Ambiguously Ethnic Chicken-On-A-Stick
Ambiguously Ethnic Chicken-On-A-Stick
Chicken kebabs are a favorite of our group of friends in the D.C. area, so I thought I’d give it try. Though to be fair, much of the charm comes from our local 24-hour kebab establishment, which features an unintelligible, blaring PA system that is used for calling out order numbers. It sounds like when you drive away too far from a local radio station, except that the radio DJ is exceptionally impatient South Asian man.
Unable to replicate such a fine dining experience, I set about figuring out how to at least make similar chicken kebabs — cubed chicken breast on skewers that are probably their most popular dish. I ended up getting a set of Brazilian skewers because I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy what amounts to half a dozen swords. The flat blade makes it easier to turn the meat without it rolling around.
Our local place is supposed to be Afghan, but I haven’t tried to verify this. As it turns out, Afghan kebabs are pretty varied, much like how different styles of barbecue differ in parts of the U.S. This recipe is based on what spices tend to go along with another as well as their usage in various recipes. I also included the use of hung yogurt, or Greek yogurt, to give the chicken a tangy flavor.
Afghan kebabs, according to Afghan recipes, are usually a simple affair involving a lot of olive oil and just a few spices — specifically turmeric, which gives the meat a rosy yellow color. Meanwhile, Pakistan doesn’t appear to really have a chicken kebab recipe, or at least not one involving cubed chicken breast — they mainly ground the chicken before skewering it. Iranian chicken kebabs, or jujeh kebabs, tend to utilize saffron more than the others.
Interestingly, a few Afghan chicken kebab recipes seem to be Indian in origin. These focused on using whole-milk yogurt and more Indian spice mixtures such as garam masala. I mildly suspect that Afghan kebabs are like the Tex-Mex of India (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).
Make sure to cut the chicken a bit thicker than you would normally — they have to be large enough to fit onto your skewers (depending on which kind you have). They’ll also shrink a little as they get cooked.
This is in hindsight, but skewer the chicken onto your kebabs before you apply the marinade. I did it in reverse; I can testify that the marinated chicken is both very cold and very slippery. I ended up putting on my heavy-duty, food-safe barbecue gloves to stick them on.
This is one of the few times that I haven’t used by slow n’ sear. It’s also probably one of the few times that I don’t have an exact temperature for the heat. I instead opted for what I like to call the “medium-heat” zone — it’s essentially just the coals spread out in a thin layer across the entire bottom of the grill. What we’re looking for here is direct heat that isn’t going to burn our mostly fat-free chicken. This is mainly because we won’t be closing the lid on the grill for this recipe, meaning that we won’t be able to effectively utilize indirect heat (it was also like 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside).
Most kebab places don’t directly put their chicken directly on the grill, which is what we’re doing here. They usually hang the chicken using their kebabs over coals or gas. I improvised with my sixth skewer to get the chicken parallel to the floor of the grill. It doesn’t really matter how you set yours up — just make sure that the chicken is both centered and parallel to your heat so it can cook evenly.
Turn the chicken frequently to prevent too much burning (a little char is fine), until the meat reached the standard safe temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Be careful when removing the meat from the skewers.
Then serve immediately with some basmati rice and chickpeas that you’ve been clearly making this entire time. And probably some more lemon for the hell of it.