1 Jun 2011

Crispy pork belly gyros of many traditions

I guess somebody was in a street food mood lately, yeah I think so.

Crispy Pork Belly Gyros

This round of Velveteers has been brought us by the eclectic mind of Asha from Fork Spoon Knife. Amidst her blog birthday and the plethora of guest posts she managed to put together for the occasion, she came up with the idea of challenging us in making Gyros ourselves....
What is Gyros? Come on, you know that! Oh wait, you might know it as Doner Kebab perhaps. In effect they are essentially the same thing and that is a huge conical pillar of meat roasted vertically on a skewer.
If you didn't know that Germany is famous for its sausages and sauerkraut, you would call Doner (contraction from Doener Kebab) the national dish. You find a "Doener Haus" almost every second corner around here and I would bet that 1/3 of the middle-aged to young part of the population almost entirely survives on it. If well done this fast-food item can be in effect quite a balanced meal.

How is it served? The roasting spit of meat is shaved with a special tool that let the meat flakes drop on the bottom tray were all the meat juices and fat collect and give the meat that extra crispiness. Placed on a flat bread of sort, the meat is accompanied with shredded lettuce, fresh onions, tzatziki and harissa. At least this is how Doner is served, Gyros uses the same cooking technique but it is usually served just with fresh onions, French fries and tzatziki.

What are the origins of this fast food dish? Most probably Turkish (get the connection with the German national dish?) the roasting technique seems to relate with the soldiers' practice of roasting meat skewed on their swords. The roasting was then performed mostly horizontally until in the 19th century Iskender Efendi is said to have thought of putting it vertically.

The huge piece of meat whirling around is not actually whole but composed of a stack of meat slices that have been marinating in herbs like oregano, paprika, cloves, onions and so forth. The lean meat is often intermingled with pieces of fat that melt down while roasting and dripping down, baste the lower end of the meat cone. The result product, gives shaves of juicy meat with a crispy side balanced perfectly by the tangy dairy sauces and the fresh vegetables they are served with.
Originating from a Muslim country, Doner it is most widely made of lamb meat but nowadays you can as easily find chicken as another meat choice.

Doener Kebab has been introduced into Greece through Tessaloniki (the second largest city in Greece after Athens) around the 1950-70 and, not being anymore obliged to follow religious constrains, it started to be made also from pork meat.
The similarity of the dish is also reflected by their name; both words Gyros and Doner refer in fact to the "turning, rotating" of the roasting meat.

I couldn't resist the porky call and, naturally, what is the pork cut by excellence if not Pork-belly? The only trouble of this cut of meat is that it requires a long and slow cook to be nicely juicy and tender. Braising is often the way to go when you are too lazy to slow roast it, as I am.
Traditions will dictate what to use to flavour the meat and the stock. Garlic is a must with pork as are onions for Gyros, oregano is another must. Other spices commonly used include paprika and allspice but I wasn't so much keen on having a red hue on the meat so I left the paprika aside.
For this kind of cooking, a pressure cooker is a great kitchen asset. Shove everything in, put it on the fire, cook for 1/3 of the time usually required and enjoy your meal.
In this case though, we want something crispy so the cooking will have to be double fold.

As mentioned Gyros is usually served with French fries but I wasn't in the mood for them so, as a delicate call to my Sicilian roots (and to Gyros' Turkish origins) I decided to use fried eggplants; still, potatoes where in my head; I had to include them in the dish somehow.

Fried Eggplants

Asha, in disclosing the monthly challenge, specified that we had to prepare the bread ourselves too; so here we go, a potato flatbread spiked with fresh onions!
As for the sauce? A traditional tangy, spicy, garlicky tzatziki seemed fit for the task.

Without further ado, it is time to give you my:

Crispy Pork-Belly Gyros with fried eggplants in a potato-onion flatbread

Crispy Pork Belly Gyros

Ingredients: (enough for 5-6 sandwiches)
  • 700g whole fresh pork belly with skin
  • 1.5tsp each of black peppercorns, 
    • fennel seeds
    • allspice
    • oregano
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 150g onion, chopped
  • 1/2cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 1.5l water or enough to cover the pork belly

Potato flatbread (makes 5-6 medium sized ones)
  • 150g cooked potatoes, passed through a ricer
  • 1/2cup semolina flour
  • 1 medium onions, diced
  • 1/2tbsp of water or as needed
  • salt

  • 100g seeded cucumber, diced
  • 125g quark (20% fat) or thick yogurt
  • 1-2 small garlic clove2, pureed
  • 4-5 mint leaves, chopped
  • salt
  • Fried eggplant slices
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Cut the pork belly across the longest of its sides, in strips 5cm/2" wide and place in a pressure cooker, or Dutch oven. Add all the rest of the ingredients, cover and bring to the highest pressure setting; cook for 1.5h over moderate fire, just enough to maintain the pressure in the pot.
If you are using a Dutch oven, braise the pork belly over medium/low fire until very tender. Try not to let the broth boil of it may become too fatty.
Once the meat will be cooked, let it cool undisturbed in the braising liquid before transferring it, gently, in a bowl and refrigerate (at this point you may want to discard the bay leaves). This will ensure that the porkbelly wont fall apart while you are trying to lift it up.
Let the braise cool down until the rendered fat will solidify (4h to overnight). Remove the fat and reserve to use as a spread. It will be wonderfully enriched by all the spices used in the cooking process.
The rich stock will have jellified too so before straining it, transfer as much of it as you can on a saucepan; be careful not to break the meat too much.
Place the saucepan over medium fire and stir until the stock will have completely liquefied. To scrape the rest of the juices from the meat, place it over a plate and into a very low preheated oven until they will have liquefied; pour them in the saucepan.
Strain the stock through a fine mousseline pressing well all the tidbits. Return the stock to the saucepan and let it reduce over medium-low fire to 1/3rd of its original volume; reserve. This will make the sauce for the gyros.
In the meantime that the stock is reducing, place the diced cucumber in a fine-mesh strainer, salt them and let them drain. This way you will get most of the water out of them before assembling your tzatziki and they will acquire a pleasing green hue and crunchy texture.

To make the potato flatbreads, gather the finely chopped onions in a mousseline gently sprinkle with salt and squeeze them over a bowl to gather their juices. In a big bowl, combine the cooked potatoes, onions, onion juices, salt and semolina flour and knead gently until you get a malleable dough. Let the dough rest for 10min. Upon standing the dough might get sticky, in this case knead in a little extra flour.
To form the flatbread you will need a nonstick surface, some oiled plastic wrap will do the trick. Spoon some of the dough on the oiled surface, oil the top of the dough and shape it onto a flat round. In the meantime have a flat skillet warming up over medium-low fire. Slightly oil both the pan and on of your hands, lift the flatbread onto your oiled hand and carefully place it onto the skillet. The flatbread may wrinkly on the transfer, use a flat spatula to gently redistribute the dough.
Cook the flatbread on one side until the raw dough appearance will have disappeared, flip it and cook for another couple of minutes. Reserve the cooked flatbreads in an insulted container or a warm oven. Continue cooking the bread until the dough will be finished.

In the meantime that the breads are cooking take the skin out of the pork belly pieces and carefully slice them across the longest axis into 5mm-1/4" thick slices.
When the flatbread will all be cooked, add a little vegetable oil in the skillet and turn the fire up to medium. Gently transfer the pork belly slices on the skillet to crisp up just from one side. Reserve on a warm plate ready for assemble.
Assemble the tzatziki by simple combining the quark (or yogurt) with the diced cucumber, the mashed garlic and the mint leaves; season with salt if needed.
To assemble your gyros sandwich place some tzatziki, fried eggplant slices and crispy pork belly onto a flatbread; drizzle with the reduced braising sauce (if in the meantime it has jellified, lightly warm it up) and enjoy either as a wrap or as a sandwich by covering it with another potato flatbread.

The 4 Velveteers was started by Alessio, Aparna, Asha and Pamela, who are passionate about different cuisines and food in general. Each month, we will attempt a new dish and share our experiences and the recipes we used. If you're interested in joining the Velveteers, please feel free to drop by our Facebook group.
Check out what the other Velveteers have come up with this month:

Aparna's Vegetarian version of Gyros
Rajani's Veggies Jai-ros
Sarah's Lamb kebabs and pita bread


  1. This a fantastic take on Gyro...using pork belly! In Greece, it's often made from pork butt (shoulder) as it needs some fat.

    Bravo, I want to try your version soon too!

  2. Stunning photography and I love the subject matter!!! mmmmm...pork belly

  3. Now that is an amazing gyro! Great history lesson on the dish, plus a recipe I must try (along with the fried eggplant).

  4. Nice photos and wow! I had no idea that gyros had so much of history :)

  5. Wow!what a great food to taste for a tea time snacks.It looks great and awesome to eat.

  6. That is a beautiful serving of gyro. Eggplant and pork belly? That's twice the appeal for me. Yum!

  7. we love this food, Most of her food is made at home but sometimes we need something more portable and the eggplant are great.