Out of all the iconic and classic Halifax dishes, theres one that rains supreme. More beloved then a bowl of seafood chowder, more sought-after then fish cakes and beans. That’s right folks’ its the classic, Halifax Donair. This is an East Coast delicacy, a DIY Halifax donair that tastes like summer nights, surrounded by friends at Pizza Corner. There’s a lot of people out there that claim to know the proper way to build a donair, but us Haligonians know there’s only one true way to enjoy this beloved classic.
What is a Halifax Donair?
If you’re not from Halifax or the Maritimes, you might not even know what it a Donair is. And thats okay, its kind of a hidden gem, a “only the locals know” kind of thing. The Halifax Donair has four main components, all incredibly simple, and incredibly important. You can’t have a true Halifax Donair without all four. So what are they?
- The Meat – A vital part of the donair. True Halifax Donair is made of 100% ground beef. Not pork, not chicken or turkey, beef. Fully bound together with all the best spices (coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, cayenne), cooked on a rotisserie spit and thinly shaved to order.
- The Bread– Halifax Donair has to be served on pita bread, lightly steamed just to soften slightly and allow to soak up all of the juices of the meat. The stretchy texture of a properly steamed pita add so much.
- The toppings- This is where the real debate happens. Sometimes you’ll see people add cheese, lettuce and pickles. In Halifax this isn’t the case. Classically, you’ll see a Donair served with diced tomato and white onion, thats it. Simple and delicious!
- The Sauce – Now, when we say this is THE most important part of a Donair, know that we mean it. Donair sauce is the king of all sauces. Sweet, acidic, creamy. A real garlic bomb.
And thats it. Four simple ingredients that when put together create a dish that has fuelled generation of university students, late night partiers and locals alike.
When did the Halifax Donair start?
There’s a decent amount of controversy on the origin of the Donair. In Halifax we started to see shops selling ‘Halifax Donair’ in the early 1970’s. Many people think it’s a direct decedent of the Greek gyro, others say it was created based off the Turkish doner kebab. Regardless of who or where it was created, we can all agree its a symbol of many cultures, that found a home in a new part of the world and together created a dish we all can be proud of and call our own.
More on Donair Sauce
To first time visitors to Halifax, one would think the Donair meat (while very important and widely used in other dished such as Donair pizza and Donair egg rolls) is the crown jewel of the Classic Halifax staple, it is infect the second most important ingredient. We can’t tell you enough the choke hold this sauce has on the maritimes (Hop on over for a full recipe on how to make Halifax Donair sauce here).
Basically, Donair Sauce is comprise of 4 ingredients:
- Sweetened Condensed milk – You read that right. Here in Halifax we pour sweet milk on our pizzas, garlic fingers, and of course Donairs. But its the other ingredients that balance the sauce and bring it together. So bear with us.
- White Vinegar- Theres so much sugar and sweetness, you have to balance it out with thin streams of white vinegar. It not only balances the sugars, but the high acidity helps thicken the sauce, giving it that classic creamy texture.
- Garlic Powder- You need some savoury notes to balance out the sweetness and acidity. Garlic powder is the Classic seasoning for Halifax Donair Sauce.
- White Sugar- After all that sweetness from the condensed milk is balanced out, we want to add it right back in because it’s a well known fact that Maritimers have a sweet tooth.
You add those four ingredients together, and I guarantee you will have created a condiment you’ll never want to stop making (in moderation of course!).
Now to bring it all home!
We have the history, the legacy, the ingredients and the desire, its now time to put it all together and make your very own Classic Halifax Donair! Here’s a few tips on how to make sure you nail this on your first go.
Classic Halifax Donair Checklist:
- Start by making sure your ground beef is nice and cold. When you emulsify the meat with all of its spices, really make sure sure whip it in the stand mixer. If its not whipped enough you’ll have a crumbly meatloaf consistency. Remember you’re looking for a pasty consistency.
- When you place the emulsified meat in the pan, make sure to force all the air out. This will help achieve an even cook in your Donair meat.
- Once its cook let it rest. This such an important part of the recipe. If you don’t let it rest and reabsorb all of its flavour and juices, it’ll just run and leak them all out leaving you with a dryer and less flavourful end product.
- Steam your pita. A simple 5-8 seconds in the microwave will do the trick, but if you want to do it the more traditional way. place a wire baking rack over a pot of simmering water. you’ll see the pita fill with steam. Flip it over until both sides are soft.
- When making the Donair Sauce, very gently stream in the vinegar about a tbsp at a time, this will ensure you thicken the sauce and not thin it.
- When you cut your onions and tomatoes, make sure to keep the roughly the same size, not to big, just small enough that you get some in each bite.
And with that you’ve just graduated The East Coast Kitchen Donair Crash Course (TECKDCC for short). We hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do. Happy cooking!
Classic Halifax DonairPrint Recipe
- 2 lbs Ground Beef
- 1 tbsp Ground coriander
- 2 tbsp Onion powder
- 2 Tbsp Garlic powder
- 2 tbsp Oregano
- 2 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tbsp Black Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 F
- Add all ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer affixed with the paddle attachment. With the speed set to medium, paddle the mixture for 5 min or until smooth and pasty.
- Once the Donair mixture is fully paddled, drop it onto the counter and shape into a log.
- Gently place the log into a parchment laced loaf pan. Using a rubber spatula to gently force all air out of the pan to allow even cooking. The meat should rest tightly together.
- Place into an oven set to 350 F and cook for 90min.
- Once the Donair is finished, remove from the oven and allow to cool and rest before slicing, 10-15 min.
- Thinly slice meat. For extra flavour and crispness, toss into a hot pan with heated oil and sauté until golden brown.
- Serve with steamed pita, donair sauce, diced tomatoes and white onion.