Dining In: The Failed Doner Kebab Experiment

November 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

For the past 15 years, I’ve considered myself very lucky to work in a field which has facilitated many drunken nights out in European cities. Many of those drunken nights out have ended with me stuffing my face with a doner kebab while trying not to get any on my shirt. They’re the European equivalent of the 3 am burrito. And although they feature sliced spit-roasted lamb, beef and/or chicken served on some sort of flattish bread, don’t even compare them to a gyro. It’s sacrilege.

While in Linz, Austria this past summer on vacation, I decided to expose Mrs Ilk to the wonders of the doner. Her only previous time in Europe was spent with her parents, and if there’s one thing I know about my inlaws it’s that the chance of them walking into a sketchy looking kebab shop are pretty much nil. So it had to be done. She was hooked. So hooked that after a beer-soaked afternoon at the Hofbrauhaus before heading to Munich airport for our flight home we sought out another one.

Somehow Saturday morning we got on the topic about how she was jonesing for one. I’m a firm believer that there are certain foods best outsourced to nasty holes in the wall and doner kebabs are among them, but I’m also a firm believer in kitchen experimentation. A Google search turned up this thread on Chowhound and it seemed easy enough. Was it easy? Yes. Did turn out as expected? Well, not so much.

First, the pide bread. I went ahead and converted the metric measurements to customary when needed, so you can put your calculators away.

Ingredients (serves 8 )
2 tsp  dried yeast
1/2 tsp caster sugar Caster sugar is just plain old boring granulated sugar.
1 cup lukewarm water
3 cups unbleached plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs natural yoghurt
Plain flour, to dust
Olive oil, extra, to grease
1 egg, lightly whisked
2 tsp sesame seeds
Method
Combine yeast, sugar and 2 tbs of the water in a small bowl, and stir until yeast dissolves. Set aside in a warm, draughtfree place for 10 minutes or until frothy.
Sift flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the remaining water, oil, yoghurt and yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon to stir until combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
Brush a large bowl with oil to lightly grease. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draughtfree place to prove for 2 hours or until dough has doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Punch down the centre of the dough with your fist. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until dough has returned to its original size. Divide into 2 equal portions and shape each portion into a 6″ by 12″ rectangle. Place on 2 non-stick baking trays and press with fingers to indent surface. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draught-free place to prove for 20 minutes or until dough has risen an inch or so.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until pide is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Cut into slices and serve with dips.
Notes & tips
You can make this pide up to 6 hours ahead.

When all is said and done, what you end up with is a couple of giant chunks of flatbread that look like this:

They’re crispy on the outside (due to the egg wash), fluffy on the inside – but they’re also really thick and uneven. My first thought when they came out of the oven was “how on earth are you going to stuff this thing with meat and roll it up?” It didn’t sound hollow when tapped on the base. It sounded awful dense.

So…on to the meat we go.

2 lbs ground lamb (we used 1.5 lbs of 1/2 beef, 1/2 lamb)
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp flour
3 tsp ground oregano
1 1/2 tsp italian seasoning
1 1/2 garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp dried mustard
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp paprika

Put all ingredients into a mixer with a dough hook and mix for 30 minutes. You want the meat to be pulverized. What you do from here depends on what you have. If you have a vertical spit, you can form it into patties and build a cone. If you don’t, you can form it into a loaf and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. Just make sure it’s pressed really tight before you bake.

First of all, the ol’KitchenAid can pulverize meat in a lot faster than 30 minutes. It wasn’t even 15 before the meat was whipped to a consistency so disgusting that it made me squeamish – and that’s saying something. I gingerly scraped it all into a loaf pan (as much as a rotating spit would be in the kitchen, I don’t think we have the space) and then used a piece of wax paper to make it somewhat even before popping it into the oven for 45 minutes.

Here’s what you end up with – a slightly shrunken meat mass:

The real quandary with the meat? How to slice it. You want it thin. Tried using a cheese plane and it didn’t work at all. It was impossible t0 get a good grip on the surface of the meat to cut into and the risk of crumbling it was there. So we ended up just slicing it as thin as possible with a carving knife, which still wasn’t thin enough. We piled it onto the pide, added lettuce, tomato, onion and tzatziki and what did we end up with?

Well, pretty much a gyro with slightly different bread. Chalk this one up to the losing column. The loss was compounded by the fact that at no point did I even think about whipping up some of that runny red hot chili sauce that makes it so awesome.

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