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“We use large clay pots from Sifnos” said Stella, showing me the lamb hotpot with pride. “No water. Just herbs and a sprinkle of white wine. Once you get the food out, it’s full of juices. It sweats. It cooks in its own juice”.
Stella, manager of the Sirocco (sic) taverna on the beach of Paleohóri was describing to me her unique style of sand baking on Milos. The dishes are buried in the sand overnight and, when they are dug up in the morning, they are ready.
“We need to bury them under only 30 cms of sand and the temperature is a steady 100C. Even at the height of the summer, it doesn’t reach 110C. So the food is slow-cooked throughout, at an even temperature.”
How long do the dishes take?
“We bury them as late as possible. After midnight: 1am or 2am. Meat like lamb and pork takes six hours. If you leave them any longer you can’t even scoop it; the meat falls off the bone. And we use local produce. Our pork is much, much tougher than what you get in the supermarket.”
Is that all?
“Then we put in the potatoes, the aubergines with cheese and some stews with tough fish like scorpion fish. They are ready much earlier – in three hours only”.
So everything is ready for lunch?
And the bread?
“We bake the bread as well as the moussaka, or other cooked meals in our wooden oven. Again, it takes a long time – the whole morning.”
But the result, as I can vouchsafe, is extraordinary. I had the pork which was as tender as veal. The baked potatoes had the constitution of boiled squash.
How long have you been cooking this way?
“My father started it. Back in the seventies.”
Stefanís, her father, walked out of the kitchen.
“Look, he’ll be digging up some more potatoes we put in this morning. And some lamb pots. They’re for dinner.”
So, I trod along with my Nikon to capture the occasion for posterity.