Being an Australian, I take great interest in all things that can be cooked on a BBQ. Maybe it’s something that all males inherit as part of our genetic make up to provide food?
The great desire to cook raw meat over a fire is for me, one of life’s great pleasure. I’m sure that there is a more culturally significant description than this but who cares? All I know is that I love BBQ’s and so do most males that I know!
One of the very best forms of BBQ’ing is to cook skewered meat. There are many versions from many different cultures. Indian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Turkish. Now, of course, skewered meats are all over the world.
It is naturally a popular restaurant dish in Turkey. We had brilliant shish kebaps in Istanbul at a restaurant called Zubeyir Ocakbasi. It is highly rated and the lamb there was the best we tasted in Turkey. We were originally seated “at the bar” except that the bar was actually at the fireplace! It was way too hot but luckily they were able to seat us at a great table. We highly recommend that restaurant if you like meat but make a reservation.
What I love about shish kebaps is that they can be eaten straight off a wooden skewer in a casual, stand up situation or as an elegant, sit down meal, resplendent metal skewer packed with meat (and maybe some veg). And people who don’t like dealing with bones love them too, as all the hard work has been done by the chef in the preparation of the skewers.
The Origin of Shish Kebaps
The term “Shish Kebap” (and often shortened to shish) is Turkish in origin and refers to cut up meat cooked on a metal skewer. There is ample evidence that the first known shish kebaps originated in the Eastern Mediterranean and the earliest known place was actually that magnificent Greek Island, Santorini, not far at all from Turkey. Archaeologists have uncovered cooking implements that indicate that shish was cooked as early as 1700 BC.
The traditional meat used in shish is lamb (cubes or minced). However, chicken, beef, fish and goat are also popular. In Turkey, we also ate some fantastic vegetarian versions, although you won’t see that here today!
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The Turkish-style shish kebap that we ate was not heavily spiced. It totally relies on the freshness and quality of the lamb. Note that we were primarily in the western half of Turkey where food is milder than the south east, where warmer spices are more the norm.
I have been cooking shish kebap for many years but one of the great things about travel is that you will always learn something new. There is a “secret sauce” used by the Turks to keep the lamb moist while it is cooking over the hot coals.
In addition to threading cubed meat onto the skewer, they also intersperse the meat with lamb fat. Yes sounds revolting but it’s not really. As the meat cooks, the fat bastes the meat, keeping the meat beautiful and moist. You discard the fat upon eating. How smart is that?
In Turkey and in Australia (at least) you can buy the lamb fat (called bunting). If you make your shish kebaps from leg of lamb, there will be pockets of fat. Don’t throw it away, use it on your shish!
Shish is quintessential, healthy, Mediterranean food. Serve it with some fresh pita bread, salad and yoghurt (or hummus) and you have the ultimate simple but healthy meal. Have a nice red or beer (or both) to accompany it and what else could you ask for?
More Great Turkish Recipes
Here are some more, great Turkish recipes:
Sultans Delight is one of the oldest-known recipes in the world. This lamb and smoky eggplant stew might be my favorite recipe. Great for a special occasion.
Turkish food is underrated. Try this Turkish stuffed eggplant dish and see for yourself how good Turkish food is!
Testi kebap is a meat (usually beef) and tomato-based stew that is often served in a clay pot. No clay pot required for this recipe!
Roast Chicken with Pilaf Stuffing. A riced-based stuffing for your next roast chicken recipe. A classic.