Alton's Past: Alton's Driveway
GUESTS: AB's Mom and Dad
MOM & DAD: [they run down the driveway,
waving and blowing kisses, leaving AB]
When I was a kid, my parents would occasionally run away for long, romantic
weekends, just the two of them, and they'd leave my sister and I under the
supervision of our Uncle Rudy.
UNCLE RUDY: [drives up in a van then
proceeds to make shish kabobs]
Now, as far as we knew, Rudy didn't have a home other than this conversion
van he rode around in. He'd park and pop the top on some suds, and he would
crank up this little hibachi, and he'd get it really really going, and he would
just incinerate whatever chunks of cheap chuck he could find, you know, down at
the "Cash 'n Carry". Oh, and he had these skewers that he said our
great-grandfather took off some Turk during the Great War. Ahh, Rudy thought
those kabobs were the height of cuisine. And the beer, too.
The Dining Room
I probably don't have to tell you that those kabobs tasted hideous or that
my sister and I adored them. You know, the entire "kabob" thing seemed so
foreign, so exotic. And sometimes, Rudy let us sword-fight with the skewers when
we were done eating. Hah! Which explains why my mother never liked that man.
Anyway, like many American skewer-meisters, Uncle Rudy's kabobs served as a
bold expression of his desire to have as little to do with cooking as possible.
Which is a shame. Because with a little time, attention, know-how, and the right
skewers, kabobs can be a true expression of ...
["Good Eats" theme plays]
Turkey: 900 AD
GUESTS: Four Marauding Ottomans
Dateline: Turkey, 900 A.D. As the moon rises over the barren, desolate
plains of Eurasia, bands of marauding Ottomans, tired and hungry from a long day
of empire-building, settled down to their supper. Like my Uncle Rudy, these guys travel light and rarely eat at a table, much
less, with a fork. And of course, they don't seem to have anything to sit on,
even. But they are a civilized and inventive lot. So when one of them manages to
kill a critter or two, they adapt and they use their swords and daggers as
culinary tools. And thus the shish-kabob, or skewered roasted beef product, is
born. Of course, you have to wonder, if the Ottomans were so inventive, why
didn't they invent the ottoman?
Now let's say that, come supper time, you found yourself facing [puts a long
knife on the cutting surface] one simple tool, a wee little bit of time
[produces a clock], not
much in the way of fuel [produces a chunk of coal], and one big ol' honkin piece of meat
[shows one big ol' honkin' piece of meat], say, a yak or
something like that. Now the amount of time and temperature, and, therefore, fuel required to cook
a piece of meat is greatly a function of surface area. Now this piece of meat
has an approximate surface area of [quickly does a rough measurement] 864 square inches of surface
area, give or take a couple of inches. But, if we were to cut this into two-inch
cubes ... [gets his steak knife, frowns; gets his electric knife, smiles and
cuts up the meat] Now if I have counted correctly, we now have 216 two-inch cubes, possessing
a total of—if I can use this [calculator] thing—five thousand ... yeah, 5175
inches, of ... square inches ... of surface area, give or take.
Now all other things being equal, this meat would now cook almost, six
[double checks] yeah,
six times faster than before, and obviously with a lot less fuel. So clearly, kabobery is a very time and fuel-efficient way of cooking. Now, what does this
mean to Americans like you and me who probably have plenty of fuel
and food on hand? Well for one thing, properly prepared kabobs deliver
unparalleled flavor at a very low price. And since we're even more pressed for
time than medieval marauders, skewer-based cookery makes a lot of sense. Of
course, we do have to have the right meat for the job. And although yak rump
will work, I think there are probably better options at the mega-mart.
Harry's Farmers Market, Marietta, GA – 9:15 am
GUEST: Meat Monger
Although many cuts from the round to the chuck, have kabob potential, I
believe that the sirloin best delivers that perfect balance of beefy flavor and
meaty texture that you expect from something as primal as a kabob. Now, sirloin is very easy to fabricate in the home
kitchen environment. And at ... well ... under eight dollars a pound, it is a bargain.
AB: You know, I think
I'll have that second one from the bottom. Yeah, that's the one.
MEAT MONGER: [takes it and wraps it up]
By the way, if you've ever heard that story about King Henry VIII having
knighted this piece of meat thus making it Sir Loin? that's crazy talk. The "sir" comes from the French
"under". So sirloin actually means "under the loin".
[finished cutting up the meat into cubes] There.
1 1/2 Pounds Beef Sirloin,
Cut into 1 1/2 - 1 /34
Now traditionally, kabobs and their kin receive at least a brief
soak in a marinade. Why?
Turkish Marauder Animation
Well, remember our Turkish marauders? When they managed to land a meaty morsel, it usually wasn't
prime beef. It was a boar, or a bear, or some other strange critter that was probably gamey and
dry and tough. To counteract these conditions, the raiders would soak their
dinner in a richly spiced goo prior to cooking.
Want to infuse your kabobery with authentic Ottoman flavor? Fine, just hook
up your faithful food processor and add three cloves of garlic, two teaspoons
of paprika—smoked if you can get it—one half teaspoon of ground turmeric, one
teaspoon of ground cumin—toasted would be nice—one teaspoon of kosher salt,
half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, one-third of a cup of red wine
vinegar. Then slap on the lid, turn on, and drizzle in one-half cup of olive
3 Cloves Garlic Minced
2 tsp. Smoked Paprika
1/2 tsp. Ground Turmeric
1 tsp. Ground Cumin
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp. Freshly Ground
1/3 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
The oil will help to move fat-soluble flavors into the meat
as well as lubricate any connective tissue that it can get to. The acid in the
vinegar will bring flavor and moisture to the party as well as break down a
little bit of connective tissue. But, despite popular mythology, the acid will
not penetrate the meat deeply enough to tenderize it. There.
Now, toss the marinade and kabob meat in a heavy zip-top bag with as much
air squeezed out as possible. That will maximize meat-marinade contact. Toss
this into something that will prevent any contamination, should leakage occur,
and stash in the refrigerator for, let's say, two to four hours. That should
give us just enough time to do a little hardware searching.
A kabob by any other name:
Anticuchos = Peru
Brochette = France
Yakatori = Japan
Cook's Warehouse: Atlanta, GA – 11:20 am
GUESTS: "W", Equipment Specialist
AB: Hi, W. You know, it's funny that ...
W: AB, I really don't have time to play. Just remember, you break it,
you bought it.
Well, I get the point, and so soon shall she.
Once upon a time, choosing a skewer was as simple as drawing one's dagger or
fixing one's bayonet. Today, there are dozens, if not hundreds of different
designs, most of them really bad. For instance, take this curved model, which is
meant to sit on the edge of one's plate. How you're supposed to ... I don't
know. Other standouts, we've got baskets, we've got racks. This is like, I
don't know, Dante's kabob pitchfork of death or something. And oh, check this
out. Here's, here's a rack for the especially lazy. You put all the kabobs
on there and turn one handle and they rotate over the fire.
I don't know. I say that we avoid all such mechanical whimsy, and just get a
straightforward skewer. But even there, things are a little bit tricky because
we've got a lot of things to consider. Is it sharp enough? Is it durable enough?
And is it not going to rust through years of use? The only thing that I
can think to do, is to test them all.
[holds up a voodoo doll that looks vaguely like "W",
imitating "W"] Remember, AB, if you break it, you bought it! [AB voice] Heh, heh. First thing we have to do is check for tip sharpness. [shoves
the tip of a skewer into the doll's back]
W: [helping a customer, reacts as if the
customer behind her has pinched her] Oww. [turns around to look at him]
Well, that took way too much force. Let's try another. Maybe something a
little more slender. [shoves it into the doll's neck]
W: Well, if it wasn't you, then who ... oww. [receives
a sharp pain in her neck, looks around and spies a young girl chewing on a straw] Ahh,
so little missy wants to play Missile Command, does she? Okay.
CUSTOMER: Uh, oh.
Now that's sharp. But you notice that the metal stalk is really kind of
rounded. That means that food could slip around it too easily. And this
little grip on the end, way too small to get hold of with either tongs or oven
mitts. Hey, let's try a non-stick version; see if it penetrates thin pieces of meat
any easier. [again, sticks it in the doll's feet]
W: [approaching the girls, she writhes in
pain holding her legs] Oww, oww, oww.
[shows a bent skewer] Wow.
That's not the kind of thing you want to see
happen. Well, I guess there's nothing to do but test them all. [tests all of the skewers on display]
Well, after exhaustive testing [the doll is full of skewers
now], I do believe we have a winner. Check it out.
It's about 13 inches of skewer. It is heavy-duty
nickel-plated steel. You'll notice that it is rectangular in cross-section.
That'll keep food from flopping around. It's got a nice sharp point that can
easily be filed to keep it that way. And on this end, a nice big loop for easy
handling and storage. Yep, everybody that loves it, raise your hand and say, "Yaaaay".
[sticks the skewer into the doll's hand]
W: [on a stretcher, her hand now obviously
in pain] Oww, now it's my hand. It's in my hand now. Look, look ...
PARAMEDIC: Just try to relax, Ms. Wong. We'll have you to the hospital in no time. Thank you.
Thank you. Be good.
In Turkey, kabob shops are as common as hot dog stands in New York.
The Living Room
Although kabobery be a simple sport, I do find that by following a few basic
guidelines, you can bolster your chances of success. You'll notice that I like
to work with latex gloves. That's just because this can get a little bit messy
and the marinade will stain if you're not careful. I'll also have to do less
hand-washing this way.
Now, note that even though all of the ingredients are going
to be cooked through, I do keep the meat segregated away from the vegetables
just to prevent any possibility of cross-contamination [the meat is on one tray,
the veggies on another]. You'll also notice that I arrange the meat before I
actually do any skewering. This way, I can kind of sort out sizes and numbers. I
know that all these little pieces are obviously going to go on to a kabob that
will cook faster, and these larger pieces here will cook a little slower. Now
I've got good organization here. I know that I need four skewers. Now, when it
comes to the actual skewering, you always want to aim for center mass. [he
skewers the row of meat]
Now we face the number one kabobing dilemma. Do we leave the meat packed in
together or do we space it? Now, all packed together like this, we've got
stability: the meat is a lot less likely to spin as we turn the kabob. But we
don't have much in the way of surface area. By spreading out the meat, just
putting a bare half inch in between each piece, we increase the surface area by
a factor of, ah, I don't know, maybe ...
THING: [shows AB a calculator]
... Wow! Almost one and a half times, which means that these pieces are going to
cook faster, and of course, there's going to be more char, and char equals flavor ...
You can see where I'm going with this. Besides, one of the reasons that I think
we can go with spacing here is that, by using sirloin and by skewering it
across the grain, we're going to have a little more stability than we would with
most other cuts. [he skewers the rest] There we go. Now if you're not going to cook those right away, definitely put
them back into the refrigerator.
In the meantime, we will consider vegetables.
Now, when running through vegetables, there are still some guidelines beginning
with the skewers in question. If you have some skewers with relatively flat
blades, you want to use them for vegetables because they're a lot less likely to
split things. And there are some other challenges. I mean, look. The vegetables
have got a lot of different textures, different hardnesses, and different
Now things with squishy centers, like zucchini, should always be cut in at
least one-inch rounds, and then you should skewer through the side. Now when
skewering, don't hold like this, okay? [he holds the veggie in his unprotected
hand up in the air and points the skewer at the veggie] I've seen some horrible things happen. Aahhh. Right? So lay it down like this, flat, on a
clean counter or work surface, put your hand on top, and run through, thusly.
Nice and safe and even.
Now moving on, we've got mushrooms. Now mushrooms are notorious skewer
spinners, so always leave the stem on, and always run through the stem from the
bottom forward. Like that, okay?
Onions. Onions are very popular on kabobs, but cutting them into wedges
and then trying to put them on, they always fall apart. So, I suggest going with
either big hunks of leeks or large pearl onions. Leave them intact, just, you
know, trim off a little bit from both ends, then when you run those through, go
through the root end. If you find that there's too much resistance with
something like an onion, hold the food with a rolled up kitchen towel so that
if the skewer slips, it doesn't slip too far, if you get my drift. There you go.
We've also got peppers: very, very popular. I like working in little
rounds like this, because when you run those guys through, they stay nice and
even, and you get some charring around the side. But if you prefer, you can
always cut your peppers into strips and kind of lace them on. Unfortunately,
you do have to do this up in the air like this. Sometimes they break,
sometimes they don't. That way, you get more char on the sides.
Last, but not least, do not leave out the hard vegetation. Things like sweet
potatoes and rutabagas are great kabob fodder. Just be sure that you soak them
in water for a while before you try skewering them. It'll keep them from
splitting. And again, lay them down and use the towel to run them through.
Other vegetal skewer fodder; cherry tomatoes, yellow squash &
[takes a sip of a beverage] Ahhh. Although you can certainly successfully
cook your kabobs under the oven broiler, it is a tedious task at best. If you've
got a grill, that's what you are going to want to use. And you've got a gas
grill—and I happen to know that most of us in America do—you're going to have to
observe a couple of extra rules. One, your grates are going to have to be very, very
clean when you start. You're going to want to make sure that your heat is set to
medium-high—at least in the beginning—so you get a good sear. You're going to
want to flip your kabobs every couple of minutes until they are cooked through,
and typically, I find it's about eight minutes for rare, and about 12 minutes
Once they are done, and these look like they are, then move those off to
aluminum foil, and just wrap them up so that they can rest for at least a couple
of minutes before we take them off and serve.
Now if you are in possession of a
charcoal grill or a fire bowl, otherwise known as a brazier, you are in luck and
so are your kabobs. Now if you were to look at cooking scenes portrayed in
paintings from, say, 13th century India, 14th century Persia or Turkey, you'll
see that the kabobs are always suspended over fire not put right down on grill
grates. That's strictly a Western cooking kind of thing. So if you've got a
charcoal grill, what you can do is remove the cooking grate, line some
bricks around where the charcoal is, and then just lay the kabobs across the
bricks. That will let you get them nice and close. I like to be about two inches
off the charcoal. What that lets you do is to use a very small amount of
charcoal, which of course, is in keeping with the whole economy of this method.
And, of course, it creates a lot of flavor, but you are going to have to turn them
frequently, which is a good thing. I usually turn them about every minute, until
they are done to my liking. And I like them medium with this kind of meat.
Now if you've got skewers with really big loops, odds are good you'll be able
to use your fingers to flip these over. But you should still keep
some of these [tongs] around. Now this is pretty close to authentic kabobery.
But if you want to really be historically accurate and if you've got a little
yard to spare, just find yourself a nice, level place [of ground] and remove any, you know,
extraneous, unnecessary plant life. [pulls up a plant and tosses it] That can grow somewhere else. Carve
yourself a shallow trench say, maybe four inches deep, 12 inches wide and, I
don't know, five feet long. Line it with sand, encircle it with stones or
bricks, and then just fill it up with hot charcoal.
Above all, remember that kabobs are party food and it doesn't matter what
the party is. You could be celebrating your new job, or, I don't know, maybe you
laid siege to a fortified town. It doesn't matter; the more, the merrier. Now
when going with the trench method, everyone can supervise their own cooking, and
that takes the responsibility and pressure off you, the host. Now remember that
in kabobery, frequent food fiddling is absolutely necessary. You've got to keep
turning the food all the time and keep testing for doneness. Now since a
thermometer isn't really practical in this form of cookery, you're going to have to
use your hands. Just give the meat a squeeze. It should be firm, yet yielding,
charred on the outside, but clearly juicy on the inside. Since you can test a
piece at a time, beef kabobs are actually a really great training ground for
teaching yourself meat doneness in general.
As for vegetables, keep each to its
own skewer for even cooking. Brush with a little oil, sprinkle with some salt
and pepper, and always work in zones. That is, fast-cooking veggies like
zucchini, mushrooms, small onions, go over hotter coals, while dense foods, like
rutabagas, sweet potatoes, things like that, will go over slower fire. Sweet
potatoes are really very, very good, by the way.
So when it comes time to serve, you've got lots of options
OTTOMAN: [eats a piece of meat right off
... and, uh,
that's certainly one of them. But if you're not experienced, you might
put an eye out. So might I suggest, for instance, couscous.
OTTOMANS: [push all of their kabob meats
and veggies into a bowl of couscous]
AB: [tosses it with tongs]
There you go. You guys eat up!
Of course, what I like to do is just grab a piece of hot buttered pita and
make myself an Istanbul hot dog. Now that's what I call good eats.
there is dessert to be considered.
In chemistry, the term shish kebab is used metaphorically for
a type of crystalline body that grows from a central rod.
Say the words "kabob" and "dessert" and I think fruit.
And just as meat
appreciates a little bit of a soak in a marinade before facing the fire, so does
fruit appreciate a little syrup.
Split one vanilla bean and scrape out the pulp, reserving both the pod
and the pulp.
1 Vanilla Bean Split and
| Place a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Dump in one
firmly-packed cup of brown sugar, half a cup of freshly-squeezed lime juice, a
pinch of salt, and the remains of the bean. Whisk that over the heat until the
sugar has thoroughly dissolved, then set it off to the side for two hours so the
flavors can meld. And finally, remove the pod remains.
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Freshly Squeezed
Pinch of Kosher Salt
As soon as it cools, transport your syrup to the nearest squirt bottle; this
is for easy application. Now in the refrigerator, this stuff will keep for, oh
I don't know, next to forever. But it probably won't get a chance because it is
so gosh darn useful. I put this on everything from angel food cake to pork loin.
But we are talking about kabobs here and my favorite target is the pineapple.
That's right, the kabobers best friend. Let's cut one up, shall we!
Now I am a very, very big fan of serrated knives. Serrated bread knives are
the best thing for this. So, start by taking the top off the pineapple, and
then, logically, the bottom. Stand it up on end and split it into quarters. Lay
down those quarters and carefully split those into eighths. Then stand up each
piece, and just shave off the core. Then lay it down, and filet off the skin.
Watch your fingers!
1 Whole Pineapple Peeled,
Cored & Cut Into 8
The Back Yard
The goal in cooking this kind of fruit is to create just a thin outer layer
of sugar that will caramelize as the pineapple underneath softens. Now cooking
is going to take about four minutes per side, and I've got three sides, so
about 12 minutes. Be patient and feel free to reapply syrup once or twice
during the process. There will be a little smoke, but don't worry about it.
everybody got your ice cream ready?
OTTOMANS: [hold up their bowls of ice cream and grunt in assent]
AB: Excellent! Load up,
and dig in!
OTTOMANS: [the de-skewer a pineapple on top of their ice cream]
Well, I hope your appetite is ready and willing to embrace some
skewer-centric cuisine. Not only do shish kabobs link us to a more colorful,
simpler time, they can help you make the most of your current time, not to
mention your food budget. Like my Uncle Rudy used to say, "if you can't drive a
stake through it, it ain't good eats."
See you next time.