Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grilling Week At The Halal Butcher: Lamb Kabobs Are Delicious, Even If I Can't ID The Cut Of Meat

In the short history of HowChow, the single greatest introduction to local food has been the halal butcher -- first Caezar International, then Columbia Halal Meat, and now Nazar Market.

Beyond the religious imprint for Muslims, the butchers open new opportunities to anyone who wants goat or lamb.  Ironically, the hardest part for me has been figuring out how to talk meat.  There are some language issues when the butcher was born in Turkey or Pakistan, but the real problem is that I was born in a world where meat comes wrapped in plastic.  I barely know how to order steaks, so I'm at a loss about what to do with a lamb shoulder.  Actually, I'm not sure that I had a lamb shoulder.

Let Steven Raichlen start you off.  All week, I'm posting about Raichlen's Planet Barbecue because the new cookbook's recipes offer gateways into Howard County's ethnic shopping.  Lamb kabobs should be your gateway into the halal butchers.  With one problem that I'll explain below, Raichlen gives you a hamburger alternative -- a ground meat patty flavored with parsley, onion, coriander and cumin.  The skills are nothing harder than forming a burger.  The flavors are new, but still accessible.  And you get to grill with long flat skewers that you can call "my swords."

In fact, you can bake your own bread on the swords as well.  Raichlen has an easy recipe for making
bread dough, then wrapping lumps around the same flat skewers.  We put a bread pan on either side of the grill (because we lacked the brick that Raichlen suggested) and suspended the bread above the grill.  It took longer to brown than Raichlen suggested, but hot Armenian Stick Bread and sizzing kabobs made for an absolutely terrific meal.

For the swords, go to Pars Market in Columbia.  Other Middle Eastern markets may have the flat skewers, but Pars sells them for $2.  Buy four if you want to make skewers and bread.  Buy more if you want to throw a party cooking either lamb or even regular hamburgers shaped like a kabob.  Look for the coriander, cumin or lavash bread if you need any of those.  And while you're there, check out the beans, spices, and other groceries.  If nothing else, grab a sweet like the pismantye or  the rose-water and pistachio nougat.

For the meat, I went to Nazar's Market in Columbia, although you can try Caezar International or Columbia Halal Meat (both in Elkridge).  Raichlen says you need 1 1/2 pounds of lamb shoulder.  I got a lamb leg.  Literally.  It still had the bone, and it weighed about 2 1/2 pounds.  It tasted delicious, but subsequent Web research suggests that I got a lamb shank, not a shoulder.  I also had one problem.  I ground my lamb in a food processor.  It was really easy, but part of the meat turned up chewy.  I assume that I left gristle or something else that I was supposed to butcher out when I removed the bone.    Unfortunately, Raichlen includes six photos about how to form a hamburger on a sword, but no explanation about how a lamb shoulder becomes just meat.

I'm going to figure out this butchering because the lamb kabobs were delicious.  The flavor beats out a hamburger, and you're not going to beat the entertainment value of pulling these flat skewers off the grill.  Like so many tranditional cooking tools, they're designed perfectly.  The ovals of meat stay on the skewers as the cook, making it easy to turn them and make sure that they're cooked through.

I'm trying to go beyond supermarket meat.  It's a challenge to talk with butchers used to customers who speak another language with another vocabulary about cuts and products.  But the payoffs keep me coming back.  I even used the lamb bones to make a few cups of lamb stock and made a delicious dinner with soba noodles and vegetables in that stock.  That's a post for another time.

(Update: I'm an idiot.  The solution to chewy meat was incredibly easy -- let Nazar's butcher grind the meat himself.  Absolutely delicious, and the texture was perfect.  I just ordered "ground lamb" instead of asking for lamb shoulder and grinding it myself.  The butcher carved the amount that I needed and ground it himself.  You need to try this.)
Lamb Kebobs With Coriander And Cumin
Adapted From Barbecue Planet
Note: Ask at your butcher if you can get lamb shoulder chunks without the bone.  If you can, please comment below so that I know where to go.  I bought a 2 1/2 pound lamb and cut the meat off the bone.  It seemed to make the meat needed below, although I would love any advice on how to find the right cut.  Also, lavash is a flat bread available at most Middle Eastern groceries.  It's perfect to wrap these kabobs.
1 1/2 pounds of lamb shoulder
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leafed parsley
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt (kosher or sea)
1/2 tsp ground pepper
8 pieces of lavash cut into squares, four pita breads, or the Armenian Stick Bread from Barbecue Planet
1 TBL sumac powder (option)
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced for serving
1) Get that lamb shoulder.  Frankly, I'd take advice on the butcher's term for lamb shoulder in Persian, Urdu or Turkish.  My meat was delicious, but it looked like a leg so I think it was what an American butcher would call a lamb shank.
2) Coarsely chop the lamb in a meat grinder fitted with a small blade or a food processor.  If you are using a processor, grind the meat in small batches, running the machine in bursts.  You want chopped meat, not a paste.
3) Transfer the lamb to a bowl.  Add the onion, parsley, and spices.  Lightly wet your hands, then knead the lamb by hand to squeeze out air bubbles.  You can alternatively mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon.  To taste the seasoning, grill or fry a small piece of the lamb mixture, adding salt or pepper if you think necessary.
4) Mold the lamb mixture on the skewers to make kebobs that are about one inch in diameter and eight inches long.  Place the kebobs on a plate lined with plastic wrap and cover them with more wrap.  Refrigerate until you are ready to grill.  They can rest several hours.
5) Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to high. 
6) Brush and oil the grate.  Arrange the kebobs on the grill and cook until darkly browned and cooked through, about four minutes per side.  (To encourage even cooking, you can slice the kabobs into pieces.  After your have cooked the second side for a minute, use a knife to cut each kabob into two-include pieces and slide them about an inch apart.)
7) When ready to serve, use a piece of lavash to protect your hands and slide the kebobs off the skewers on a plate.  To eat, sprinkle a piece of lavash with sumac (if using) and then roll it around a kabob and some sliced sweet onion.  Pop in your mouth.  
If you go to one of the Middle Eastern markets like Caezar International or Nazar, look for the Turkish sausage called soujouk.  It's great in scrambled eggs and another reason to explore these markets.  I'm a huge fan of the items in the baklava case at Nazar, although other folks have said they're pretty average.

Yesterday I posted about how Barbecue Planet could take you for whole fish and grilled mushrooms at one of our Asian grocery stores.  Tomorrow, I'll talk about Mexican markets and Raichlen's terrific pork.

Check out posts about all of the cookbooks that I have recommended.  You can borrow Planet Barbecue from the Howard County library. Or you can buy the book on Amazon through the links above (which means Amazon would pay me a referral fee).  You can also try another Raichlen book The Barbecue! Bible.  


Stephanie Hughes said...

Thanks for the recipe. It makes want to go out and buy this book now! Steph

Christine said...

You forgot Caspian Market on Route 40 next to the Burger King. They have lamb and will order goat on request. The owners, Ali and Roya, will answer any questions you have. And if they don't carry something you're looking for, they will order it.

Alex said...

That butcher has no head!

Brandon Miller - Milhouse44 said...

Pay no attention to the man behind the Band Saw.

LoveFeast Table said...

My hubby went to a halal farm. It was an amazing experience...thought you'd enjoy this!