You put something edible on a stick, add something to improve the flavor and hold it over a fire. That's cooking, on a primordial level.
There are all kinds of cooking sticks. Some are made from bamboo or wood, and there are flat metal ones with ornate handles. I imagine that throughout history, whenever soldiers carried swords, arrows or bayonets, those tools of war became cooking implements by night. In French, the term à la broche means spit-roasted, as in a whole animal turning on a long metal rod over hot coals. A smaller portion, with a shorter stick, is called a brochette.
What I'm supplying are recipes for three kinds of delicious, diminutive brochettes, threaded on bamboo skewers: pork spiced with red chili; chicken in a curry-coconut sauce; and shrimp infused with garlic, parsley and basil. But I'm also giving a recipe for an easy party.
Ideally, one would invite friends over for an outdoor affair on a perfect summer day. Not a dinner party, but there must be tantalizing food, of course. Those little brochettes will be sizzling over glowing coals, and the air will be filled with wafts of savory aromas as your guests arrive. (Lacking this idyllic setting, you could use a grill pan or broiler indoors and still have fun.)
Then all you need are a few colorful salads: a gorgeous platter of tomatoes with basil, a giant bowl of green beans vinaigrette, that sort of thing. To make things even easier, give the grilling duties to some nice volunteer.
The great thing about this particular party is that all the fiddly stuff can be prepared ahead. You can prep the brochettes the day before. Cut the meat into cubes and get it skewered. I use the double-skewer method, threading both through each piece of meat, instead of a single skewer, to prevent the ingredients from twirling about. This is not necessary if you use flat metal skewers, rather than bamboo. You can even make all three sauces in advance, and they won't suffer a bit.
And then there's a little bonus. You use only a few tablespoons of each sauce as a marinade, rubbing it into the meat. The remaining sauce can be dabbed or dipped as necessary. These brochettes are small, only 2 to 3 ounces. That way, everyone gets a taste of each. But for me, the ideal way to serve them is to have a basket of small pita or other flatbreads or little rolls. Then just slide the meat off the skewers and let people make their own bite-size sandwiches. It's all very casual and hands-on, and the snacking and grilling can continue into the night.
Voilà: a brochette fête. A celebration of summer.
Garlic Shrimp Brochettes
Time: 45 minutes, plus at least 1 hour marinating Yield: 8 skewers
1 pound large shrimp (preferably wild), peeled and deveined 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more for seasoning 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, more for seasoning 6 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste 1 cup basil leaves, loosely packed 1 cup parsley leaves, loosely packed 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper 1 teaspoon lemon zest 1 cup olive oil Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Season shrimp lightly on both sides with salt and pepper.
2. To skewer, lay shrimp flat on cutting board. Thread shrimp onto two skewers spaced equidistant from center; do this first with one skewer, then the other. Put two or three shrimp onto each set of skewers, for eight brochettes total.
3. In a blender or food processor, put 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, the garlic, the basil, the parsley, the red pepper and the zest. Pulse to coarsely grind ingredients. Add oil; blend to a rough sauce.
4. Lay brochettes on a tray in one layer. Spoon 8 tablespoons green mixture over shrimp and spread to cover evenly. (Save remaining sauce.) Leave at room temperature for 1 hour, or refrigerate several hours, then bring to room temperature.
5. Grill brochettes over medium-hot fire for about 3 minutes per side. Serve with lemon wedges and reserved green sauce.
Red Chili Pork Brochettes
Time: 45 minutes, plus at least 1 hour's marinating Yield: 8 skewers
1 1/2 to 2 pounds well-marbled pork shoulder, cut into 3/4-inch slices Kosher salt 2 tablespoons hot New Mexico red chili powder, more for seasoning meat (may substitute ancho or guajillo chili powder) 1 large tomato, about 3/4 pound 4 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste 2 tablespoons lime juice 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon toasted coarsely ground cumin
1. Cut pork into 2-by-2-by- 3/4-inch pieces. (You should have about 24 pieces.) Mix 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon chili powder. Use mixture to season pork on both sides.
2. To skewer, lay meat flat on cutting board. Thread meat onto 2 skewers spaced equidistant from center; do this first with one skewer, then the other. Put 3 pieces of pork onto each set of skewers, for 8 brochettes total.
3. Cook the tomato (left whole) over hot coals or under broiler until charred and blackened, about 5 minutes. Cut in quarters but do not remove skin.
4. In a blender or food processor, put 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons chili powder, the charred tomato, the garlic, the lime juice, the olive oil and 1 teaspoon cumin. Blend to obtain a smooth sauce and transfer to a bowl.
5. Lay brochettes on a tray in 1 layer. Spoon 8 tablespoons chili sauce over pork and spread to cover evenly. (Save remaining sauce.) Leave at room temperature for 1 hour, or refrigerate several hours, then bring to room temperature.
6. Grill over medium-hot fire for about 3 minutes per side. Sprinkle with remaining toasted cumin. Serve with reserved sauce.
Coconut Curry Chicken Skewers
Time: 45 minutes, plus at least 1 hour's marinating Yield: 8 skewers
1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts or thighs Kosher salt 1 teaspoon turmeric, more for seasoning meat 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, more for seasoning meat 2 teaspoons garam masala Zest and juice of 1 small lime 1 1/2 cups thick coconut milk 2 tablespoons grated ginger 3 tablespoons grated unsweetened coconut, fresh or frozen 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1/2 teaspoon yellow or black mustard seeds
1. Cut chicken into flat 2-by-2-inch pieces. (You should have about 24 pieces.) Mix 1 tablespoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne. Use mixture to season chicken lightly on both sides.
2. To skewer, lay meat flat on cutting board. Thread meat onto 2 skewers spaced equidistant from center; do this first with one skewer, then the other. Put 3 pieces of chicken onto each set of skewers, for 8 brochettes total.
3. In a blender, put 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, garam masala, lime zest and juice, coconut milk, ginger and grated coconut. Blend to obtain a smooth sauce. Transfer to a bowl.
4. Put oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and let them pop. (This takes only a few seconds.). Pour oil and seeds into the coconut curry mixture and stir.
5. Lay brochettes on a tray in one layer. Spoon 8 tablespoons curry mixture over chicken and spread to cover evenly on both sides. (Save remaining sauce.) Leave at room temperature for 1 hour, or refrigerate several hours, then bring to room temperature.
6. Grill over medium-hot fire for about 3 minutes per side (longer if using thighs), until meat feels firm when poked with a finger. Serve with reserved sauce.