Ma-ma-ma-my shawarma

One of the coolest gadgets to find its way into our household lately is the Cuisinart rotisserie. I know I’ve waxed poetic on my desire for said rotisserie, and it turns out someone was listening (my husband) because it showed up underneath our tree this Christmas.

I know for stone cold facts that he didn’t really understand the purchase. He’d never had a rotisserie chicken. Who the hell hasn’t had rotisserie chicken? I ask you! In college, it was like the be all end all of grocery purchases. I’d get it home from the store, then immediately commence the first stage of rotisserie chicken consumption: eating all of the skin off of the bird.

I know this isn’t always the most popular idea with people. For reasons that I can’t even marginally comprehend, my mother-in-law believes that the skin is where all of the chicken bacteria live. She thinks it’s somehow unsafe or unsanitary to eat the skin off of any poultry. So the skin in their house always got thrown away on Thanksgiving or other such roast-bird days. Who would do such a thing? Who would throw away the best, fattiest, most deliciously crisp-crunchety good part of a roasted bird? Ach.

But then I showed up. Now, any time there’s a roast bird, Chris’s dad covertly slips me all of the skin pieces while he’s carving, all the while good-naturedly grumbling about how he likes skin too, but isn’t allowed to have any. And my mother-in-law always reminds me several times about all the bacteria. And because I adore her, and I’m not interested in a debate, and also to prevent anyone from competing with me for the skin, I don’t explain to her why that’s criminally illogical.

The point of all of this, though, is that Chris never got to experience the joy of sitting down and eating a whole rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, without the benefit of utensils, side dishes, or sharing of any kind. The poor dear. And I don’t think he understood, nor does he currently understand, the full wonderment of having his own personal rotisserie on hand. Yet.

I actually didn’t even want the rotisserie for chickens. Don’t get me wrong–I’m quite looking forward to having rotisserie birds around the house. But what I really wanted the rotisserie for was gyros.

I fecking love me some gyros. My mom’s favorite mall food, to my knowledge, is a gyro from Renzio’s greek food. It’s a chain of not-very-authentic greek food that you’ll find in many of the Colorado shopping malls. It’s fast food, known for its surly employees, and I grew up thinking it was the bomb. They have the traditional vertical rotisseries, with the infrared back plate that browns the outside of the meat cone as it rotates. They slice off pieces with long knives to order, then stuff them into warm pita bread with lettuce, olives, and tomatoes. A side of tzatziki rounds out the plate. And their french fries? KILLER. Seriously, out of this world. I think it’s because I’ve never had a limp french fry there. It’s always all crispy and golden and they sprinkle them with a great blend of Greek spices and herbs (which they also sell in little shaker bottles at the register). I’ve never eaten their tzatziki sauce, because I don’t eat anything dairy from fast food restos…never have. I guess I always assumed it’d either be sour or made of bat semen or some other kind of culinary injustice that would scar me for life.

Anyway, that was the epitome of the word “gyro” when I was growing up. It’s the only place I’d had them. I believed that the giant cone of compressed, ground meat was authentically Greek. And I thought that the Greeks were the only people who ate gyros. Wrong. Turns out many of the Mediterranean countries have some version of the gyro. And it also turns out that the cone of compressed meat is about as authentically Greek as Taco Bell is authentically Mexican. Or as Fazolis is authentically Italian. But who gives a rat’s ass, honestly, since Fazolis gives you free unlimited breadsticks, soaked in some kind of garlic trans-fats, and that taste of absolute ambrosia when dipped in their Italian salad dressing. Gah. I really want Fazoli’s breadsticks right now.

A quick Google of the situation says that I’m almost 54 miles away from the nearest Fazoli’s, which is a complete travesty of the highest order of bullshit, and basically means…who’s up for a road trip?! This would be less insulting if the Google results for “Sonic Drive-In San Antonio” didn’t yield 253 results. Disgusting. And no Renzio’s either. So I’ll be responsible for furnishing my own gyros for the time being. Meanwhile, you should all write your senators and ask them to send us back to Colorado so that I can be the “less spiteful and possibly full of Fazoli’s breadsticks and humor and joy and laughter chef.”

What am I going on aboot?

The gyro, the shawarma, the doner kebab…they’re all versions of a similar idea. First, a tall skewer or cone shaped device is required. But rather than form ground meat substance around said cone, there are many, many layers of thinly sliced, soaked, and spiced meat skewered together.

Here’s how I made this vague representation of a shawarma (vague for a number of reasons, least of all because I used pork, and the shawarma is the middle-eastern version of this type of cookery, and pork and middle-eastern food don’t really comingle too much). I made it at school, with the chef’s permission, so I only have photos from my iPhone. Many apologies for their badness.

First, the marinade:

1 onion
1 t allspice
2 T salt
1 t oregano
2 cloves garlic
1/4 C white vinegar

Blend until liquified

Second, the dry rub

equal parts oregano, thyme, coriander, and salt

Third, the meat

1 (3-4#) pork butt, boned and sliced on the meat slicer into 1/8-1/4″ slices

Fourth, the soak

Soak the meat slices in the liquid marinade for at least an hour

Fifth, the assembly

Skewer the slices of meat, one after another, on a cone or upright “roasting rack” for a vertical rotisserie (shown)

Between each slice of meat, give a light dusting of the dry rub, then skewer on another piece. Try to rotate the meat as you go so that the end result is a sort of cylindrical shaped meat skewer. Add the fat cap last, skewered at the very top.

Sixth, the cooking

On a rotisserie at relatively high heat (I did 425 F), allow the meat to rotate and cook until the outer layer has browned spots and looks “cooked” like this:

Once the outer layer of the meat looks like that, take the cone out and lop off the outer layers. Keep them warm and return the cone to the rotisserie to cook again until the outside looks brown again. Slice again and repeat until the meat is all gone. Here’s a picture of what the side (left side) looks like after it’s been sliced and before it’s returned to the rotisserie:

Serve with warm pita bread. I made some in the deck oven at school, which seems so far superior to the oven I have at home, but takes a long-ass time to preheat and makes the entire kitchen warm.


I’d also recommend some kind of yogurt-based sauce to serve with it. The meat is incredibly juicy and flavorful, and you can absolutely drizzle the finished meat with the drippings from the bottom of the rotisserie (holy flavor, batman!), but a tzatziki-type of sauce really adds to it. Here’s my half-assed version that I throw together for anything from salad to gyros to dipping sauce for veggies:

Tzatziki (sorta)

2 C thick, plain, whole milk yogurt (preferably Greek, although you can get a less thick version and hang it overnight in cheesecloth to drain it if you wish)
1/2 cucumber, seeded, grated, and squeezed in a towel or cheesecloth to rid of excess juice
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 lemon
1 t fresh mint (or fresh dill or parsley or whatever you prefer)
1 t sea salt (or kosher if you don’t have sea)

Stir together yogurt, cucumber, and garlic. Squeeze juice from lemon, being careful to avoid seeds. Stir in fresh mint and salt. Taste and adjust as needed. Letting this sit for a half hour or so before eating makes it MUCH better.

This post was full of an unfortunate amount of learning, and also gives you a recipe that requires extremely specialized equipment to make. For this I apologize. But it was such a really cool and delicious experience that I felt like I had to share it with you. Also, I know you’re enterprising souls, and will probably find a way to jury-rig a system that you can use at home. Maybe a rotisserie on your grill or something.

If nothing else, I hope that you guys go out and eat the skin off a chicken in my honor. A dead, cooked one, obviously. God only knows what type of freaky, mutant bacteria live on the skins of live chickens.

It puts the dry rub on the skin, or else it gets the hose again.

7 thoughts on “Ma-ma-ma-my shawarma”

  1. Yeah, i don't like chicken skin…but that's a texture thing–don't like the crunchy skin with the non-crunchy flesh, and thus I always take the skin off. In fact when I was a little kid I liked the extra crunchy KFC chicken because it was easier to pull the skin off.

    and I laughed out loud at your Silence of the Lambs reference.

  2. I don't like the skin too. Its just not my thing…but shawarma, I can have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And luckily Kuwait has a shawarma place every few metres…have you tried Tahini with yogurt garlic based sauces ? Its a killer combo !

  3. You and your Dad used to fight over turkey skin while he was carving – worried me terrible what with him holding that big knife and you all but pulling the scraps from his teeth! As for Gyros, they still are my favorite mall food, and also one of Huck's favorite suppers. Sprouts sells an inferior Gyro meat product that is so fatty it fries away to nothing, so we usually make ours with little marinated steak cubes. To me it's the herbs and the tzatziki (plus some feta) that make them so tasty. May I leave work and go to the mall?

  4. Mmm… gyros and tzatziki are one of my favorite things! How awesome that you can make your own at home!

    And crispy chicken skin is delicious. It's the best part of the bird not only because it's crunchy and flavorful, but because it simultaneously holds in moisture for the meat.

    Peeps who don't like chicken skin are only saying it because they've been indoctrinated by the evil, taste-free ultra-health-food industry. Brainwashed, they are.

    I don't mean the organic, awesome vegetables and free-range people. Those peeps are cool. I mean the horrible "cut the fat off of everything" and "eat wheat grass and vitamin pills" types of health freaks. The former are awesome, the latter are an angry group that do in fact deserve the hose.

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