It’s time for a cookout!
My granddaughter says we all love food on a stick because it is fun to eat! She’s right.
The farmers’ markets and farm stands are open. The trees have leafed out and it feels like summer in Vermont, at least most days. One of the first things we do is uncover the grill, stock up on charcoal, and set up our outside kitchen.
The season has begun.
A cookout can be as simple as throwing some fresh veggies on the grill for a dinner side, or inviting your whole neighborhood for a party. A favorite summer barbeque technique is cooking food on sticks!
Everything is fun to eat when you put it on a stick
From shish kebabs and savory skewers to popsicles or candy apples, if you put it on a stick, you immediately have fun food. With the grilling and picnic season upon us, it’s time to think about this food cooking tradition, which spans history back to the first time we gathered around a fire and cooked.
Shish kebabs can be anything from a simple pressing of seasoned meat onto a bamboo spear, to threading any amount of prepped vegetables, fruits, and meats onto fancy skewers.
While these meals-on-stick promise to be the most delightful dish to make and eat, more often than not, they disappoint. The problem is getting everything to cook at the same time; we want to satisfy our artistic side but mingle foods that require vastly different cooking times, from hard onions to delicate cherry tomatoes! And when you spear seafood, the problem is even more pressing because fish can go from perfect to overcooked in seconds, even before there is any of the wonderful browning we crave.
Shrimp, Scallop, and Salmon Shish Kebabs
This recipe uses shrimp, scallops, and salmon for the protein, mixed with vegetables that cook at different times, and enhanced with an infused olive oil to add flavor. The season of wonderful local vegetables is upon us, so put your hunter-gatherer cap on and seek out something delicious for the grill.
If you like, save the shrimp shells, scallop muscles, and vegetable trimmings to make a lovely seafood stock. Just add water to cover, bring all the trimmings to a boil, reduce and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain, and use or freeze.
This is how I made my kebabs recently, but, of course, adjust according to what you find that is good! This makes one dozen hearty kebabs!
In a small pot, combine and heat to a simmer:
* 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
* 4 fat cloves of garlic, finely minced
* 2 sprigs of tarragon or rosemary
* Pinch of red pepper flakes
Set this aside to infuse.
Now, prep your seafood and vegetables.
Peel and devein:
* 24 jumbo wild shrimp
Cut into 12 even pieces, leaving the skin on:
* 1 lb. wild salmon, or other firm fish
If the salmon has a thinner “belly” trim and save for another use, or double it up on itself to create a thicker piece.
Remove the little abductor muscle from:
- 24 dry New England sea scallops
Gather together and cut into uniform size:
* 1 sweet red pepper
* 12 crimini mushrooms, whole
* 1 purple onion
* 2 small zucchini (local are luscious right now)
*12 slices lemon
*12 cherry tomatoes
Cut the onion into “petals” about the size that will fit nicely on the skewer, the same with the pepper. Cut off the end of the zucchini or summer squash, and cut into scallop-sized pieces.
Heat a shallow pan in a preheated 350-degree oven. Brush lightly with oil and add the onion and pepper pieces. If you are using new, baby potatoes, add these at the same time.
Bake for about five minutes and add the mushrooms. Continue cooking for three or four minutes. You will want the vegetables to just start to soften slightly, with no color. If the mushrooms are really small, do not precook them, but it is better to look for mushrooms about the size of the sea scallops.
Now the fun – assembling the skewers.
I like to thread all of them in the same order, but this is not essential. The shrimp will be more stable if you curl it up and spear each one twice. By doing this, they will cook in the same amount of time as the scallops. Save the cherry tomatoes for a fresh accent at the end, or they will disintegrate. Yes, I’ve learned this the hard way. Thread the lemon slices on their own skewers so you can control the cooking time and browning.
Strain the infused oil, and brush both sides of the skewers liberally. This is a really important step to ensure the protein does not stick.
Time and stress saver:You can stop here and refrigerate to cook later in the day if you are having folks over, then the cooking will only take a few moments!
Heat your charcoal or gas grill and clean the cooking surface. Brush with vegetable oil, and you are ready to cook. Place the kebabs over indirect heat and do not fuss with them! When a protein is ready to turn, it will release easily, but not before. Turn only once.
Once the kebabs are done, add the cherry tomatoes to the end as a fresh garnish! Remove the lemon slices to a bowl and pass so folks can squeeze to their own liking.
I made these for my family recently and served them up with a quick sauce: 1/3 cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup marmalade, 2 tbsp. grainy mustard, 2 tbsp. sherry vinegar, and 1 tbsp. fresh tarragon, finely minced. It was a hit.
Shish Kebab Tips:
- If you want a variety of foods served on the same skewer, precook any vegetables that take a little longer than the fish or meat you are cooking. Onions and baby potatoes are notorious for not being done all the way through, and peppers or large mushrooms may need just a couple minutes head start, depending on what else you are cooking. Soft vegetables like zucchini do not need advance cooking.
- The alternative is to cook the meat or fish on one skewer, and thread the vegetables on their own as well. It is not as pretty, but it works.
- Cut your meat and vegetables into uniform size so they will lie flat on the grill and cook evenly.
- If you cook out a lot, invest in metal, double pronged skewers rather than using the disposable, easy-to-burn, bamboo. The double prongs keep the skewered items stable, and allow the food to cook evenly. If you are using single pronged skewers, simply use two to stabilize.
- If you are using bamboo skewers, soak them for at least an hour in water so they don’t burn to a crisp! Double up on them as well.
- A marinade or infused oil is always a good idea to add extra flavor. Use what you like, but include oil, an acid, and whatever other flavors you like. If you are making a marinade for fish or seafood, go lightly on the acid as this will “precook” the delicate flesh and alter the texture.
- Once the charcoal is ready and the grate nice and hot, clean it with a wire brush, then oil with a paper towel dipped lightly in oil. Go over this a couple of times.
- If your coals are too hot, or the rack is too close to the coals or burner, you will burn the outside of your foods, but the inside could be raw! It is best to cook over indirect heat once the grill is hot, and if necessary brown quickly when done on the hot side.
There are lots of other fun “Foods on Sticks,” and they don’t have to be grilled. For a quick, fun, and delicious dessert, thread chunks of melon, pineapple, and whole beautiful strawberries on bamboo skewers, add some fresh mint, and serve with a little sorbet topped with a drizzle of amaretto.