How to cook just about anything on a skewer

How to cook just about anything on a skewer
Barbecue season is in full swing. What better time to perfect this often tricky technique, says Melissa Clark

eut’s one of the most elemental cooking techniques: impaling food on a skewer or a stick and cooking it over an open fire.

With iterations found throughout the world – the kebabs of the Middle East, the anticuchos of South America, a yakitori of Japan and the suya of Nigeria, to name a few – grilling food on skewers is a widespread practice that’s as richly diverse as it is satisfying.

As any distracted s’mores maker who has incinerated a marshmallow knows, it can also be one of the trickiest activities to do well. With grilling season in full swing, now is the perfect time to run through some of its finer points.

Choose the right skewers

Japanese yakitori, one of the many iterations of skewers around the world

Any thin rod with a sharp end – whether it’s the swords of Turkish soldiers cooking their suppers on the battlefield (an oft-told tale, reflecting how the “shish” in “shish kebab” means “sword” or “skewer”), or tree branches foraged at campsites and destined for hot dogs – can be used as a skewer.

But there are plenty of more easily obtained options, including those made from metal, and those made from wood, usually bamboo.

Bamboo skewers are inexpensive, biodegradable and won’t burn your guests’ lips. You’ll need to soak them for at least 30 minutes before using, so they don’t flame up on the grill. I like to repurpose a rimmed sheet pan for this; just add the skewers and cover them with water. But a very large bowl or roasting pan will also work.

Metal skewers have the advantage of being highly sturdy and reusable, e, when made from stainless steel, dishwasher safe. Flat, wide skewers will keep your ingredients from slipping as you turn them, and I find that those with big, looped handles are the easiest to grasp.

Skewers come in a variety of sizes. The 30-35cm lengths are a good bet, as they’re long enough to hold a lot of food, yet small enough to fit in your kitchen drawers. For hors d’oeuvres, 15cm bamboo or wooden skewers are just right (metal skewers get too hot).

Consider your ingredients

Anything you’d cook over direct heat will work well on a skewer; just avoid tough cuts of meats that are better for braising or for slow, indirect barbecuing, and dense vegetables like potatoes and other roots, and winter squash.

The ‘shish’ in ‘shish kebab’ comes from the Turkish for ‘sword’

Cut your ingredients into small, uniform pieces, usually 2.5-5cm. And although it looks festive to have different ingredients lined up on the same skewer, resist the urge. Those colorfully striped meals-on-a-stick are hard to control and much more likely to cook unevenly. Better to stack similar ingredients on the same skewer so all the pieces are done at the same time.

Leaving a little space (about 0.5cm) between the chunks will help brown things more thoroughly and encourage crisp edges. This is especially helpful for vegetables that need to release a lot of moisture as they grill such as aubergine, courgette and onions.

Por outro lado, for fish, chicken breasts and other ingredients that have a tendency to dry out, pressing the cubes together insulates them slightly, helping retain their juices.

Bigger chunks, irregularly shaped ingredients like shrimp or delicate things such as tofu can benefit from using two parallel skewers, which keep the tidbits from rotating when turning.

Bamboo skewers are cheap, eco-friendly and won’t burn your lips – as long as you soak them first

Make marinating a goal

Many of the world’s great skewered dishes call for a pungent marinade, like lemongrass-laced Thai satay or oniony Russian shashlik. Marinating helps season them thoroughly, adding loads of flavour.

You can marinate your ingredients a few hours ahead or the day before, which makes things go very quickly when you’re ready to grill – a boon for entertaining. But even on a weeknight, a quick stint in a heady marinade can do wonders. When you’re pressed for time, start marinating your ingredients while your grill heats up. As little as 10 minutes can make a difference.

And if you don’t want to marinate, give everything a sprinkle of salt and a slick of oil to help keep things from sticking.

Turn and serve

The closer the skewers are to the heat, the more you need to turn them to make sure they cook evenly. This is where your skewer handles are important – the larger they are, the easier they are to grasp. Grilling gloves can help you maneuver things safely.

Once you’re ready to serve, you’ll want to remove the food from the skewers. While you could use a fork, a soft piece of flatbread adds flair – and makes a tasty cook’s treat.

Spiced minced meat skewers

Based on Turkish Adana kebabs, these oniony, spiced skewers can be made with almost any minced meat

Total time: 30 minutos, plus grill heating and at least 2 hours’ chilling

Faz: 4 servings

Ingredientes:

450g cold minced meat, such as lamb, beef, turkey or a combination

100g finely minced or grated white onion

2 garlic cloves, finely grated, pressed or minced

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander or parsley, plus more for garnish

1 ¼ tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground sumac (see tip), plus more for serving

1 colher de chá de sal

1 tsp Urfa or Aleppo pepper

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

⅛ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

Flaky sea salt, for serving

Método:

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the meat, cebola, garlic, coriander, cumin, sumac, salt, Urfa pepper, black pepper, and cinnamon, if using.

2. With your hands, thoroughly knead and massage the meat to incorporate the ingredients, cerca de 4 minutos. Breaking down the meat will create a sticky, cohesive mixture that results in a pleasing springy texture. You can also combine everything in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, in which case it will take only about 2 minutos. Chill the mixture for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

3. Wet your hands with cold water, then divide meat into 6 equal portions and mould each around a metal or pre-soaked bamboo skewer (see tip). Transfer skewers to a large plate or baking tray. You can grill them right away at this point, or cover and refrigerate them while preparing the grill (até 4 horas).

4. Heat the grill to high. When the grill is hot, lightly brush the grates with oil, and add the skewers. cozinheiro, rotating them carefully every few minutes, until evenly browned and slightly charred in places, cerca de 5 para 10 minutos. Transfer to a platter and let rest for a few minutes. Garnish with more herbs, sumac and flaky sea salt, and serve.

Tips: If you can’t find ground sumac, use 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest instead. The flavour won’t be the same, but the lemon will provide the needed tartness.

Using flat metal skewers is best, but not necessary. If using bamboo skewers, they must be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes before grilling to prevent flare-ups. Place bamboo skewers flat on a rimmed sheet pan and add enough water to cover.

Summer vegetable skewers

Courgettes and aubergines are some of the best vegetables to grill on skewers

Total time: 25 minutos, plus grill heating

Faz: 4 para 6 servings

Ingredientes:

900g courgette or aubergine, or a combination, cut into 2.5cm cubes

Fine sea salt

2 fat garlic cloves, finely grated, pressed or minced

2 tbsp minced fresh oregano or marjoram

¼ tsp red-pepper flakes

80ml extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

Lemon wedges, for serving

Flaky sea salt, for serving

Método:

1. Heat the grill to high. With a colander set in the sink, lightly sprinkle the aubergine or courgette with a little salt. Toss well and set aside for 10 minutos.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine garlic, oregano and red-pepper flakes. Whisk in oil. Pat vegetables dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, and add to the bowl. Gently toss to coat. Let marinate while the grill heats up.

3. Thread vegetables onto metal or pre-soaked bamboo skewers, keeping the aubergine and courgette on separate skewers, if using both vegetables. Reserve any leftover marinade at the bottom of bowl.

4. When the grill is hot, add the skewers. cozinheiro, rotating them carefully every few minutes, until evenly browned and slightly charred in places, cerca de 7 para 12 minutos. Transfer to a serving platter. Brush with remaining marinade and squeeze a lemon wedge all over. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and serve.

Smoky paprika cheese skewers

These golden cheese skewers are a savoury delight

Total time: 20 minutos, plus grill heating

Faz: 4 servings

Ingredientes:

2 tbsp minced shallot

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

¾ tsp smoked sweet paprika

¼ tsp hot paprika or ground cayenne

¼ tsp ground coriander or cumin

Fine sea salt (optional)

225g grilling cheese, such as halloumi, cut into 2.5cm cubes and patted dry

Método:

1. In a mixing bowl, combine shallot, oil, spices and a small pinch of salt, se você gostar (most grilling cheese is already pretty salty; taste it first). Add cheese and gently toss to evenly coat.

2. Heat the grill to high. While the grill is heating, pierce marinated cheese onto metal skewers or pre-soaked wooden skewers, cerca de 3 para 4 per skewer. Reserve any leftover marinade at the bottom of bowl.

3. When the grill is hot, brush the grates lightly with oil and add the skewers. cozinheiro, rotating them carefully every few minutes, until evenly browned and slightly charred in places, cerca de 3 para 8 minutos. Transfer to a serving platter and brush with remaining marinade. Serve immediately.

Fish skewers with herbs and lime

Simple and speedy, this is a minimalist take that lets the flavours of good, fresh fish shine through

Total time: 20 minutos, plus grill heating

Faz: 4 servings

Ingredientes:

2 garlic cloves, finely grated, pressed or minced

1 tbsp fish sauce

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

450g thick, dense fish steaks, such as tuna or swordfish, cut into 4cm pieces

Lime wedges, for serving

2 spring onions, white and green parts, trimmed and thinly sliced

Handful chopped dill, mint, parsley, cilantro or a combination

Método:

1. Heat the grill to high. In a mixing bowl, combine garlic, fish sauce and red pepper flakes. Whisk in oil. Add fish cubes and gently toss to evenly coat. Let marinate while the grill heats up.

2. Thread marinated fish onto metal or pre-soaked bamboo skewers, pushing them up so they touch. This keeps them from overcooking.

3. When the grill is hot, lightly brush the grates with oil and add the skewers. Cook until slightly charred in places, cerca de 2 para 4 minutos, rotating them carefully halfway through.

4. Transfer to a serving platter, and immediately squeeze 2 ou 3 lime wedges on top of the fish while still hot. Garnish fish with scallions and herbs, and serve with more lime wedges on the side.

Coconut-pineapple skewers with marshmallows

Grilling does great things to chunks of fresh, sweet pineapple

Total time: 15 minutos, plus grill heating

Faz: 4 servings

Ingredientes:

450g fresh pineapple, cut into 4cm cubes

2 tbsp coconut oil

Ground cinnamon

120g mini marshmallows

Sweetened shredded coconut, for garnish

Coconut sorbet or ice cream, for serving (optional)

Toasted chopped pecans, for garnish (optional)

Método:

1. Heat the grill to high. As the grill is heating, thread pineapple chunks onto metal or pre-soaked wooden skewers, leaving space in between each piece for maximum browning. Brush all sides of the pineapple chunks with coconut oil and dust with cinnamon.

2. When the grill is hot, lightly brush the grates with oil, and add the pineapple skewers. cozinheiro, rotating them carefully every few minutes, until they are evenly browned and slightly charred in places, cerca de 4 para 8 minutos.

3. While the pineapple is grilling, divide marshmallows across 4 bowls. Remove pineapple from the grill and, using a fork, immediately slide the pineapple off the skewers and onto the marshmallows. Let sit for a few minutes for the hot pineapple to soften the marshmallows.

4. Sprinkle each serving with shredded coconut, and top with pecans and small scoops of coconut sorbet or ice cream, if using.

© The New York times

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