Flavor On a Stick
No wonder it's found in cuisines the world over. Kebab, satay, brochette, shashlik -- by any name, food on a stick has its advantages. Pieced together on a skewer and then grilled in a flash, the kebab involves little work and yet delivers big, smoky flavor. And the range of spear-worthy ingredients to choose from -- meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, even fruit -- makes it possible to accommodate the preferences of many. Add a simple side dish or two and kebabs become a full-blown meal -- one with more taste than you can shake a stick at.
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Chicken and Pork Seekh Kebabs
Kebabs are virtually foolproof, and yet they have their challenges: Skewers that fall through the grates, ingredients that slide around or off skewers, meats and vegetables that cook at different rates. Having the right tools and knowing some basic tricks will help you handle them.
Size Up Your Skewers
Grill sticks come in several lengths. The most common are 12 inches, which can hold enough for one entree. Shorter skewers -- 6 or 8 inches -- are ideal for appetizer-size portions.
Bamboo, Wood, or Metal?
Bamboo and wooden skewers are inexpensive and disposable, but there is one caveat that comes with them. To keep them from burning, they must be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling. Another option is metal skewers, many of which have handles -- a feature that makes turning kebabs on the grill easier and lets diners neatly remove a skewer from a serving platter. There are also metal skewers with flat (not cylindrical) blades, a shape that helps prevent food from twirling.
Skewers That Supply Flavor
Lemongrass stalks and sugarcane can also be used as skewers -- ones that impart flavorful notes to food. Ground pork and shrimp are nice matches with lemongrass; fruit and shrimp absorb hints of sweetness from sugarcane. Rosemary sprigs (choose sturdy ones) also make fine skewers, particularly for lamb. Remove the leaves, and then soak the sprigs in water for 15 minutes before using. To make it easier to thread ingredients onto any of these stand-ins, you might want to first poke through the food with an actual skewer.
Piece by Piece
Stick to fish that are firm-fleshed (so they can stand up to skewering) and meats that aren't overly lean (meats need a little fat to stay moist during grilling). For even cooking, cut ingredients into uniform pieces or cubes. Proteins may cook more quickly than dense vegetables, so it's often more efficient to cook them on separate skewers. If they must share a stick, try cutting the meat chunks so they're larger than the vegetable pieces; they'll be less likely to overcook even if the veggies need extra time.
Push or Pull
Position ingredients close together to keep meat rare and juicy; leave more space between ingredients if you want them crisp and well-done.
Certain ingredients have a greater tendency to spin around skewers. Cherry tomatoes, parboiled potatoes, and button mushrooms are high on the list. Consider spearing these ingredients with two skewers, which will hold them firmly in place. Spring-loaded tongs are the most effective tool for turning skewers without puncturing the food; to hold ingredients in place as you flip, use a flat spatula with the tongs.
Keep Them Contained
Grill racks and baskets used for vegetables often have grooves designed to hold skewers. The grooves make turning kebabs easier and keep them from resting on the grates, where they risk sticking to or falling through the grill.