One of my favourite Greek recipes is the lamb shoulder, especially with lots of garlic. Now my question is, is the 'sheep-stealer's' lamb a specifically regional recipe, and if so, which part of the country?
Glad to see you referring to this by its correct name. As αρνί κλεφτικό has become better known in Britain people have started to call it "stolen lamb", presumably to add to its attraction. I've even seen a stall at a food festival with that title. I didn't have the heart to tell the owner.
And of course the klephts were far more than sheep stealers!
As far as I know, shawnee is right. During the Ottoman rule, kleftes were groups of outlaws that, among other things, defied the Ottoman authorities -both central and local. Living in hiding in the country, they had to prepare their meals without being spotted by the smoke of open fires. Therefore they had to cook [broil? bake? grill? -I do not know what verb applies here] their meat, usually lamb, wrapped in the skin (or unskinned altogether?) in a pit with burning charcoals/branches under and over it and covered with soil/dust.
Today the term kleftiko is used for lamb prepared in a similar manner -usually wrapped in baking paper or even baked firmly sealed in a pot* -using a pit is rare but not out of the question. It is common in many parts of Greece (I believe you can find it also in Cyprus -and maybe in other countries, I'm not sure).
*στη γάστρα is usually the term for this particular cooking practice, used for many things, not just meat.
I think the Cypriots are making "οφτόν κλέφτικον" (baked a la Klefts). In one of Fred Boissonnas' books (1910), he has a photo of Greeks roasting lamb on spite, calling it "Mouton a la Pallikare". The latter word means the Klefts and other "irregulars" of the old rural Greece.
Thanks to all respondents. I had no idea about the 'Klefts'/'Klephts', and thought I was being so clever with kleft- > classical Greek κλέπτ- ! I am sure Helleno File (# 5) is right about the linguistic comparison with English 'Hunter's Chicken', and am especially delighted to know, from dmtrs (# 4), about the culinary practices under Ottoman rule—fascinating in itself, and makes obvious sense.