From the simple concept of "meat, stick, fire," kebobs have evolved to include infinite variations and endless world flavors.
Kebobs started simply: meat, stick, fire. From that humble beginning, a delicious evolution has led us to an infinitely diverse mix of international flavor combinations.
Whether you make satay or souvlaki, skewered entrees offer an opportunity to stack up the meat and veggies, and fire up the flavor. (See recipes on next pages for a globe-trotting mix of skewer flavor combinations).
The word “kebob” is described in The New Larousse Gastronomique as a “name used in Turkey for various dishes whose principal feature is skewered meat…the meat is cut into squares, seasoned…pieces of mutton fat are placed on the skewer between the pieces of meat…the skewered meat is grilled over hot embers and served plain, with lemon or with various garnishes.”
The kebobs most of us know don't include pieces of mutton fat, but can include as varied ingredients as you can fit on a skewer.
“Kebobs are delicious, easy and extremely versatile,” says barbecue champion, cookbook author and consultant Rockin' Ronnie Shewchuk, who makes richly seasoned Iranian kebobs, pork and apple kebobs and prawn and lychee kebobs, among others. “The beauty of kebobs is that they offer so many different tastes and textures on one skewer…like cherry tomatoes, meat and zucchini. And it's gorgeous on a plate.”
Still, many foodservice operators consider them to be a bit of a pain (and not just if you happen to stick your finger with one).
However, by following some practical tips and handy shortcuts from experienced kebob architects, onsite operators can create successful kebobs, even in large volumes.
To get from meat, sharp stick and fire to that gorgeous plate, here are some practical hints from kebob experts:
“Make sure the prep is uniform and the ingredients are cut into uniform size to make assembly quick and easy, and also to make sure the items cook evenly,” says James McFarland, assistant director-executive chef, food services, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada.
Cutting meat and then partially freezing the pieces is a great way to make the meat easier to skewer, adds McFarland.
Several kebob experts recommend grilling the kebob ingredients on separate skewers (i.e. one skewer with all mushrooms, another with all lamb) so the cooking times can be managed better, especially for high volume cooking.
A bit of the artistic essence will be lost using this method, but the ingredients can be taken off their skewers and plated over rice in a very simple presentation for service.
“Don't be hung up on having a mushroom next to a cherry tomato next to meat, and so on,” says barbecue guru, cookbook author and TV personality Steven Raichlen.
When it comes time for the kebob to meet the grill, oiling both the preheated grill and the kebob will help prevent sticking, kebob masters agree.
Soak wooden skewers (the classic type of skewer) in water before grilling, but you don't need to soak them overnight. “Just an hour will do it,” Shewchuk says.
Although wooden skewers are nice, some recommend sturdier, reusable metal skewers when cooking a large quantity of kebobs.
One of the latest innovations to the ancient art of kebob-making is the double skewer, a two-pronged metal skewer that secures meat and vegetables and prevents them from falling off and sticking too much.
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