Love On A Stick: The Beef Shish

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

It's 1000 degrees outside right now. Stop frying inside and baking with the oven, and move outside to the grill people...

One of the most forgiving dishes for busy people is the shish kabob. Well seasoned marinated meats (or seafood!) can be prepared up to days in advance, then grilled when convenient. Serve it hot, warm, or even cold with some basmati rice or a hearty salad. Here's my very fast recipe for beef kabobs. But first, two things are essential:

1) The Cut of Meat:
Do not be fooled -- stew meat although perfectly shaped for a shish kabob, is the wrong cut of meat to grill! The meat is very, very tough and is required for stew -- i.e., long braising technique to break down the hard connective tissue and add moisture and tenderization to the meat. Grilling, or quick-cooking is absolutely the wrong avenue to cook stew meat! The best cut of meat to use for a beef shish kabob therefore is a lean steak -- tenderloin works best. Cut the meat (or have your butcher do it) into larger 1.5 x 1.5 inch thick cubes. This will ensure a juicy kabob and optimal doneness of medium-rare.

2) The Marinade Must Be Flavorful:
Don't bother making this dish if you don't like spices or prefer just salt and pepper. I do too, but I do that for an excellent cut of meat like a perfect steak. For kabobs you want that mixture of spices for intense flavors and aromas. You can use virtually any combination you like -- here I used harissa as the base of my marinade. It gave the perfect blend of earthy spice and heat.

This version uses a simple harissa based marinade together with olive oil, fresh garlic and fresh mint, and salt and pepper to taste. The heat is slightly higher than mild -- still ok for kids to eat if they don't mind a slight piquant; scale back if you need it to be super mild. You must marinade the meat at least 4 hours for the flavors to penetrate the meat; preferably it'd stay overnight or even a day or two. Keep in mind, however, the longer it marinates the spicier it will be. So for a milder version plan on the shorter marinating time!

This recipe serves 4 well, 2 generously with leftovers.

Beef Shish Kabobs
1 lb beef tenderloin, cut into large cubes
1/4 cup harissa spice blend
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced into a paste
1 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped

Blend the harissa, olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic, and mint together in a bowl by whisking. Add all the beef to a larger mixing bowl or gallon-sized plastic bag, and pour the marinade right over. Turn the meat over in the mixture, coating well. Cover and let stand at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, turning occasionally to massage the marinade in.

When ready to cook, bring meat out to room temperature while you preheat your grill to medium-high. Take the beef and slide onto your shish -- if using metal shish sticks then slide right on; if using wooden skewers make sure to soak them in water for an hour before so they won't burn on the grill! You can alternate with chunks of red or white onion or vegetables as well if you like -- cherry tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and bell peppers work beautifully. Just make sure to cut the vegetables appropriately, toss them in olive oil so they won't stick on the grill, and season them also with salt and pepper to be flavorful. Conversely, you can make the shish with just meat as well.

Place on cleaned grill and cook until medium rare -- about 7 minutes total cooking time (time will vary on size of the chunks and desired doneness). You want to turn them a bit more often than you would a steak because you want to achive a good crust on all sides as opposed to just two as you would a steak.

Serve with basmati rice.

*Serving Tip:
Pieces of meat (especially beef and chicken) will slide off the shish easier when they're hot; the colder they get, the more impossible they'll be to get off the stick (metal or wood, doesn't matter). If you're serving this for guests or at a party, my recommendation is to either serve them piping hot right off the grill if your objective is to let people eat off the stick. Or, as soon as you get everything off the grill, use your tongs to gently slice everything off the sticks and arrange nicely on a platter of rice.

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