It’s my birthday dinner and this almost always means lamb. I have done a variety of grilled lamb dishes—like Greek lamb, Moroccan lamb, and kefir lamb. My favorite is Uyghur Shashlik, in Kashgar, these are small bits of lamb coated in a cumin based spice blend.
Shashlik is really just the Central Asian name for a kebab, something on a skewer. In Kashgar, at least on the street, the lamb is cut into small (3/8 inch) cubes and skewered with bits of lamb fat. The stick is dipped into a tray of the spice blend and then grilled over hot coals. While the kabab is on the grill, the seller uses a fan to boost the heat of the coals and picks up some of the cooked meat sticks to baste the skewers still on the grill with the rendering lamb fat dripping from them.
Note: The secret to shashlik is the spices. I have read published recipes that are little more that cumin, pepper and salt. That is not what I had in Kashgar. When we first came back, I found a spice blend called “Dessert Spice” made by a company that seems to have gone out of business. It had the taste I remembered. Paul Prudhomme’s Meat Magic also comes close and I have frequently just use this as a short cut.
Many of the online recipes for this dish call for cutting the meat into large cubes, 1 to 1½ inches. I have tried this and I found that it frequently leaves the meat dry and over cooked as you struggle moving many skewers around the grill. Since I am being non-traditional, I decided just to leave the meat whole and simply dispense with the skewers.
Shashlik is usually eaten with naan. I tried using my new bread oven, but I have not got the timing down yet—you did not quite break your teeth eating them. For the rest of the meal, I am also making a shrimp dish, a tomato and cucumber salad, and a carrot salad to go with the bread and lamb. Jan is, of course, making my favorite dessert chocolate mouse.
Karl’s Uyghur Shashlik
Half a leg of lamb (3-4 lb.)
2 Tbs. peanut oil
Karl’s Shashlik Spice Blend
¼ cup cumin
2 tsp. nigella (black cumin)
1½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. garlic power
1 tsp. onion power
¾ tsp. lajiao (Sichuan dried chili flakes, not Sichuan pepper) or 2 small dried red chilies
½ tsp. paprika
1. Bone and butterfly the half of a leg of lamb. Trim off any excess fat.
2. Combine the spices in a spice grinder (or mortar and pestle) and pulse the grinder a few times.
Tip: You do not want the spices ground to a fine power, but more of a course mixture.
3. Rub the meat with the oil and sprinkle the spice blend over all surfaces of the meat.
4. Roll the meat up and place it in a plastic bag.
5. Refrigerate at least four hours—preferably overnight.
6. An hour before you plan to cook the meat, remove the meat from the bag and set it on the counter to come to room temperature.
Tip: Lamb at room temperature cooks more evenly than cold meat right out of the refrigerator.
If using you are using a charcoal grill:
7a. Build a bi-level fire in the barbecue and place an empty aluminum pan on the cool side. Close the lid and preheat the grill for 15 minutes.
Tip: The pan directs the heat of the coals toward the back of the grill and reduces the heat of the “cool” side of the grill by about five degrees. This gives you a gentler and longer bake as you are finishing the lamb. This slows the cooking and is more forgiving time wise and produces a much more juicy and tender roast.
If using you are using a gas grill:
7b. Turn on the burners on one side of the grill. Close the lid and preheat the grill for 15 minutes.
8. Lay the lamb on the hot side of the grill, put the lid down, and broil for 8-10 minutes.
Tip: For a charcoal grill, close all of the vents, so that the dripping fat does not cause flare-ups that will burn the surface of your meat.
Note: This sears the meat, locking in the juices and gives you a good char. The thickness of your roast determines how long you should sear the meat. You are not trying to cook the meat through, you just want to just to seal the outside surface and give it some color.
9. Turn the meat over and broil, covered, for 5-6 minutes.
10. Move the meat to the “cool” side of the grill and insert a constant read thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.
11. Close the lid and bake the lamb until the thermometer reads 143º F.
Tip: This temperature produces a perfect “touch of pink” medium rare lamb.
12. Transfer the lamb to a serving platter and tent with foil. Let the meat rest for ten minutes.
13. Slice the lamb across the grain and serve with naan.