How Did I Not Know About Pork Gyros?
You can go your whole life not realizing that pipe cleaners were once used to clean pipes or that there is an arrow hidden in the logo for FedEx, between the E and the X. I know someone who was 30 before she grasped that the Sundance Institute was named for Robert Redford’s role in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Each of us, regardless of education, smarts or experience, has gaps in what we know, deep lacunas into which we occasionally get to place amazing treasure.
For instance: I never knew there were pork gyros. I eat in restaurants for a living. I talk to cooks every day. My job is, almost literally, to know that there are pork gyros. But somehow, I did not. The dish is common enough in Greek restaurants all over the world, probably as prevalent as lamb gyros, probably more prevalent than beef or chicken ones. Maybe you’ve had pork gyros dozens of times in your life, maybe more: the crisp, heat-darkened fatty pork shaved off a spit and either rolled into a grilled pita with salad and tzatziki sauce or served as a platter with French fries alongside the salad and sauce.
Not me. As far as I can recall there were only lamb and beef gyros on the menu at Mr. Souvlaki, on Montague Street in Brooklyn, where I first encountered gyros as a boy. Amazingly, I did not (despite eating gyros many, many times a year, for decades) ever see pork ones on a menu until a couple of months ago, on the other side of the globe, in a charming Greek restaurant called Kalimera Souvlaki Art, in the Oakleigh neighborhood of Melbourne, which has a sizable Greek population, the largest of any city outside Greece.
It was a gray, early-winter day there, and big men at Kalimera ate their meals at little tables, drinking beer. I was with a friend, who ordered our meal at the counter while I secured a table. He brought me a platter, the meat steaming. I thought at first it was chicken. I was vaguely bummed that he had not ordered lamb. I ate. Wait, I said, is this pork? “Of course it is,” he replied. “That’s what they’re known for here.” The dish was as marvelous and strange to me as a wallaby or a kangaroo. Imagine not knowing about strawberry ice cream, then eating your first bite. It was a little like that. You wouldn’t tell anyone. Too embarrassing.
A few days later, I was still thinking about the meal. I had a long flight home. There wasn’t much to do. I thought about pork gyros for the better part of 14 hours. Then I dreamed about them while I slept. I have been cooking them ever since, in the oven and under the broiler, on the grill. I ask my guests: “Did you know about this? Pork gyros?” They look at me with raised eyebrows. Of course they did.
I built a recipe off memories of the flavors I had at Kalimera, which is reliably cited as among Melbourne’s best souvlaki restaurants. There was a rich oregano flavor to the meat and a rush of lemon acidity on top of it, set off with a dusting of paprika and the salty char of the rotisserie. I made the marinade accordingly, for thin slices of pork shoulder cut across the grain, and then roasted the meat to a crisp, chewy intensity in the high heat of my oven. (The dish works almost as well when cooked under the broiler, and perhaps even a little better smoke-roasted over a charcoal grill running medium hot.) A final dusting of paprika, and the meat was ready to eat.
To go with the pork, in keeping with tradition no matter the meat you cook, I serve a small salad of cucumbers and tomato, with a thatch of oven-roasted French fries and tzatziki sauce. (You can easily gin one up out of a cup of yogurt, a squeeze of lemon, a minced clove of garlic and a diced half cucumber, plus salt to taste and some chopped mint if you have any.) I like a little fire with my gyros, so I add to the equation a hot sauce that perhaps speaks more to Turkish traditions than Greek ones: a ketchup cut through with a great deal of hot-pepper sauce and salt and pepper. Just roll it all up into a warm pita and get to it. The flavors may not be as new to you as to me. They are no less delicious for that.
Recipe: Pork Gyros