Why Hello There, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, the site that makes you say “Man, if this bumbling buffoon can do it, so can I!” Or at least, that’s the goal. I’m your bumbling buffoon and amateur author, Jon O’Guin. Today, we’re going to be tackling a dish that appeals to me, but serves someone else: Gyros. And, as a bonus, it can KIND OF fill in for a St Paddy’s Day meal! Two-for-one!
Thinking About Somebody Else, For a Change
You know, I’ve spent a lot of time on this site talking about what I like, and the general trends of my family’s eating habits. But I haven’t gotten into the specifics of what the other members of the O’Guin brood enjoy very often. Partly, that’s because, well, I didn’t really remember. When I started the site, I was fresh off of 4-5 years of seeing my family once or twice a year for 2-3 days at a time. If I sit down and do the math, my brother Stephen and I have eaten together maybe 20 MEALS together in the last 4-5 years. Which some may consider sad, but really, for most of that time, we were both highly involved in our communities and hobbies: it was simply that said communities were 7 hours of driving away from each other, so we rarely made the effort to visit.
Apparently we were only 6 hours away. But still, any time you could compare the trip to a work-day, it's gonna be an imposition.
Recently however, I learned I had inadvertently betrayed Nate: during my father’s first bout of hospital visits, before his illness was fully known and it was believed to just be a gall stone, my mother and I became fairly familiar with an area of about 10 square blocks right next to the hospital. As my dad would go in for tests or scans, I’d go out for a walk, sort of deal. Having built our relationship with the area over a couple weeks, my mother suggested I walk my brother through it in about 3 hours. We bounced around, me pointing out bookstores, restaurants, and so forth that we liked. So I popped into a couple places to show him what we’d enjoyed. And as we were on the last leg of the journey, I said “Oh, and here’s this gyro place, I haven’t gotten a chance to try it yet, but I hear it’s good.”
This was, unbeknownst to me, an oversight of the highest order: apparently, in his time in Spokane, Nate had become very fond of gyros, and revealing a gyro place to him AFTER we had already had lunch was an insult he could barely abide. I begged ignorance, and sought to atone shortly thereafter. Thus it was that, as we puttered through the city on our current errand, I revealed that I had planned our route to place us near one of the higher rated gyro places in the city. Our success was as delicious as it was righteous. Nate got a gyro, and I a Lamb Shawarma, because I hate to order the same thing as someone else in my group.
Real talk: the Lamb Shawarma was fine, but the Feta fries in the background were pretty damn rad.
Shortly after THAT, I had an opportunity to even further redeem myself: the NFL Championship Game (Don’t think I forgot how sue-happy their damn lawyers are just because the season’s past) was coming up, and a YouTuber I watch dropped a recipe for at-home gyro creation, a feat that I had long regarded as a fool’s errand. Why? Glad you asked.
Can You Tell Me, What’s A Grecian Urn?
So, what is a gyro? Well, “Gyro” comes from Greek. It means “Turn”. Literally. That’s it. That’s because Gyro is what’s called a “calque”, and more specifically, a “loan-translation calque”. A calque is just “a word your language took from another one.” And a “loan-translation” calque is…this is easiest explained by example. Your computer has a “mouse”, right? Little thing, you move it around to click on stuff? It’s called that because it kind of looks like a mouse, you know, the little rodent. In a LOT of languages, the word for “the device you use to click on stuff on the computer” is the same as their word for “Small, cheese-eating rodent”. Why? Because they’re loan-translation calques. They took the loaned word, and translated it into theirs.
Did somebody need a mouse translated?
So, TURKEY had a dish called “doner kebab”, meaning ‘turned skewered meat’. Because that’s how you cook the meat: you stick it on a big skewer, pointing up, and you cook it while it slowly turns, slicing off chunks from the outer edges, so that the outside is always getting nice and brown and crusty, and then, when you slice it off, the NEW OUTSIDE does the same. It’s one of the single coolest cooking ideas I’ve encountered. Anyway, Greece saw it, asked what it was, and then just translated the word they got. Boom.
Fun fact: this Levantine linguistic change is also the reason different Western regions call the dish different names. England calls them “kebabs”, because they were exposed to the dish from Pakistani immigrants. Germany calls it “doner kebab”, because they got it from Turkish immigrants, and tend to be very precise about replicating things. America got more Greek immigrants, so we call them “gyros”.
They're also the reason we have Coney Island Dogs, so it's a bit of a mixed bag.
But rewind a paragraph: I just said this process takes a big vertical skewer, roasting slowly as it turns. That’s…a big fucking ask for your average household, isn’t it? That’s why I’ve long considered the idea of the home-made gyro a fool’s errand: vertical rotisseries are like, 500 goddamn dollars. And building your own is just begging for issues. Sure, you could just get a normal rotisserie over a grill, but that’s its own set of complications.
Luckily, the recipe I found fixes this issue with a startlingly simple tactic: who said you had to do it all at once?
Jon is as John Does
So, this recipe I got from Chef John of Food-wishes.com, a man I quite enjoy watching, despite his heretical misspelling of our shared shortened name. It’s not exactly the same, for reasons we’ll soon see, but I think it’s always important to credit one’s sources. Further, the guy’s just fun to watch. (His speech pattern was somewhat upsetting to Site Otaku Joe Seguin, but he made me watch all of Neo-Yokio, a show that’s…somehow comforting in how bad it is. Like the self-published novel I bought from a bookstore where the author doesn’t know the difference between “revelry” and “reverie”, it’s endearing in its simplicity.
He uses the wrong word three times in two paragraphs on page ONE of the story.
The actual recipe itself is pretty simple, and surprising: basically, you make a mixture of ground meats into a pseudo-meat-loaf, and cook it most of the way done. THEN, to replicate the ever-browning exterior of the gyro-spit, you thinly slice the loaf and fry the slices to completion, browning each of them in turn. It is genius in its simplicity: if the problem is that you can’t keep cooking the spit, just cook it twice.
My rendition of his recipe…well, there’s a reason we’re named Kitchen Catastrophe. Things don’t go smooth here. The specifics elude me at the moment, but events played out so that I ended up cooking the first half of the recipe rather late in the evening, around 10 PM or so. A time which, if you’ve paid attention to the general biological clocks of my home, means I was the only one awake, which made the fact that we had somehow run out of half the spices for this mixture VERY frustrating. Seriously, this recipe calls for fresh rosemary, dried oregano, ground cumin, cayenne, and several more ‘standard’ spices. (Salt, pepper, cinnamon, paprika.) Now, of that list, I would honestly expect the average household to have all of them at any given time. My house in particular I KNOW relies on dried oregano for spaghetti sauce, and ground cumin for a bunch of stuff. So imagine my surprise when I found that we had neither. Which lead to…compromises. The first one actually wasn’t too bad, culinarily speaking, just in terms of effort.
The primary instruments in my symphony of woes.
See, we were out of GROUND cumin, not out of cumin SEED. So…why not just grind my own? The answer to that, of course, is a drawn-out, whiny “because it’s haaaaaarrrrrdd.” But honestly, it wasn’t the worst experience of my life. I had a bit of trouble wrangling the cumin, as I’m more used to grinding spices in a mortar and pestle or automatic spice grinder, neither of which I knew how to find, but I am not so much an ass to wake up others just because I made questionable decisions. Unless those decisions were drinking, in which case I don’t MEAN to wake people up, it happens because I lose the ability to modulate my voice.
In any case, after about 10 minutes, I had semi-ground cumin. The oregano, on the other hand, I replaced with a mixture of thyme, basil, and majoram, because we had all of THOSE SPICES, just not the one I NEEDED.
Once your spice-based sorrows are sorted, the process is, as mentioned before, easy. You just take a pound of lamb and a pound of hamburger.
I'm so sad.
And you mix them up with spices, breadcrumbs, onions, and garlic. As I noted earlier, you’re basically trying to make a ‘bad’ meatloaf: With meatloaf, you don’t want to mix too long, or with too much force, because you want the meat to be soft. Here, you want it more solid, so mix away, dude!
While that sucker roasts, let me tell you about a fringe benefit of this dish: Since it’s made with Lamb, you could, if you wanted to, make an argument about it being an appropriate St Paddy’s Day lunch: as we’ve discussed before on the site, the ever popular Corned Beef and Cabbage wasn’t actually a very big dish in Ireland, because they didn’t have steady access to beef until after the Potato Famine. Instead, a meat like Lamb is much more in keeping with Irish culinary history. So look, I kind of made a holiday related dish as well!
Once your meat’s roasted, you gotta chill it, thoroughly. So this is a dish designed to be prepped ahead, and produced quickly. For toppings, we went with feta cheese, sliced cucumber, sliced tomato, cucumber tzatziki, and one topping we had to prep: marinated onions. You just thinly slice like, half an onion, toss in a Tupperware, and rouse with red wine vinegar, and OF COURSE WE’RE OUT OF RED WINE VINEGAR. UGH. Well, actually, I lied. We had about 1.4 tablespoons of it, so I just doused them in that and hoped for the best. Turns out, it was probably enough.
Once you’re hankering for your spun-meat sandwiches, it’s time to finish the dish: you take the meatloaf out, and slice it thin. The exactly size and dimensions of your slices are up to you. Chef John cut his roughly 2 inches wide and 1/8” thick. We went a little thicker, and a little less wide.
Normally, I'd think this is somewhat underdone, but I know we're about to cook it again, so I'm not concerned.
Then, you just fry them in olive oil for 2-3 minutes a side to get some browning on those bad boys. Slab your browned beefy bits onto a pita, and top to your liking. And what you get honestly LOOKS pretty close to the kind of gyro you’d find in a lot of shops and restaurants.
Flavorwise, my brother and I agreed that it wasn’t QUITE right. Maybe I needed to toast the cumin before grinding it, or maybe it was the lack of oregano, but it barely missed the flavor profile we were aiming for. Still, they were pretty good, and this recipe makes enough meat for 8 people to have a quarter pound of gyro meat per person. Since we had ours as part of a wider football-game themed spread, we actually went with about half that, and just had leftovers for the rest of the week’s lunches.
All in all, we came very near success. We weren’t up to my brother’s demanding gyro standards, in the same way we fell short of my own khao soi standards so long ago. But it was certainly edible, despite our several substitutions , and honestly the process is pretty easy and enjoyable. I wouldn’t doubt we’ll make it again, this time making sure we have all the right spices BEFOREHAND, and seeing if it’s more to our liking then.
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THURSDAY: JON INTENDS TO REVIEW A NETFLIX SHOW, SINCE THE LAST TIME HE DID THAT, INTERESTING THINGS HAPPENED. BUT CIRCUMSTANCES MAY DELAY THAT. WE’LL SEE.
MONDAY: MOTIVATED BY A MAD-MAN’S URGE, JON BEGINS TWO WEEKS OF CHICKEN RECIPES WITH A POT-PIE OF PLENTY.
Oven-Roasted, Pan-Fried Gyros
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground lamb
½ cup finely diced onion
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp bread crumbs
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
2 tsp dried oregano
2-3 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp groun cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl, and transfer to a greased baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from dish, and chill several hours or overnight.
2. To serve: Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Take meat from fridge, thinly slice to desired weight, and fry slices for 2-3 minutes per side until browned to your liking.
3. Place slices in pita, top as desired, and consume.