Thu May 19, 2011
Woot, Meatwave is almost upon us! Truthfully, I wished to have it started already, but being away and then being busy, I didn't have everything together to get the meat rolling. With the cold rainy days we've been having in New York, the delay is probably for the best, plus it's given me time to get my deck all gussied up for the awaiting hungry herds—something I've failed to do in the past. As I was outside, literally waiting for paint to dry between coats, I'd just sit and stare out onto the expanse of backyards I'm lucky to have a surrounding me in NYC. In particular, focusing on the overgrown lawn of the neighbors directly across from me, which left me deep in memories of the boisterous family that used to live there—the only people who grilled more than me. Although I don't miss their Greek house music blaring at midnight, I do miss their generosity in sharing grilled goods, and they made a pork souvlaki like you couldn't believe (obtained in a fair ribs/souvlaki trade).
I've been on a mission to try to replicate those wondrous pork skewers, and while I have failed at an exact facsimile, in my journey, I've come up with a recipe that has now become my standard.
Living in such the rich Greek community that Astoria is, I try as much as possible take advantage of the treasure trove of Mediterranean delights the neighborhood offers. For this souvlaki, I attribute part of its greatness to the fact that I can easily get Greek Oregano, which has a stronger flavor than regular oregano and adds richer herb flavor to the pork.
To create the marinade, Greek oregano is mixed with olive oil, red onion, garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. This acid-heavy mixture infuses a massive amount of flavor in the cubed pork tenderloin. I know there's a general rule not to marinate meat with so much acid for too long, but from my experience, letting it go overnight just makes it all the more better.
With the downtime allotted by the marinade, there's no excuse not to make some fresh tzatziki to go along with the souvlaki—a must in my book. For those unfamiliar with tzatziki, it's a combo of Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, and dill if you like. Before moving to New York, I knew this only as "White Sauce," which was how the Greek diner owners must have thought the best way to describe it to DC suburbanites.
With the pork now throughly embedded with the marinade, they get threaded onto soaked wooden skewers. When testing out Souvlaki recipes, I sometimes mixed up the skewers with onions and peppers too, but came to find in this instance, all that you really want is meat, meat, and more meat!
It's best to grill these over a high heat, which makes quick work of getting them cooked through and creates a beautiful crunchy brown crust before the innards dry out. That sear holds a lot of tang from the marinade, which goes a long way to defining why this Souvlaki is so good.
I also used to always serve my Souvlaki as a pita sandwich, but have come to prefer it in platter style. As a sandwich, the excellent flavor of the pork can be drowned in tzatziki and other toppings, but as a platter, you experience the full power of this meat, and add have control to add as little or as much tzatziki your heart desires.
With my deck now just about ready for the Meatwave to begin, I do find happiness in the quieter environment without my loud neighbors, but this souvlaki goes to show, there can be worlds of good that can come out of what's sometimes could be bad.
For the marinade
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Greek oregano
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Tzatziki
2 cups of Greek yogurt
1 English cucumber, peeled and grated
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs pork loin, trimmed of silver skin and excess fat, cut into 1-inch cubes
Wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes before use
1. Mix all of the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl. Place pork cubes in a Ziploc bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag and toss to coat pork evenly with the marinade, then open the bag and reseal, removing as much air as possible. Place the pork in the refrigerator for at least two hours to overnight.
2. Mix all the tzatziki ingredients together in a bowl until well combined. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least two hours to overnight.
3. Light one chimney full of charcoal. While the charcoal is lighting, thread the pork cubes onto the skewers.
4. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals out evenly. Grill the pork skewers until they browned on all sides and cooked through, about 8 to 12 minutes, turning 4 times during cooking. Remove the skewers to a plate and allow to rest for 5 minutes. While the pork rests, grill the pita until lightly browned on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Remove the pita from the grill and quarter. To serve, place pita slices on a plate, lay the souvlaki on top, and place a dollop of tzatziki on the side.