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Kebabs: Juke up the Flavor

Marinades, basting sauces, and dipping sauces pack on flavor

Fine Cooking Issue 72
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Lemongrass, lime, ginger, and chiles give shrimp kebabs a Thai twist.

There’s a good reason why kebabs have found their way into so many cuisines around the world. These succulent skewers of bitesize food can be the entrée or a first course. You can serve just one kind, or grill an assortment. Kebabs are quick to cook, easy to eat, and they lend themselves to a zippy array of flavorings, including marinades, spice pastes, dry rubs, basting sauces, and dipping sauces.

For the most flavor, try a two-fold approach: a marinade or grilling sauce and a finishing sauce. A marinade or grilling sauce will get things started by letting the flavors penetrate the meat or fish. A marinade works as a basting sauce during grilling, too, to give you a nicely browned exterior that will especially help flavor vegetables. For a final rush of flavor, I like to make a dipping sauce for dunking each tasty morsel.

Marinating gives kebabs an initial boost.
A dipping sauce is a delicious finishing touch

Be consistent with size. Pay attention to the recipe and cut your kebab ingredients the same size. Small cubes of meat tend to dry out, while large chunks take too long for the center to cook before the outside gets too charred.

In the pork and chicken recipes, I put ingredients like onions and peppers on the same skewers as the meat, because the vegetables in question are longer cooking and take about the same time to cook through as the meat. But for the shrimp and eggplant, which will cook at different rates, I use separate skewers.

Invest in sturdy metal skewers.

I prefer these to disposable wooden ones. The best metal skewers are flat, or if rounded, double- pronged, so the food doesn’t slip and twirl when you turn the skewers. If you do use wooden skewers, go for flat ones, soak them first to keep the exposed ends from burning (they usually do anyway), and use two parallel skewers to keep the food from spinning.

Flat or double-pronged skewers keep food from spinning when you turn them.

Cook over a medium-hot fire, not a super-hot one. I prefer a medium-high fire to a really hot one because the small chunks of food on a kebab can char easily. Also, when you’re using a marinade for basting, hold back from doing so in the last 5 minutes of cooking. This reduces the risk of cross-contamination.

One last word on serving: While it seems like a cool idea and a dramatic presentation to give each guest his own individual skewer, wrestling with a skewer can be pretty awkward for most people. So, just grab the end of the skewer with a towel or hot mitt, use your tongs to slide the ingredients onto a warm serving platter, and tent with foil. That way all the components get combined and your guests can take as little or as much as they like.

Basting adds another layer of flavor


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