In the 1950’s, doner kebab and schwarma quickly spread across Europe. The delicious, portable sandwich, consisting of meats grilled on a vertical spit rolled in a grilled pita with a yogurt sauce, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, was a big hit. Variations of the sandwich evolved to take on a local flavor.
In the 1970’s Greek restaurants in the USA popularized gyros. Gyros is delicious! You heard that right, “Gyros” is not plural!
My earliest memories of gyros are from a local Greek Orthodox church which hosted an annual Greek Bazaar where you could buy all sorts of Greek food for takeout. Dolmades, spanikopita, and, of course, gyros were on the menu. This wasn’t normal table fare in our Pennsylvania Dutch home, but still I wondered why we only ate this delicious food once a year.
When I moved to the Washington, DC area in the 1980’s, I found gyros widely available. Gyros took a regular place in my revolving selection of quick workplace lunches. Sometimes I bought prepared gyros meat to make my own sandwiches at home. I had second thoughts about this when I took a look at the long list of un-pronounceable ingredients on the package.
I could make sausages, so why not gyros? I set three objectives in working on this recipe: The meat had to have a good bind; crumbly gyros would not do. The meat needed to be moist and slice-able; I had some tricks up my sleeve for this given my work on weisswurst and ring bologna. And, above all, it had to be delicious! I wanted to taste the meat (I already set my mind to use all lamb), fresh garlic, and herbs with a bit of citric tartness to brighten it up.
Like all of my experiments, I thought through how to make the best first attempt while I also planned on how to adjust if the results were less than I wanted. It turned out to be spot on, no adjustments needed. I made two batches to confirm, and both were right on the money.
I selected leg of lamb as it is readily available and contains a good proportion of fat to keep the meat moist. I added lots of garlic, fresh herbs, and minced preserved lemon. Salt and black pepper, too.
Gyros Meat Recipe
4 lb. boneless leg of lamb meat cut in 1-2″ cubes, partially frozen.
3T chopped garlic
1/2 medium onion chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
3T minced fresh oregano
1/2 of a preserved Meyer lemon (may substitute juice from 1/2 a fresh lemon)
1/2t finely ground black pepper
2T olive oil
Mix everything together in a large bowl. The meat needs to be very cold with some ice crystals in it. This will improve the grind and result in a very good bind.
I noticed a lot of recipes for homemade gyros meat call for the meat to be chopped into a paste in a food processor. In my experience, this does not give a good result for meat products. The fat is turned to mush and then when cooked, the fat will not remain in the meat, resulting in a poor texture.
Grind the meat with a meat grinder fitted with a 3mm plate. Mix the ground meat well. Make sure it is still nearly frozen with ice crystals in the mix. If not, then place the meat in a bag and place in the freezer for 20-30 minutes. Flatten the bag to hasten the chilling. Grind again through the 3mm plate.
Use your hands to mix the meat until it is uniform and very sticky. Divide the meat in half, and put each half in a vacuum seal-able bag or ziptop bag (if not using vacuum, you must make sure to get all air out of the bag). Hint: I use a rolled up flexible cutting board as a funnel to fill the bags and keep the sealing area of the bags clean.
Once sealed, flatten the meat to a uniform 2″ thick (5cm). Heat a water bath to 140F with a sous vide immersion circulator. Place the bags of meat in the water bath and cook for 2 hours at 140F.
Remove the meats from the water bath and chill in the refrigerator overnight. You can make gyros right away, but the meat is more difficult to slice at this point. Chilling is the way to go. If you make a few batches, then you have gyros ready on demand for quick meals in the days ahead.
Sear the slices of meat in a very hot skillet. There is no need to add any oil to the pan, but you want the pan quite hot before the slices go in so the outside will sear and seal in the juice as much as possible.
Serve on a lightly grilled pita with tzatziki sauce (yogurt, cucumber, onion, garlic, olive oil, and salt), feta cheese, lettuce, onion and tomato. I made my own yogurt and cheese. I skipped tomato this time as it is the time of year when I am holding out for garden tomatoes.