To satisfy the requirements of Week 3’s Greek theme, I contemplated the broad range of flavors found in traditional Greek dishes with the hope of successfully tackling something unfamiliar to my kitchen. The overabundance of ingredients that could be worked with was already quite daunting and I wanted to work with as many as possible without creating a mess of a pie. I squared in on lamb as the main focus, drawn to its grassy, gamey flavors that were still a relative stranger in my kitchen.
Wanting to see how lamb would fare when sous vided, especially a less tender cut, I took home a pound of shoulder without the clarity of a vision. My overall goal, beyond bringing the flavors of Greece to a pizza, was to achieve meat so tender it would not put up a fight when bitten into, a crucial aspect in building a pie. After tackling an abundantly hearty pizza in last week’s challenge, I wanted to keep flavors lively and fresh in this one. Eventually, the dish found its voice as a fancied up, open-faced lamb gyro, despite the non-traditional meat preparation.
Since only a small portion of the pound of lamb would be needed per pizza, a little experimentation could be afforded. Using a traditional oregano-heavy rub, the lamb was sliced and prepared in two vacuum-sealed bags, one with lemon juice and one without. Both would be steeped at the same 55° C temperature for 24 hours, but the lemon juice was theorized to help tenderize the meat, hopefully to its benefit.
And wow did it tenderize. The citrus really had its way with the lamb during its 24 hour span, disintegrating its outer parts into a grey pulp. Of the thicker pieces, I could sort out extremely soft pieces of meat of a recognizable pink hue underneath the exterior. The meat cooked without lemon juice kept its juicy red color and relative firmness while still soft enough to bite through cleanly. To provide some texture, I gave both sets of lamb time on the cast-iron over high heat.
For the sauce, excess moisture is the enemy. Cucumbers are deseeded of their fleshy core before being grated while the yogurt is placed in a nut bag and fiercely strained of its inherent liquid. The latter process of straining can be applied to the shredded cucumbers after allowing kosher salt to coax out the remaining moisture.
These ingredients are mixed together with lemon juice and finely chopped dill, mint and garlic.
After lightly toasting the pita bread, the sauce is heartily slathered on. Using both types of lamb, the meat is laid down first followed by the classic gyro accoutrement of tomato and onions. To add some flair, I sprinkle some feta and sprigs of dill over top. The results are equally as tasty, each slice becoming a miniature gyro of its own.
To pair, I chose to experiment yet again, tapping two possible pairings for this Greek dish. The first, Domaine Porto Carras – Limnio, Côtes de Meliton, Macedonia, Greece 2012, is an indigenous Greek varietal, Limnio, that features blackberries, dried leather and tar cast in a moody, spiced medium-bodied wine. While bold and straightforward in personality, this wine lacked the softness needed for this particular dish as its intense aromas tended to dominate the flavors on the pita.
The alternative bottle Joel Taluau – “Cuvée de Chevrette” St-Nicolas de Bourgueil, Touraine, Loire Valley, France 1985, (a birthday gift from my boo), could not be resisted in this pairing as I consider the style a classic alongside lamb. Although three decades of age had pushed this wine into an extremely developed stage in its life, it was still kicking with dried figs and raspberries. The acidity was still bright, offering clarity in the murky concentration of sweet fruit aromas. It was a surprisingly well-matched pairing as it embodied the antithesis of all the fresh cucumber, yogurt and dill while keeping a soft enough profile to not overpower any of the delicate flavors.
The pizza itself was such a success I made three rounds in one night, chasing those vibrant flavors with birthday wine. I can only hope this is the beginning of a streak. Let’s go, Week 4.