Shish kebab, brochette, pincho, pinchito, yakitori… However dubbed, marinated and skewered meats cooked over a fire are an age-old, global tradition. Hunted meat was typically roasted on a spit. This brings us to today’s shish kebab. “Spit” is, in fact, a 15th-century term meaning “to pierce with a weapon.” The sword is indeed double-edged! When smaller pieces of meat were put on their own spit, everybody got his own “spit-frog,” meaning, in 15th-century lingo, “a small sword.” Dinner and a weapon. Life was good.
Now that summer is here, many families enjoy grilling outdoors, though these kebabs can be broiled. I love the fact that kebabs can be served with just about any side dish, from seasoned rice to corn on the cob, or simply over a green salad. While today’s selections of beef for grilling are rarely gamey, marinating is still a good choice: it imparts wonderful flavors and tenderizes the beef. Choose your own cut or simplify and buy it prepared for the skewer. The package I purchased had pieces that were so large I halved them to make pieces that were more or less one-inch cubes.
My experience with kebabs that are prepared with onions and peppers has been less than stellar. While the meat was grilled perfectly on a high flame for a short time, the vegetables ended up rather unappetizing. We’ve all seen the plate with the pushed aside pile of essentially raw peppers and onions. To solve this, I tried a pre-skewering sauté technique: a quick wilt and sauté with some salt, pepper and garlic made the peppers and onions as delicious as the meat. Great success.
This recipe has a number of marinade ingredients. The diverse flavors enhance the flavor of the beef, saving it from becoming a vehicle for leftover Merlot. Balsamic vinegar, red wine, and Worcestershire all have the potential to overpower a marinade. This is a splendid marinade with just the right proportions of savory, sweet, pungent, aromatic, and acidic ingredients.
One pound of beef was enough to serve three people. The amount you choose to prepare will depend on the number of side dishes and density of the other foods being served and whether or not appetizers precede the meal. Meat is extremely filling.
What You Need:
3 long metal skewers (If using bamboo, soak them in water thoroughly first.)
2 medium glass bowls
Medium sauté pan with cover
1 pound of your favorite beef for kebabs, cut into one-inch cubes
1 red pepper*
1 yellow pepper*
1 orange pepper* (*substitute green if you like)
1 large red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. olive oil plus some for sautéing
For The Marinade:
3 T. red wine
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 ½ T. brown sugar
1 T. fresh chopped rosemary
1 tsp. fresh chopped thyme
1 tsp. fresh chopped oregano
1 T. minced garlic, about 2 cloves (Yes, you can use the press.)
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. honey
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. soy sauce
¼ tsp. salt (you can adjust salt and pepper(s) before adding the beef)
3 turns fresh black pepper
1 tsp. chili sauce or hot sauce
1 ½ T. olive oil
Chopped parsley to garnish
Dash of chopped oregano is lovely too
What To Do:
Several hours before you plan to grill, prepare the marinade. Blend all marinade ingredients, except the olive oil, in one of the glass bowls. Taste to adjust seasonings. Add the meat and mix well to cover all pieces. Add the olive oil, mix again, cover, and refrigerate.
45 minutes before preparing dinner, take out the marinating pieces, drain off the marinade and allow the meat to sit at room temperature to take the chill out.
Cut the peppers into one-inch pieces. Using one of the glass bowls, toss the pepper pieces in one teaspoon of the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. To cut the red onion and make use of the center, cut the peeled onion in half. Cut about two thirds of the way through the onion and avoid slicing into the smaller layers that comprise the center. Remove the two halves of outer layers and cut them into one-inch pieces. Cut the core into pieces that will fit on a skewer, or refrigerate for another use.
Put a thin layer of water in the bottom of the sauté pan and gently steam (covered) the red onion pieces just until they lose their raw and rigid shape. Drain out any remaining water. Return the pan to the cooktop. Add the other teaspoon of olive oil, then the seasoned peppers. Heat should be high to medium-high, depending on your cooktop. Sauté until the peppers begin to soften. Pour contents onto a cutting board or serving platter to cool the vegetables quickly.
Prepare the skewers, alternating meat, red onion, one color of pepper, another piece of meat, then onion, and a different color pepper, and so on. Always start with a piece of meat and end with a piece of meat. This keeps the skewers intact.
Before heating the grill, make sure it is clean. You want to prevent stuck skewers. It helps to wipe the grate with some oil on a piece of paper towel before heating. Set the heat to high. Place the kebabs onto the hot grill. Cover the grill. After four minutes, turn the kebabs. Close for one minute. Open the lid and after another minute, check for doneness. You do not want to overcook the meat. Better to take a kebab off the grill, check a piece and return to the grill than end up with tough, gray cubes. The reality is that you will have to adjust the cooking technique and time to your grill, whether gas or charcoal, hibachi or Kalamazoo (yes, that is a brand).
I like to serve the kebabs over a bed of seasoned bulgur or rice, and push the meat and vegetables off the skewers and right on top of the grain. Garnish with chopped parsley and a bit of chopped fresh oregano, if you like. A great summer dinner, with or without your very own spit-frog.
By Lisa Reitman Dobi