Friday, 2 July 2010

Doner Kebabs

If there is a food more maligned than the doner kebab then it remains unknown to my palate.

Long the butt of jokes and the final resort of a hungry lush as he or she stumbles back home from the pub via a neon takeaway, the poor kebab as we know it in England is far removed from its original form.

Sweaty mystery meat sculpted into the famous ‘elephant’s foot’ rotates slowly in front of orange hued heater bulbs behind the counters of less salubrious dining establishments throughout the country. Unimaginably long lengths of it are hacked off and crammed into epic flatbreads or warm pitas before being topped with a token salad of four cucumber rings, some harsh raw onion and a few wedges of watery tomato.

The whole lot is finished with a Russian roulette chilli sauce that ranges from the pathetic to nuclear hot and then eaten with gusto, delight and a side order of late onset guilt.

And it tastes great.

Admittedly the average doner diner is three or even four sheets to the wind by the time they get their laughing gear around this culinary oddity that somehow manages to pack a day’s worth of calories into a single polystyrene box. They are chowed down late at night to sate the deep hunger brought on by overindulgence of the grape and grain’s fine nectar.

I can recall many morning after conversations that have included the phrase ‘I must have been quite pissed – I even had a kebab’ and fondly remember one incident when the distinctive doner niff followed us round for an entire Sunday after a heavy Saturday night. Even a shower and a change of clothes wasn’t enough to quell the odour. It was only when my friend reached into his coat pocket for his wallet and pulled out a length of brown meat that the mystery was solved.

In short kebabs tend to be eaten in haste and regretted at leisure when noxious burps scented with onion exacerbate the hangover. They are the guiltiest of guilty pleasures and a gastronomic punchline for a joke that ceases to be funny at about 6 o’clock the following morning when the belly cramps and the head aches.

But this shouldn’t be the case. In its true form, the doner is a thing of beauty: marinated lamb meat, slow cooked into tender softness – warm with spices and rich with natural fat. Blistered flatbreads with that wonderful gentle bitterness. Heat from chillies tempered with cool salad. Hummus. Yoghurt. These are all good things. Great, wonderful tasty things. And more importantly all things you can achieve at home.

Doner Kebabs

OK – this isn’t a true doner. For that you’d need epic amounts of meat of dubious origin, a large vertical spit, six hours of turning and a hungry mob to consume it all. So we cooked a simplified version which was superior in every way.

Once a lamb shoulder had been boned out and butterflied it was covered with a spice mix containing cumin, coriander, chillies, oregano, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil before being tied up and roasted in the oven over a layer of roughly chopped onions.

Three hours at a low heat was long enough to render the meat tender and almost liquefy the onions.

Whilst it was resting we cooked up a batch of flatbreads, made some hummus and a chopped salad of cucumber, tomato, red onion and plenty of parsley.

The lamb meat was shredded with two forks and mixed in with the cooked onions and the fat and juices that had pooled in the bottom of the roasting tray. Heaped into fresh warm flatbreads and then finished off with all the necessary accoutrements it was a meal fit for the gods themselves. Or at least Bacchus.

Photography by Charlotte


Kavey said...

This doesn't happen as often as you'd think: you have ACTUALLY made my stomach rumble. Out loud. At my desk. Luckily it's 12.24 on a Friday and I'm about to head out for lunch.

I love doner, even when I'm not pissed but this home-made version looks so far superior... I want.

Anonymous said...

Over here in Quebec the good ones are Lebanese: pita bread used like a wrap, chicken or beef sliced from a vertical giant skewer, hummus, tabbouleh , tomato etc. After a night out there's always poutine....fries, curd cheese and chicken gravy. - Magi

Violet's Curd said...

I have decided I am having this for dinner. And, I'm very excited about it.


danthemackem said...

I've just come back from a (long) lunch with my work-mates (all on the boss too), read this post and I'm hungry again...

Just Cook It said...

Kavey - Good to know that my work does exactly what food writing should do - make you hungry. Thanks!

Magi - That sounds wrong. Deliciously wrong.

Violet's Curd - Excellent choice. Let me know how you get on

cook it, eat it, enjoy it - Well I consider that a success

Helen said...

I could not be more in agreement with you and nor could my boyfriend. We eat way too much 'posh babbage' as we refer to it.

Hollow Legs said...

Ah, kebabs. Awesome stuff; I usually go for the chicken shish option as I figured as it's cooked from fresh it's generally nicer.

And yes, always pissed. A particularly memorable one (no less because it was all over my jeans) was Helen (above) and I eating it on the back of a night bus... with our hands. Good times.

matt said...

oh man this brings back memories. I have to say I have never had a doner so well cooked and constructed as yours - and doubt I ever will! Fab. photos.

Jonathan said...

Great stuff. How does this differ from a lamb shawarma? This one from Cafe Helen on the Edgeware Road is particularly epic...

From my experience they are made from marinated boned shoulders of lamb which are then flame grilled on a spit. Whereas doner is reclaimed meat and mainly fat.

Sinéad Ryan said...

We've made this twice now. Both times utterly delicious. I can see it becoming a regular feature!

For the salad, I mandolin the red onion really thinly, and then soak it in cold water for at least 30 minutes. You get all the crunch and flavour, but it takes the sting out!

Unknown said...

Just got back from Turkey and the kebabs (or kebaps) are nothing like the greasy imitations sold on British high streets. The Donor that we had was proper lamb meat shredded up and reminds me very much of this recipe. I'll look forward to trying it.


Chef Jay said...

This looks very delicious. The salad on top is a good healthy accent.I bet adding a homemade salsa wouldn't be to bad either. For more information on cooking ideas please visit my website.

Katanga said...

Only place in the UK that sells doner meat direct to the consumer is I've tried to buy it but seems they aren't quite open for business yet.