Warning: Purists will be pissed off! This is an upscale expensive version of what commonly is a street food in the Middle East.
Warning # 2: I do not have a tower and I did not use a vertical spit… I used my traditional spit and basted frequently.
OK, now that I have clarified things I hope to have kept the hate mail to a minimum. I work at a great Mediterranean restaurant in the middle of Southern California’s desert called Figue. With temperatures soaring in the mid 110’s to 120’s this time of year I got to thinking what do other hot cultures eat this time of year. My overheated brain wandered past cool bowls of gazpacho and cucumber soups drizzled with Greek yogurt to the Middle East, specifically shawarma. Even with the heat I still want real food… that shocked me. I really thought this time of year I would wither away nibbling on frozen popsicles and salads. Part of the problem is my friend and boss, Lee Morcus, owner of Figue Mediterranean, absolutely LOVES food too and we talk a lot. We share texts about food, emails about food, face to face conversations about food. Pretty much every single time we are together food comes up. Lee has to be credited with getting me to put shawarma on the menu recently. I can’t remember if it was his mouth drooling description of eating shawarma at some point in his life or the fact that he is of Lebanese decent and that triggered my mind. However it came to be, here is how I have been making it lately. I apologize to cooks who need exact recipes, this is not one of them. The first thing is starting with high quality lamb. We buy our from a small cooperative of farms out East called Elysian Fields. It is a collaborative effort between former lawyer Keith Martin and Chef Thomas Keller and has often been referred to as “Kobe Lamb” because of the unsurpassable quality. If you want to taste what lamb should taste like please visit Elysian Field’s website and find a way to get some.
For our shawarma I used the best cut available, a saddle of lamb. I boned it out leaving both the tenderloin and filet attached. Then I made a paste from garlic, cilantro and ginger and spread it all over.
I sprinkled a spice mix tentatively called “Shawarma Lamb Mix” all over the lamb and tied it up. The spice mix was basically a mixture of black pepper, cardamon, fennel seed, cumin, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, paprika, sumac and smoked Maldon salt.
Then I cooked our lamb in our almond wood fired rotisserie and cooked it for six hours basting it frequently with it’s own juices. Obviously the picture below is chickens (stuffed with herbs and preserved lemons seasoned with Moroccan spices) spinning on our rotisserie… Sexy, isn’t it?
I top the flatbread with a sauce made from Harissa Paste and Tomatoes, cover with shaved lamb dripping in it’s cooking juices, a salad of cucumbers, red onions and heirloom tomatoes flavored with sumac and parsley and mint, then drizzled with a tahini sauce (tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper, lamb fat and shawarma spice mix)… WOW is it good! I sold out both Friday and Saturday nights. Come soon to taste this dish!
Here is an incredibly bad shot from my camera phone: