Shashlik is really just the Central Asian name for a kebab, something on a skewer. In Kashgar—the westernmost city in China—at least on the street, this was almost always lamb coated in a cumin based spice blend. At that time—35 years ago—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. Wife Jan is on the Noom program, and while she wanted shashlik, she did not want it made with lamb—a “red food.” She asked me if I could make with chicken instead—a “yellow food.”
Note: Lately we have been watching Food Ranger—it really makes us homesick for Chengdu. The shashlik that he has shown on his episodes had very much larger pieces of meat—½-¾ of an inch. Over the last 30 years, China has gotten very much richer than when we live there. Gone are the meat and oil rationing—to ensure that most people had the bare minimum to live on—as a result the today’s portions are larger and greasier for the dishes that we remember so fondly.
To go with my nontraditional skewers, I decided to mix it up with cold Sichuan noodles and a green salad. We have not had Sichuan noodles in the last year and a half. I would usually make this for one of wife Jan’s potlucks, which—for some reason—she has not been going to over the last year—up until the last few weeks—and then we would eat whatever was left over. I solved this problem by making a half batch for personal consumption.
Karl’s Uyghur Chicken Shashlik
Note: I actually used 4 chicken thighs and cut the spice blend in half, because I was feeding only three people.
4-6 chicken thighs, 2-3 chicken breasts, or a mix
Karl’s Shashlik Spice Blend
¼ cup cumin
2 tsp. nigella (black cumin)
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. lajiao (Sichuan dried chili flakes, not Sichuan pepper) or 3 small dried red chilies
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. garlic power
1 tsp. onion power
1 tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. paprika
5-10 bamboo skewers
1. Soak the bamboo skewers for half an hour.
2. Slice the chicken into 3/4 to 1 inch cubes (depending on your preferred size).
3. Loosely skewer the meat.
Tip: You do not want the meat tightly packed on the skewers, but you also do not want any exposed wooden gaps that might burn through while you are grilling the meat.
4. Combine the spices in a spice grinder (or mortar and pestle). Pulse the grinder a few times.
Hint: You do not want the spices ground to a fine power, but more of a course mixture.
5. Lay the skewers in a tray and evenly sprinkle the spice blend on the meat. Turn the meat over and repeat until all of the meat is covered in spice.
Alternative: Put the spice blend in a shallow tray and dip the skewers of meat in it until they are completely covered. This is the way that the street sellers in Kashgar do it.
Note: This recipe makes enough spice blend for 3-4 pounds of skewers, use it all.
6. You may grill them now over a hot bed of coals or let them sit and marinate for an hour, covered, in the refrigerator.
Tip: The grill should be as hot as you can get it and do not put the cover down.
7. When the shashlik are done—4-6 minutes per side—wrap them in foil to keep them warm until you are ready to serve.