oday’s chefs are rediscovering old traditions
from many cultures of grilling small portions
of foods on skewers, adding their own twists to
these delectable palate pleasers. T
Rustic cooking on skewers goes way back in countries
such as Turkey, Greece, India, Japan, Ecuador and many
others. In America, chefs are modernizing this time-tested
technique to make appetizers more interesting for diners
who like to share, as well as those who don’t.
Lola, a Tom Douglas restaurant in Seattle, was a pioneer of sorts
some five or six years ago in devoting an entire menu category to
kebabs, all accented with lemon juice, oregano, white wine and
olive oil. Liam Spence, executive chef, gives the Greek-inspired
bites Pacific Northwest flavors with local ingredients.
Anderer also likes to prepare a butterflied chicken-heart
skewer on a rosemary twig. “We buy a lot of whole free-range, milk-fed chickens. This showcases a delicious part of
the chicken. The rosemary perfumes the hearts,” he notes.
Spence serves three bamboo skewers per serving in some 10
variations, all with different glazes rather than marinades. A
few choices are lamb with caramelized garlic and red wine
glaze, which is the best seller; Washington chicken with
yogurt and dill; wild sockeye salmon with herb/caper relish;
and Haloumi cheese with Kalamata fig and fig balsamic.
At Union Square Cafe, part of Union Square Hospitality
Group, New York, Carmen Quagliata, executive chef, usually
features a couple of skewered items intended as bar snacks.
One perennially popular choice is thinly sliced 2-inch pieces of
octopus and chorizo threaded on skewers, then grilled briefly at
a high temperature on a plancha, or metal plate. Accents are a
chopped pepperonata vinaigrette and a bit of parsley.
The months-old Bar Toma in Chicago also draws inspiration
from Italy for several skewered items on the bar-plates side
of the menu. Most of them, created by Tony Mantuano,
executive chef, are marinated before grilling. Examples
are beef skewers flavored with aged balsamico, chili
flakes, oregano and thyme; and lamb with black truffle,
garlic, rosemary and chili flakes. Monkfish spiedino, with
marinated garlic, olive oil, bay leaf and other herbs, is an
PHOTO CREDIT: Opposite, Darko Zagar; above, Anjali Pinto
Another of Quagliata’s skewers is chicken liver on rosemary
skewers with walnut/fig bread and a drizzle of olive oil. The
typical portion is three skewers per serving.
Also in Chicago, Nacional 27, Lettuce Entertain You
Enterprises’ modern Latin restaurant, ceviche bar and
dance club, has a small dedicated skewers menu section that
changes periodically but usually has a shrimp, chicken breast
and beef tenderloin choice with varying accompaniments.
Skewers, which are a common street food in Ecuador, are
one of his most popular appetizers, says Chico Vilchez,
“You can get as many as you want. We charge per skewer,”
Quagliata says. “They are great with beer or Spanish whites.
We sell a lot during the week, after work. People often stay for
dinner, and skewers give them another option before dinner.”
Maialino, a Roman-style trattoria, also owned by Union
Square Hospitality Group, regularly has skewers on the
menu, typically served as a bar snack with a glass of wine,
says Nick Anderer, executive chef. A favorite is a one-bite
portion of Ruby Red shrimp from Maine with a Nantucket
Bay scallop, seasoned with salt, pepper, pepperoncino and
lardo, seared on a plancha.
Typical preparations are shrimp adobado with pineapple/
vanilla salsa; scallop with lemon oil, salsa cruda and
chimichurri sauce; grilled beef tenderloin with adobo three-chili salsa; and chicken with cilantro sofrito. Some of the
sauces double as both marinades and dipping sauces.
Latin flavors also complement skewers at Wynwood Kitchen
& Bar in the Miami Arts District, a small-plates Nuevo
OPPOSITE: Tomato/watermelon skewers are on the menu at The Bazaar by José Andrés.
ABOVE: Nacional 27’s combination platter includes shrimp skewers.