Ask Peter: Kebabs
Recently in beautiful Rarotonga we twice had a meal of chicken kebabs from the Muri Beach night markets. The lovely lady served the kebabs off the barbecue over a bed of tamarind rice after brushing them with mushroom sauce. As the "godfather" of "fusion cooking" I would be interested to know how you would go about recreating this dish. David
I love a kebab — whether it be a Turkish lamb kebab where the lamb has been minced with kirmizi biber (or Aleppo chilli, as it’s also known) and moulded over a metal rod before being barbecued over charcoal, or a Singaporean chicken kebab where pieces of lightly marinated chicken thigh meat have had a bamboo skewer poked through them before being grilled and topped with a spicy peanut satay sauce.
The French, of course, create brochettes where you might find beef and mushrooms poked on to a metal skewer and in Spain I’ve had grilled prawns and chunks of capsicum happily grilled together.
However, what you’re describing sounds totally delicious and up my street. I haven’t been to Raro for more than 10 years and I don’t recall going to the Muri Beach night markets, but I promise if I do, I will.
What I like about your question is that you describe a whole dish. It’s not just the kebab, it’s also the sauce and the tamarind rice. Apologies to the "lovely lady" if what I describe has nothing whatsoever to do with her actual dish, but here’s what I might do.
I’d marinate strips of skin-on chicken meat, from 6 boneless thighs. Breast meat doesn’t fare so well on a kebab as it’s much drier with almost no fat in it apart from the skin — and it’s hard to make the skin stick to the breast meat when it’s been sliced or diced.
Thigh meat is a little tougher to eat than breast meat, but in reality once it’s been cut and those layers of muscles and sinews become less aligned, what you notice is that thigh meat has more flavour. It is also less likely to dry out when grilled because of these factors and if you keep the skin on — well that just helps keep moisture in.
I’d make a marinade that was a little salty, spicy, sweet and aromatic. This is because the sweetness will caramelise once cooked over high heat giving you a delicious extra flavour, and the other flavours will combine to give a balanced kebab.
So perhaps 2 tablespoons soy sauce (or fish sauce and salt — use less of the former), ½ -1 chopped red or green chilli (or try smoked paprika or chilli flakes, or even a sweet chilli sauce), 1 teaspoon grated palm sugar (honey, golden syrup, maple syrup of brown sugar also work well) and 2 teaspoons grated ginger (or use lemongrass instead).
Mix all this together then toss in the thighs that you’ve cut into either 2cm dice or 1cm wide strips and marinate for 6-24 hours. If you’re using wooden or bamboo skewers soak them in water for 2 hours — which helps prevent them catching fire when grilled — although it’s no guarantee they won’t catch once the wood or bamboo has dried out.
Cook on a barbecue or under a grill, or in a frying pan, brushed with a little oil, until the meat closest to the skewer is cooked. Turn them several times while cooking, so they don’t burn.
I'd suggest you caramelise 1 medium red onion or 1 large banana shallot (diced or thinly sliced) in 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Add 1 chopped clove garlic halfway through. Add 1-2 teaspoons soy sauce (or Chinese oyster sauce if you have it) and 250g chopped mushrooms (a combo or even a single of portobello, chestnut, button, shiitake).
The easiest way to chop these is a few pulse blitzes in a food processor or slice them super-thin. Add to the caramelised onion and cook out until most of the moisture has evaporated then add 100ml coconut milk or cream, bring to the boil and cook 3-4 minutes until it’s looking saucy. Add a good amount of freshly ground black pepper and see whether it needs salt.
I have had rice cooked with tamarind leaves but these may be hard to get. Depending which rice you use, the amount of water you’ll need will vary, but start of by rinsing 1 cup jasmine or basmati rice in a fine sieve until the fine white powder looks like it’s mostly gone. Drain it.
In the pot you’ll cook the rice in, fry 12 curry leaves, 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced, 1 spring onion thinly sliced (the green and white part — about 2 tablespoons is all you need) and ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds in 1 teaspoon vegetable oil until caramelised.
Add the rice and 1 tablespoon tamarind paste and stir well to coat it all then add 1½ cups water and bring to the boil. Put a tight-fitting lid on, reduce heat to the lowest setting and cook 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and rest 15 minutes. I hope the lovely lady approves!
For more, take a look at our on skewers recipe collection.