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Shashlik is a dish that seemingly has as many recipe variations as there are countries and families in Western Asia. The dish originated in the areas between Turkey and Russia, and the name itself is derived from the Turkish word shish, which means "skewer" and is part of the name of a similar food known as shish kabobs. Beyond all the different ways shashlik can be made, the core elements are chunks of meat that have somehow been treated beforehand — usually with a marinade — skewered and then roasted slowly over smoldering coals on top of a typically outdoor grill known as a mangal. Like many traditional regional dishes, each family prepares the marinade a little differently and some even cook the meat in different ways, although most of time it is agreed that the dish is best cooked and eaten outdoors. Shashlik is usually accompanied by skewers that contain roasted vegetables such as peppers, onions and tomatoes.
All shashlik begins by choosing the type of meat. Lamb is one of the most used meats for the dish, partly because some countries in the region have populations that follow halal or kosher diets. Pork and beef also are used and, less commonly, chicken or fish such as sturgeon. The meat is marinated before being cooked and then is cooked slowly, so nearly any cut of meat can be used and many areas have their individual favorites.
The meat is marinated, traditionally overnight, before it is taken to the grill. Some original recipes use vinegar, onions and other spices, including hot pepper flakes or dried herbs. There are as many recipes that use vinegar as there are recipes that stringently avoid it because of the sour flavor or the slight drying of the meat that it can cause. Recipes that do not use vinegar often use lemon juice, white wine or no liquid at all on the meat. Some recipes just call for salting the meat, mixing it with chopped onions or shallots and then leaving it to marinate in the onions overnight to impart their flavor and allow the naturally exuded chemicals to tenderize the meat.
Marinated shashlik is attached to skewers and then placed over a mangal. The mangal is a long, trough-like metal grill with straight sides and a relatively thin opening at the top. The coals are allowed to burn down until they are smoldering and no flames are left. The skewers are placed over the coals, with the top and bottom of the skewers resting on the top edges of the grill. The meat slowly cooks in this way until it is done.
One tradition is to take the finished meat and remove each chunk from its skewer by holding it between pieces of bread. The bread and the meat are put into a large bowl or pot and then covered, shaken and allowed to rest for a few minutes so the flavors and juices from the meat penetrate the bread. The shashlik is then served on a plate, sometimes with vegetables that have been cooked in a similar fashion on separate skewers.