This post is dedicated to my father, the best shashlik master of all times. The brightest memories of my childhood are related to summer picnics with my family at the grandparents’ dacha, and shashlik was always the star of the show. I loved sitting next to my father who was responsible for making shashlik and watching him grill. I was desperate to make make myself useful and was so happy when he assigned small tasks to me (usually sprinkling the meat with water or lemon juice). Results of his efforts never disappointed. Being a rare type of a kid who enjoyed meat and vegetables more than sweets and ice cream, I loved letting my primal instincts go and always ate the juicy charred cuts of meat straight from the skewer, with a bite of green onions and a rye bread. What a delight!
Shashlik is very traditional in Georgia, and there is a variety of ways to prepare it. Traditionally, it is made of lamb, beef or pork slowly grilled over hot coals after the flame dies down. Some of the recipes call for seasoning meat right before grilling, but in my family, we always marinate it ahead of time. This style of preparation is called “basturma”. I prefer using a pork shoulder blade cut for shashliki, which is often referred to as Boston butt, as it is fatty enough to keep the meat moist and juicy as it cooks and has less connective tissue so it doesn’t get chewy.
4 lb pork shoulder blade cut (Boston butt)
3 yellow onions, sliced
Salt and pepper
1 lemon, plus 2 more for grilling
5 bay leaves
t tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 tbsp dried thyme
Small bunch dill, finely chopped
1 liter of water / beer
Prepare the meat for marinating. Wash the meat and remove connecting tissue and extra fat. Cut in 1 inch cubes.
Marinate meat. In a large and deep enamel or porcelain dish, season the meat with generous amount of salt and pepper, add bay leaves. Arrange the meat in layers separated with slices of onion. Sprinkle each layer with lemon juice Refrigerate for up to 2 days or at least 12 hours.
A few hours before grilling, take the meat of the fridge and season it with coriander, thyme and dill.
String the marinated cubes of meat on the skewers, and put a slice of the marinated onions between the cubes. If you don’t have skewers, you can substitute them with thin branches of hardwood.
Place the skewers over the charcoal grill (traditionally called “shashlychnitsa”). The coals should be hot but the flames died down. Keep turning the skewers meat as the meat gets browned on each side. Occasionally, sprinkle the meat with water or beer and lemon juice. (Get yourself a beer or two as this process requires your constant presence and attention and takes time, up to an hour depending on the heat and the size of the meat cubes). Once the meat is nicely charred, make a small cut with the knife – if the meat is light pink (not red) and the juices are clear (without blood) your shashlik is ready.
Being on the same page with BBQ pitmasters from Texas, I believe that no sauce is necessary for well prepared grilled meat. In fact, it might take away its delicious and complex flavors. In my family, we serve shashlik with rye bread or lavash (Armenian style flatbread) and a side of tomatoes, cucumbers and green onions simply seasoned with salt and pepper.