These days simple do-able recipes with a high pay off have been my mainstay. Do Homemade Canadian Donair qualify? I think so. And while these sandwiches might look restaurant quality (and the idea DID come from one, Occo Kitchen & Bar, I saw on Diner’s, Drive-Ins & Dives and here’s the video) these lovely Canadian versions of the Gyro are much easier than you’d guess,. especially if you view it as a mostly a “make ahead” meal. Gotta love that!
But maybe I should back up a bit. If you’re like me, from the States, you might want a little background and might be wondering just what the heck IS a Donair. In Canada, of course, they probably don’t call the iconic pita type sandwich a Canadian Donair. It’s an East Coast Donair or maybe more commonly, a Halifax Donair. The story goes that Peter Gamoulakos added Gyros to his menu at his Pizza Shop back in the 1950s. They didn’t go over well, so he changed up the lamb to beef and added a special sauce. History was made!
About Homemade Canadian Donair:
So basically, you start out with a lovely, soft pita (or you can use naan like I did), slather it with a little garlic butter, then add thin slices of a ground beef mixture that has been first baked off and then sliced and griddled or grilled. On top goes a little cheese, a little lettuce, then “tons of sauce” per the instructions of Chef Mark Steele of Occo. Then on go a few sliced cherry tomatoes, sweet bell pepper or mini bells, sliced, along with rings of jalapeno (or maybe Fresno peppers.) Add a little more cheese just for good measure and finish off your Donair with pickled red onion strewn across the top.
One of the customers in the video, linked above, is a little wild about the combo of the sweet sauce and the spicy peppers; I thought it was the pickled red onions combined with that sweet sauce that really took the flavors over the top. I’m guessing pickled red onion is one of the Cheffy touches from Occo that elevates this sandwich. You, of course, are free to add whatever you’d like to your Donair (but add the pickled red onions, lol!)
Making the Beef for Homemade Canadian Donair:
I went a different route to make my beef than they do at Occo. I used the flavors and spicing I saw on the show and adapted a method from a recipe for Greek American Lamb Gyros developed by J. Kenji Lopez Alt of Serious Eats. (And by the way, if you’re looking for a good home-cooked Gyro, you’ve got to try Kenji’s original recipe! It’s fantastic!)
Basically, you’re going to mix up ground beef and spices (it’s best if it sits for an hour to blend the spices) in a food processor with onion and bacon, then make a kind of a meatloaf and partially bake it off. You’re looking for 155 degrees F., not quite done, which gives you room to slice and grill or griddle and still have it beautifully juicy and caramelized.
After your meatloaf is baked, let rest for 30 minutes or stick it in the fridge and let it sit for up to several days. When you’re ready to make your donair, you’re pretty well set. You’ll just slice that meatloaf mixture thinly and pan fry or grill.
It’s worth mentioning that the food processor is really key to the recipe; you’ll work everything into a paste and that’s going to give you uniform slices that will hold together. And of course, the food processor is going to do the job in just minutes. To form the loaf, you really need it about 1 1/2″ high, and for good-sized slices, about 4″ wide. That made mine about 6 1/2 inches long, and gave me about 30 thin slices. You really don’t need much of this flavorful meat for each donair, especially when it’s loaded up with the toppings, so it really goes farther than you might think, but you do you!
The sauce, it seems, is what really defines a Donair. Again, I went with a slightly different version than was shown on the show, primarily because I wanted it simple and wanted just the right amount. I gotta admit, it really took me by surprise, both the sauce and the flavor the sauce added to the donair. It took me a minute to wrap my head around it. As a matter of fact, I was quite taken aback and couldn’t even make up my mind about it for the first few bites! Once I got into the pickled red onion, though, I was sold. It’s all a little addictive!
You’ll want to make your sauce first, so the flavors blend a little; people claim it’s good after an hour but even better the next day. It’s super easy, just stir together. If you make it ahead as I did, it’s really thick when it’s cold from the fridge. I mixed in a touch of hot water, by the teaspoonful (I think I went with two teaspoons) to get it to the perfect thick but still pourable consistency.
Saving Money on the Homemade Canadian Donair:
Do watch the pricing on any ground beef, stock up at a low (most will drop to a low once per quarter) then portion in sizes your family will use and freeze.
Bacon, before it’s recent popularity used to be dirt cheap but no longer. Usually, bacon will be on sale right before any holiday (Click on Win at the Grocers to see what will be on sale prior to any holiday) so watch for specials. Since it takes so little room, it’s an ideal freezer item. When using bacon in a recipe where it will be chopped or diced, you can slightly thaw and slice right through the package in slices, top to bottom, and refreeze what’s not needed.
The cheese I use is this recipe is the standard grocery store stuff, bought on special. I stock up when there’s a great deal because it keeps for weeks, unopened in the fridge and can be frozen if need be. After freezing, it’s always a little crumbly. Fine for recipes like this but you won’t want to try to slice it for eating or sandwiches. Watch the sale prices on the veggies; there’s plenty of room to choose and pick what looks reasonable. Make sure to have another use for the remainder.
You’ll have extra of both the pickled red onion (whether you make or buy the onions and it’s so much cheaper to make them) and the Sweetened Condensed Milk. The red onion keeps for weeks in the fridge and covered tightly, the Sweetened Condensed Milk will keep well for about two weeks. Honestly, it may last longer but will get thicker as it sits. I like to use it to make Pumpkin Spiced Lattes in the winter and my Frozen Coffee Frappe Goodness (a McDonald’s copycat) in the summer. It’s great for Vietnamese Coffee, too.
Well, that just about wraps it up for the Canadian Donair! Maybe if we can’t visit in person, we can visit in our minds! I know we’ve been in a terrible heat wave just about all over the States. Try baking the loaf off late evening or in the early am, then taking everything outside to grill and maybe eat when supper time rolls around! Take care all!
Homemade Canadian Donair
The number of servings and the amount of ingredients for these Gyro like sandwiches will vary depending upon how served. Pile on to your heart’s content or be more sparing, as you wish.
- Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings 1x
- Category: Sandwiches
- Cuisine: Canadian
For the Donair Meat:
- 1 pound ground beef (or ground 80/20)
- 2 ounces slab bacon (2 slices classic cut), cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt)
- 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 small onion or 1/2 large, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons softened butter
- 1/4 (or a little more) teaspoon garlic powder
- 4 to 6 (or more) soft Pita bread
- 1 1/2 cups shredded lettuce or lettuce blend
- 4 ounces Cheddar or white Cheddar cheese, grated (about a cup)
- Donair Sauce (below)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup sliced cherry or grape tomatoes
- 2 to 3 mini bells, sliced (or thin slices or strips of bell pepper)
- 2 to 3 jalapeno or Fresno peppers, sliced
- Pickled Red Onions
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Donair Meat:
Add ground beef to a bowl. In a small bowl, mix all spices together, the salt, cayenne, oregano, black pepper, smoked paprika, onion powder, and garlic powder. Sprinkle over meat. Mix meat thoroughly to incorporate spices. Cover and place in the refrigerator for one hour. In the meantime, chunk the bacon into chunks and place back in the refrigerator as well.
After the beef mixture had been in the fridge for an hour, preheat oven to 300°F. and place a rack in the center. Add the cold beef mixture to the bowl of a food processor with the bacon and onion. Process to a smooth puree, about a minute total scraping down as needed.
Line a sheet pan with a piece of foil, add the beef mixture on top and form into a log about 1 1/2″ tall, about 4″ wide and 6 inches long. (Exact measurements may vary; the important measurements are the height, 1 1/2″ and the width, 4″ inches.). Turn up the edges of the foil to catch any drippings and bake for about 30 minutes until a thermometer registers 155 degrees F. Let rest for at least 30 minutes or make ahead; it will keep for several days in the fridge.
When ready to make donair, thinly slice and pan fry or grill over medium-high heat (if grilling, preheat the grill, clean well and lightly oil grate) and cook until browned and caramelized and juices are showing. Remove from heat as finished and tent with foil to keep warm as the rest is finished.)
Mix together butter and garlic powder. Adjust to taste. Spritz Pita with water, add to skillet and heat until warm and slightly browned in places or lightly grill. Brush lightly with the butter/garlic mixture. Wrap in a towel to keep warm and set aside.
When ready to serve, add several slices of the beef to the pita, top with the lettuce and cheese. Drizzle with sauce. Add the remaining toppings, first the cherry tomatoes, then the peppers, both mild and hot, then a little more cheese. Finish with pickled onion.
The Donair Sauce:
Make as the beef is resting before being mixed so the flavors of the sauce can blend. Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate. If the sauce is too thick to pour when ready to serve, add warm water by the teaspoonful until desired consistency is reached.
Keywords: Bacon, Bargain Meal of the Week, Bell Peppers, Bread, Cheese, Condiments, Diners Drive Ins and Dives, Ground Beef, Hot Peppers, Jalapeno, Lettuce, mini bell peppers, pickled red onion, pita, Sandwiches, Vinegar
and at Weekend Potluck.