Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gyro Pita

I've heard gyro pronounced a million ways - "yeer-o" or "jeer-o" or "jheer-o" or "jie-ro" - and anytime I order it, I'm hesitant in choosing how to pronounce it because 97% of the time, the person taking my order says, "okay, one gyro coming up" and pronounces it NOT the way I did when I placed my order. So the other day when I was craving gyros, instead of going to the Greek place in my neighborhood to face the pronunciation humiliation, my solution was to just make gyros at home.

If you don't know, gyro is a ground meat that's spiced and then roasted on a vertical rotisserie - I'm sure you've seen them spinning in the windows of many Mediterranean restaurants (and I saw many when I was in Istanbul). The meat is shaved off of the spit to order and it's usually shoved in a yummy fluffy pita along with tsatsiki and tomatoes and cucumbers and feta. And the reason it's so good is because it's moist but crispy at the same time, which comes down to the cooking method. But personally, I don't have a vertical rotisserie, nor do I have a horizontal rotisserie so I had to come up with my own method and thankfully, it was a success!

Ingredients [serves 4]:
1 lb ground lamb (or you could use a mixture of beef and lamb)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or 2 tablespoons dried)
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 small onion
5 slices of bacon

flatbread pita
tsatsiki sauce, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, crumbled feta, parsley, diced onions, hot sauce, and any other toppings you might like
(pita and tsatsiki recipes can be found in my chicken souvlaki pita post)
This rosemary came fresh from my garden. I cannot tell you how yummy fresh rosemary smells. If I just barely poked at the plant in my garden, it would release a lovely herby piney yummy scent. Chop up the rosemary nice and fine so it can speckle the meat and look pretty but also so that the flavor permeates the whole block of meat. I think lamb and rosemary go incredibly well together. They're one of those obvious pairings like wine and cheese or cheese and bread or mozzarella and basil.

In a big bowl, combine lamb, rosemary, black pepper, minced garlic, chopped onions, and salt. 2 teaspoons of salt is a lot (especially in my salt-intolerant household) but it's probably the most important ingredient in terms of both flavor and texture. We want the gyro to have a sausage-y texture, not a hamburger-y texture and since we're working with ground meat here, it's really possible to swing towards the latter. By generously salting the meat and leaving it alone for a bit, we're allowing the salt to partially dissolve the proteins which then bind together and create a more dense, sausage-like product. Think of the proteins as ropes; when they're salted, the ends start to fray and then the frayed ends of other ropes start to cling to one another. That's why when you're making burgers, you want to make the mixture and cook them right away before the salt has a chance to work its protein-dissolving magic.
Mix the ingredients together, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but if you have time, overnight would work.
After 2 hours (or a whole day if you had that type of time) place the meat mixture and bacon into a food processor and puree that whole thing until the bacon is pulverized and the mixture looks uniform. The point of this, again, is to get that dense sausage-y texture. And the bacon serves a few purposes, the main reason is to get a bit of that smoky, roasted flavor that will be missing from the lack of a rotisserie but it also adds in some fat which will bring moisture to the lean ground lamb. And besides, who's going to mind the addition of a little bacon? (Besides people who keep kosher, vegetarians, vegans... okay, I'll stop).
To cook this sucker, place it in a loaf pan and press down to make sure it's well-packed and there are no air bubbles. The mixture will have the texture and clinging power of toothpaste so a trick is to wet your hands before you work with it. Otherwise, you'll have monster hands that look like they belong to that weird bumpy guy from the Fantastic Four. Bake at 300 for exactly 30 minutes and set a timer so you don't forget about it.
If you see in that one photo, the meat in the loaf pan has shrunk and pulled away from the two ends. There should be some juice and grease in the bottom of the pan but not much. Too much means you might not have chilled the salted meat for long enough... or you had a really fatty ground lamb. Remove the gyro block from the loaf pan and let it cool for 20 minutes, or until it's cool enough to handle. At this point, you can store it in the refrigerator to be consumed at a later time or you can move onto the next step. *You can keep this in the fridge for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.
When you're ready to start eating, slice the gyro meat into thin slices. I like thinner pieces (less than 1/4" if you can) because this stuff is salty so it's not my biggest pleasure to bite into a piece that's too thick and overly salty and also, it makes it easier to crisp up (which is the next step). I also like to slice to serve because less surface area means less evaporation means this hunk of meat will lose moisture less quickly.
So, we salted the meat and pureed it to achieve that dense texture of restaurant gyro meat but we're missing that crispy element. To remedy that, heat up a pan that will hold a lot of heat, i.e. a cast iron skillet, and get it really hot. Then slap down a few slices of gyro meat and let them sizzle on each side for 1 minute until they're browned and the edges are crispy.
Don't forget the toppings! Here's what I like on my pitas (minus the hot sauce because I forgot to put it on the table before I snapped the photo):
Lay a few slices of the meat on the pita and add toppings to your heart's content. If you're serving this to messy eaters, wrap up the bottom half in aluminum foil to help prevent spills and fall-aparts.
Take a bite and enjoy!
Here's the recipe page for your convenience:

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