Few meals are more primally satisfying than charred meat on a stick. Whether turned on a spit or threaded onto a skewer, the meat browns at the edges and sucks up the smoke, emerging, at its best, crisp, tender and very juicy, to be seasoned with salt and eaten with great relish.
Any kind of meat works, but one of the best and most versatile is brawny pork shoulder (also called pork butt for reasons having to do with archaic language, not anatomy).
It’s marbled with white veins of collagen and fat, and, if you cook it low and slow for many hours, it will turn spoonably soft, collapsing into a pile when you touch it. (Think pulled pork, drenched in sticky, spicy sauce and scooped onto a fluffy roll.)
If you cook it fast and hot, just until the outside singes but the inside stays just a little pink, you’ll get firmer meat that’s just as succulent, if slightly chewier. And this is how it goes with these pork kebabs, seasoned with cumin, fennel, coriander and plenty of garlic and chili.
These kebabs are easy to make and fast enough for a weeknight. You can marinate the pork for as little as 30 minutes, which is just enough time to light the grill and toss together a salad. Or, if you’re planning ahead, the pork can marinate for up to 24 hours.
Best yet, everything for the marinade is thrown in the blender, meaning you don’t have to chop. Nor do the spices need toasting or grinding. The grill takes care of the toasting, and the blender bruises them enough to release their flavor while maintaining their crunchy texture.
If pork isn’t on your menu, the marinade works with any chunks of meat (chicken thighs, beef, lamb). You can even try it on dense fish like swordfish or salmon. Just watch carefully so nothing dries out. High, direct heat is your friend here.
And if you’re grill-less, broil the meat, in which case you don’t even need to thread the pieces on skewers. Lay the meat out on a rimmed baking sheet, and flip it halfway through cooking.
And if you end up cooking this recipe, be sure to garnish with slices of onion and herbs. Their bright freshness is a fine way to highlight the smoky depths of the char.
SPICY PORK KEBABS WITH FENNEL, CUMIN AND RED ONION
- 1-3/4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-1/2-inch chunks
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 lime, plus wedges for serving
- 1/4 cup cilantro or basil, leaves and tender stems, plus more for serving
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 1 jalapeno or other green chili, seeded if desired
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1-1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 small red onion, sliced, for serving
Season pork lightly with salt and put it in a bowl or resealable bag.
Juice lime into a blender or food processor and add cilantro, fish sauce, garlic, jalapeno and honey. Blend until jalapeno and garlic are pureed, then add fennel, cumin and coriander seeds; pulse 4 or 5 times to bruise spices and mix them in.
Pour mixture over pork, tossing to coat pieces. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours.
Heat grill or broiler with a rack positioned 4 inches from heat source.
Thread pork onto skewers, leaving a little space between cubes.
Grill over highest heat possible, or broil on high 2 to 5 minutes, then flip skewers and continue cooking until meat is browned all over and charred in spots. It should be just cooked through: A little pink is OK, but no red spots.
Serve with cilantro sprigs and onion slices on top, and lime wedges on the side. Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.
AND TO DRINK
A lot of wines will match this grilled pork dish. Riesling, of course, especially from Alsace, Germany and Austria, would be magnificent. Or try a dry chenin blanc from the Loire Valley, a sauvignon blanc, also from the Loire, or maybe even a white Bordeaux. For a red, I might want one of the new-wave grenaches from California or Spain, where they’re known as garnacha.
But maybe it would be fun to shake things up a bit. How about a dry gewurztraminer from Alsace or California? A good fino sherry, or a sparkling wine, whether Champagne-style, a French cremant or a petillant naturel from just about anywhere, would hit the spot.
— Eric Asimov, New York Times