Saturday, May 31, 2008

Grill Time: Marinated Chicken Shish Kebabs

Summer feels here, at least in Atlanta, even if it doesn't start meteorologically until later in June. It's grilling season. And a good excuse for kebabs on skewers.

The shish (şiş in Turkish) in shish kebab literally means the metal sword-like skewer that meat or other things are speared on before grilling over -- or originally in front of -- a fire. Kebabs, chunks of meat cooked by fire, are from central Asia, and came west with the Turkik nomads of the Steppes. Lamb was the favorite meat, with little on it other than oil and a little salt. But kebabs can be from beef, chicken, ground meat, pork (as in the Greek souvlaki, though not by the Muslim Turks or Arabs), fish, shrimp, vegetables, or even cheese as in the Indian tandoori panir tikka. They can also be can be fried in oil, stuffed with cheese or dried fruit, and almost anything else. The only constant is that they should be served on top of rice, preferably an aromatic rice pilaf with fruits and nuts in it.

The savory kebabs described below are patterned after those I learned from my friend, Kazim Firat, the first owner of the Istanbul Café in Atlanta. They are made from boneless, skinless chicken thigh, the juiciest meat on the chicken, and are marinated overnight before skewering and grilling. After marinating, they can be skewered ahead of time and stored in the fridge until ready to grill, reducing last-minute preparation.

In addition to rice pilaf (two recipes are in my blog, on 1/5/07 and 3/30/08) particularly good accompaniments are whole grilled tomatoes (lightly moistened with olive oil and sprinkled with salt before grilling), wedges of lemon to squeeze on everything, plus a cold cucumber-yogurt sauce (tsadziki/cacik, in my blog on 4/25/08). The recipe serves six.

The fragrant grilled chicken and rice go well with a spicy red wine, such as one made of Grenache/Garnacha grapes from Southern France or Spain or, for a white, a dry Riesling or Chardonnay, or a dry rosé. The red wine can be served slightly chilled -- but not ice cold -- in hot weather, and a white or rosé should always be cold. Of course, cold beer, a malty golden lager type rather than a pale ale with a lot of hops would be my preference, also goes well with kebabs fresh off the grill.

Chicken Shish Kebabs, Kurdish/Turkish style (Tim/Kazim)

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 large clove of garlic
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1 teaspoon tomato paste (2 teaspoons ketchup can be substituted)
4 tablespoons lemon juice (bottled is OK)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Vegetables for grilling (e.g., tomatoes, long sweet peppers, mushrooms, small onions)
Olive oil and salt for the vegetables

Lemon chunks for garnish
Sumac (available at Middle Eastern groceries), or fresh flat (‘Italian style’) parsley, for garnish

(Prepare and marinate the chicken well ahead of cooking time, even up to 2 days in advance, and store cold.) Trim away any tough parts and excess fat from the chicken (a little fat can be left, as it will cook away). Cut the meat into pieces about 1-1/2 inches long, an inch wide and 1/2-inch thick. Place in a bowl. Put the garlic through a garlic press or mince finely. Add it plus the other ingredients, except the vegetables and the garnishes, to the chicken and mix well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or transfer the chicken and marinade to a zip-lock plastic food bag. Mix the chicken from time to time for even seasoning, or squeeze the contents of the bag to mix.

Thread the chicken onto skewers, folding the chicken pieces in half. If flat, wide skewers are not used, stick a second skewer into each kebab, so the meat does not twist around. Make 12 kebabs, or six long ones.

Grill over charcoal or gas fire or under the oven broiler, turning several times until cooked and browning on the outside. Meanwhile coat the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill them near the kabobs to sear the outsides.

Serve over a bed of rice pilaf on a large platter, pulling the skewers out from the meat (the meat is traditionally served OFF the skewers) and laying it on the rice. Surround with some grilled vegetables, and accompany with lemon chunks for squeezing onto the meat. Optionally, dust the kebabs with sumac or chopped flat parsley.

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