sure that it adheres to the wrapped leg.

5. Cook the lamb in the oven at 250 degrees Celsius (480 degrees Fahrenheit) until the clay has hardened, about 3 ½ hours.

6. When cooked, let the meat rest for 15 minutes. Next, put the cooked clay parcel on a tray and carefully break it with a spoon. Remove the clay, gently unwrap the parchment and remove the bay leaves. Then serve the meat on a large platter. Pour any juices from the meat over the platter.

This recipe is courtesy of Pino Trimboli, a chef at La Collinetta restaurant in Martone, Italy.

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