Kabobs are the beginner's entryway into grilling—a simple, meaty appetizer with just enough veggies to give off a healthy veneer.
They're also endlessly customizable according to your tastebuds: "They date back to the caveman times," says Katie Hagan-Whelchel, the chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville, CA. "It's a food that spans all sorts of different cultures."
Your protein and veggies might vary, but the basic tenets of kabob shouldn't. Ad Hoc uses shrimp or swordfish in their skewers, but you may prefer chunks of tofu or beef. Your preference doesn’t matter: All of the above go well with kabob-favorite veggies like tomatoes, squash, and red onion. Hagan-Whelchel also likes cutting corn cobs into little rounds and blanching them before adding to the skewer.
No matter your picks, make sure your vegetables and protein are cut into roughly the same size and thickness. Your vegetables should be fully cooked by the time your protein is done—but not overcooked, so don’t chop too small.
"As much as I love onion, no one’s gonna want to chomp down on a raw piece of onion," says Hagan-Whelchel. "It's all about manipulating the food and not letting the food manipulate you.”
For her shrimp, Hagan-Whelchel uses a charmoula spice blend marinade, a traditional Moroccan mixture with cumin, salt, coriander, black pepper, ginger, sweet paprika, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, and "back notes of cinnamon, so it’s really fragrant," she says. Mix it with some olive oil and let the vegetables and protein sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, a little safety point: While Hagan-Whelchel says it doesn't matter whether you use wood or metal skewers, if you do use wood, make sure to submerge them under water before assembling. Otherwise, you risk them catching on fire and ruining your dish (or even your home).
At Ad Hoc, they use an eight-inch skewer because it "hangs off the plate a little bit, and is easy for the guests to pick up," she says. Packed tightly, it's the perfect length for two or three pieces of shrimp interspersed with vegetables.
"The closer the better," Hagan-Whelchel says. "If you have things spread out way too far, they’ll have different cooking times." The more connected surface area your kabob covers, the less likelihood any of your protein will turn out raw.
Ad Hoc's Chermoula Shrimp
Hagan-Whelchel uses a plancha, or a flat-top grill, to cook her skewers, but home chefs could use a grill or even a sauté pan "if you’re desperate," she says. The main objective is putting a quick sear on your protein’s exterior, which "creates a barrier and then cooks really quickly, so you’re not jeopardizing the integrity of the product."
- Pre-heat grill or plancha on high heat.
- Soak wooden skewers for 15 minutes.
- Clean, de-vein shrimp, leave head on and shell.
- Marinate shrimp with canola oil & chermoula spice
- Cut red onion petals ¼ of an inch, pineapple 1x1 inch cubes.
- Assemble skewers: pineapple, red onion, shrimp and repeat. Make sure to have 2 shrimp per skewer and try to go directly through the middle of the fruit and vegetable, and with the shrimp go through just behind the head and tail.
- Make sure grill is well oiled so that the skewer won’t stick; place skewer on grill and flip after 4 minutes on each side.