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.
*This post has been updated from an earlier version to include new photos and a few tweaks to the original recipe to make it even more scrumptious!*
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 right.
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 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.
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!
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!Print
The Donair Meat
- 3 lbs lean ground beef
- 3/4 cup Italian style bread crumbs
- 1 tbsp ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 3 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
Ingredients to assemble Donairs
- Pita bread (for the wrap)
- diced tomatoes
- diced onion
- Donair sauce – Click here for my Donair Sauce recipe – you might want to make double since 1 recipe of the sauce is good for about 3 donairs. The more the better. ?
- Mozzarella Cheese – this is an ingredient that's been controversial in the world of donairs. See my note at the bottom of the recipe.
Other things you need
- aluminum foil – for wrapping the donairs. You need to tear off 1 big sheet for each donair you plan to make.
- You're going to need a big stack of napkins… this is part of the experience
How to make the Donair meat
- 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 foil lined baking sheet and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 hours.
- Allow the meat to rest and cool down to room temperature. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to cool in the fridge overnight. NOTE: If you can't wait overnight see my note at the bottom.
- The next morning after the donair meat has chilled cut the loaf into thin slices. I emphasize – thin slices are best.
- When you're ready to make the donair wrap, move onto the next section. ? You're ready aren't you… I know you are!
I usually portion out the meat for individual donairs and put them in the freezer for when I want to make some. This recipe is enough to make 6 good sized donairs.
To make a Donair Wrap
- Before starting, make sure you have all your toppings ready to go. Also make sure you tear off a big sheet of aluminum foil for each of the donairs you plan to make. Make sure they're big enough to hold everything! ?
- 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 – just a little darkened is nice.
- 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.
NOTE: I know this sounds like a weird step, but it's necessary in order to make sure the pita is soft enough to wrap around all that meat – plus you get a bit more of that donair flavour where it's good!
- 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 the pita around the meat and roll it up (like a big taco then fold over). 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 – so melty so good!)
- 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! Proper donair etiquette calls for using your hands.
If you don't have a stand mixer to combine the meat that's ok. Use a food processor to make the beef very finely ground and then you can mix in the remaining ingredients on pulse for a few minutes. Then mix by hand so that it's very thoroughly combined.
If you absolutely positively can not wait to have your donairs and don't have the time to chill the meat loaf overnight you can use it right away. In my experience, chilling the meat over night allows the flavours to develop better and it also makes it easier to cut into thin slices… and it's best with thin slices. I've made donairs in a rush when I just couldn't wait to get my fix and they still tasted great… but I still feel chilling overnight creates the the best texture and flavour. ?
Many donair purists insist there is no cheese on a donair. I put cheese on mine sometimes and it's delicious – so do a lot of other people… Even the original makers of the donair (King of Donair) allow customers to add cheese if they want – let's not argue with King of Donair – if they say it's ok, then why not??
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Oven/Stover Stop
- Cuisine: Canadian
Keywords: beef, Halifax Donair, Trailer Park Boys, comfort food, wrap,