Small cubes of meat are marinaded overnight in oil and vinegar, sometimes with herbs and spices depending on the nationality of the chef, Georgian, Russian or Turkish.
Shortly before the shashlyk are ready to cook, the meat is skewered with one or more vegetables, dressed with oil and brought to a high heat – a grill or hot plate or outside charcoal fire.
Shashlyk was unheard of outside the Caucasus until the Russians interrupted centuries of exclusion. They immediately fell in love with spit-roasting and, unlike the sheep herders of the Caucasian mountains, the invaders introduced the concept of putting everything in the marinade and anything on the skewer – beef, lamb, pork or fish.
The Russians also started to use vinegar to soften and tenderise the meat, but they realised quickly that the acidity overwhelmed the other flavours. Gradually marinades were introduced that brought out all the flavours.
These included secret ingredients no longer best-kept, like thick kefir and thin pomegranate.
In the Caucasians shashlyk meat has traditionally been taken from the shoulder, or leg of well-hung mutton. The old recipes always suggested four parts meat, one part vegetable on the skewer. Modern recipes request lamb and a variety of vegetables, but the meat remains prominent.
This is the original shashlyk.
1 kg lamb/mutton, cubed 4cm 150 ml wine vinegar 60 ml sunflower oil 40 ml oil, for brushing 3 tomatoes, quartered 1 onion, chopped 4 bay leaves Wooden skewers, soaked
Marinade meat in bay leaves, oil, onions and vinegar overnight.
Thread meat, four cubes at a time tight together, onto skewer, then a piece of tomato, repeating until there is no space left.
Brush with oil.
Grill for 15 minutes, turning several times, brushing with more oil.
Serve with rice, and lemon juice.
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