We are heading to Central Asia for delicious meat skewers called shashlik.
Many countries have their versions of BBQ, starting with the great North American tradition. In regions like Kansas or Texas, BBQ is almost a national sport. South America also has a great tradition of grilled meat.
What is shashlik?
Shashlik is native to Central and West Asia. The term shashlik is derived from the Turkish word shish (also used in the term shish kebab) which means “skewer”.
How to make shashlik
The main technique of shashlik (or shashlyk) is to marinate the meat in an acid liquid, typically based on vinegar, wine, lemon or other, for a few hours before grilling on a BBQ. The meat that is traditionally used is lamb but shashlik can also be made with beef or pork and even chicken or fish like sturgeon in some countries like Georgia.
The acidic marinade has the effect of tenderizing the meat by breaking the muscle fibers it. But what happens exactly while the meat marinates? 196 flavors is not only about recipes, but sometimes chemistry lessons! Indeed, meat consists of muscle fibers and connective tissues such as bone, cartilage and tendons that contain collagen. An acidic solution helps break this collagen that covers muscle fibers in order to tenderize the meat.
Shashlik therefore uses a technique that involves marinating chunks of meat and grilling them on a BBQ (typically charcoal). The skewers often include chunks of onion or bell pepper. Shashlik is nowadays on restaurant menus in many countries from Israel to Pakistan, as well as Mongolia, Iran and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
What is the origin of shashlik?
Turkmenistan is probably one of the countries which shashlik originated from. Indeed, the official language of Turkmenistan is Turkmen, which is one of the Turkic languages. There are about thirty of these languages which are spoken from Southeastern Europe to East China by more than 200 million people. Turkish is obviously the most spoken of these languages (80 million) while Turkmen is spoken by about 7 million people.
Turkmenistan is an interesting country as it was a stop on the Silk Road, a trade network that linked Asia to Europe for centuries. Predominantly Muslim, the country has been the subject of Mongolian and Turkish influences which are reflected in its cuisine.
I cooked the shashliks during a long weekend stay in Palm Springs. My friend Charles-Yvan and I prepared the skewers on Saturday night at 3 am, after a few hours spent playing old school arcade games, and we let them marinate overnight.
The next day (or rather a few hours later), we grilled the BBQ skewers and the result was divine. The meat was tender to perfection, with a unique sour taste. We accompanied these skewers with various salads before taking the road back to Los Angeles and ending this very enjoyable weekend with friends. How could it not be enjoyable with a program including a pool table, arcade games, cooking (and eating), a swimming pool and … alcohol?
UPDATE: My friend Charles-Yvan who helped me for this recipe but also for everything I prepared during our wonderful weekend in Palm Springs unfortunately passed away in a tragic accident the following summer. Deep thoughts and prayers to you Charles-Yvan. This post is dedicated to you. RIP.
- 1 lb boneless lamb (or beef), cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 onion , sliced
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup dry red wine
- 3 garlic cloves , minced
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
- ½ bunch parsley , chopped
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- Mix all the ingredients in a glass bowl. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours and up to 24 hours.
- Drain the meat and pat dry with paper towels. Discard marinade and onion.
- Divide the meat evenly among 4 skewers and grill on BBQ (preferably charcoal) for about 15 minutes, turning them occasionally.
- Arrange the skewers on a platter and serve immediately.
- The meat is traditionally removed from the skewers by wrapping hot flatbread around them and sliding it. The skewers are served with various salads.