Chances are that if you’ve never been to East Coast Canada or don’t know a Maritimer personally, you’ve probably never heard of a donair before and that’s a shame because they are amazing!
Well, if you’re not yet familiar with the beloved Donair allow me to introduce you.
As an East Coaster now living in Toronto this yummy Maritime delicacy is very difficult to find in restaurants around here. You can find them commonly in most pizza shops of the Atlantic provinces of Canada, namely Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Many of us Maritimers consider the donair one of the east coast’s signature dishes.
So what’s so special about a donair and how would I describe one?
Donairs have been compared the the Greek gyros wrap or the middle eastern shawarma however the meat is all beef and seasoned with different spices. The meat is traditionally cooked on a spinning grill much like the one in the picture to the left.
The thinly sliced donair meat and wrapped up in a pita with toppings such as diced tomatoes, diced onion, mozzarella cheese and topped with its traditional sweet and garlicky Donair sauce.
Donair sauce is also something that’s unique to the dish. It’s flavour is deliciously garlicky and sweet and is often also used as a dipping sauce for pizza crusts and for garlic “fingers” – that’s what we maritimers like to call pizza dough topped with mozzarella and garlic – they’re very similar to cheezy garlic bread slices… BUT better! 😛
The meat is also popular as a topping for pizza subs and for pizza!
The legend behind the Traditional East Coast Donair (aka Halifax Donair)
The popular pizza place “King of Donair” in Halifax, Nova Scotia claim to be the inventors of the famous dish. I’ve also heard other stories about the origins of the donair and I can’t confirm if they’re true but it makes for a good story.
The basic gist of the story goes that a man from Greece immigrated to Atlantic Canada and wanted to set up a traditional restaurant with the food of his country. While his traditional menu was doing “ok” for sales business wasn’t booming like he’d hoped. The man decided to adapt the traditional wrap on his menu to the tastes of the east coasters by using beef for the meat, some familiar spices and a sweet garlic sauce. The Maritimers loved it and the Donair was born!
(Update: Check out this awesome article about the real story behind the origins of the donair!)
How to make a Homemade Donair
Making the donair meat is actually quite simple and you don’t need to have one of those spinning meat grill things!
All you have to do is combine lean ground beef with the spices in the recipe along with some bread crumbs and form it into a tightly packed oval shaped loaf and bake in the oven on a broiler pan at 300°F for 2 1/2 hours. It’s important that the loaf cook for this length of time in order to get the closest taste as possible to an authentic donair.
Once the donair meat has cooked it needs to be chilled overnight in the fridge. This makes it much easier to thinly slice the meat and portion everything out plus it gives it some time for the flavours to develop further.
The recipe below creates enough meat for about 6 good size donairs so I like to portion the meat out into separate zip lock baggies (inside a larger freezer bag) and put them in the freezer for when we’re craving another donair. It’s convenient that way so I can make however many I need.
I’ve been making donairs according to this recipe for years now and have tested this over and over again to get a flavour that’s as close to the authentic Halifax Donair as possible. I’m quite proud of it!
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post to see my recipe for making homemade donair sauce! 🙂
Many of us Martimers who’ve been transplanted across the country think of this as homestyle comfort food and it helps ease the homesickness just a little bit!
I hope you enjoy the recipe!
- 3 lbs lean ground beef
- ¾ cup Italian style bread crumbs
- 1 tbsp ground black pepper
- 1¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 3 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp salt
- Pita bread (for the wrap)
- diced tomatoes
- Mozzarella Cheese
- diced onion
- Donair sauce - Click here for my Donair Sauce recipe
- Pre-heat the oven to 300°F
- Using a stand mixer (if you don't have a stand mixer see my note below) combine all ingredients and mix well for 10 minutes on medium speed with the paddle attachment.
- Once everything is very well combined, form the meat into a tightly packed oval loaf.
- Place the loaf on a broiler pan and cook in the oven for 2½ hours.
- Once the meat has cooked allow to cool in the fridge overnight.
- The next morning after the donair meat has chilled cut the loaf into thin slices.
- I usually portion out the meat for individual donairs and put them in the freezer for when I want to make some.
- Take a portion of donair meat and heat the slices up in a frying pan with a tiny bit of oil on low heat. You just want to heat the slices up and not brown them too much.
- While the meat is heating up in the frying pan take a pita and quickly wet both side under running water. Now take the pita and put it on top of the meat while it's cooking. Once the pita has been over the meat for about 1 minute flip it over and let the pita steam for another 1 minute on the other side.
- Take the pita and place it on top of a square of aluminum foil.
- Top the pita with donair meat and remaining toppings as desired.
- Top with donair sauce. Click here for my Donair Sauce recipe
- Fold up the bottom of the pita and then roll it up. Wrap the aluminum foil around the donair and place into the oven for about 10 minutes to warm. (I usually set the oven to 350°F to warm them - this is great when you have cheese in them!)
- Repeat these steps for how ever many donairs you're making.
- Peel the aluminum foil away as you eat the donair. Make sure you have lots of napkins in hand - donairs are famously messy and delicious!
Have you ever had a donair before?
I really enjoy hearing from my readers so please feel free to leave me a comment below! 🙂