Shashlik — more than just a popular Russian BBQ.
Modern Russian cuisine is a mixed cuisine. Cooking traditions and recipes popular before communist revolution are almost extinct now. They were replaced with soviet cooking traditions, which in many parts, has been borrowed from ussr republics Russia used to be one of.
One of those borrowed modern cuisine dishes is shashlik. Shashlik is kebab type of BBQ dish, brought to Russian cuisine and firmly holding its place in Russian culture. No one can say exactly which country shashlik came from, but it’s versions are popular in the Middle East and former ussr republics like Armenia, Azerbaidjan, Georgia and others.
Nowadays shashlik is almost a staple food in modern Russian cuisine. A good picnic or dacha weekend cannot go without making shashlik. In summer you can see people grilling shashlik everywhere.
Shashlik is normally cooked outside as it requires barbecue pit and burning charcoal, so it is known as summer BBQ.
Shashlik is more than just a popular summer BBQ.
Making and eating shashlik is an activity and event by itself. People go outdoors to spend time in the nature and have picnic, but this is all secondary. Everything people do like swimming, sunbathing, playing games happens around shashlik. People do not say: “Let’s go outdoors”, they say: “Let’s go to shashlik”. Thus, shashlik, making it and eating it, is an important summer outdoor activity, event and everything else evolves around it.
In Russian culture socializing for the most part happens over the food. Very often shashlik is a reason to get together with friends and have a good time. Shashlik is a summer leisure, a reason for going outdoors, inviting friends and family.
The importance of shashlik as a cultural artifact is not in the food itself, but as an activity or event that brings people together. This is why shashlik is best on dacha or somewhere in the nature with friends or family. Like any other food, shashlik goes well with a drink and “doing shashlik” can be acclaimed as a Russian summer outdoor way of partying.
How to make shashlik.
For shashlik you will need: portable bbq fire grill pit (mangal), metal skewers (shampuri), charcoal (ugol’), charcoal lighter fluid (rozzhig), meat (myaso) and marinade ingredients.
All the items can be purchased from most grocery stores. Late spring throughout summer retailers place shashlik items at the store entrance. Many grocery stores also sell marinated shashlik meat. It is better however if you prepare and marinate meat for shashlik yourself. Stores use mix of meats, not always producing good and tender shashlik.
Shashlyk can be made from any meat: beef, chicken, lamb or pork. Pork is more common because it is easier to find, it is cheaper and more tender (if properly prepared and cooked).
The meat for shashlik has to be cut in square pieces and marinaded. Marinading takes about an hour, some people prepare meat in advance and marinade it overnight. There are tons of different marinade recipes for shashlik and each family seems to have it’s own, so shashlik recipes vary. (Subscribers of this blog mailing list will receive shashlik marinade recipe)
Although women take care of all the cooking in a typical Russian homes, making shashlik is a pure men’s responsibility.
Cooking process is very simple. Marinated meat is stringed onto skewers and grilled over the hot charcoal. Along with meat you can grill onions, bell peppers and some other vegetables that make compliment or garnish to shashlik. The charcoal must be not flaming, just producing enough heat for cooking the meat. Skewers have to be turned for meat to cook thoroughly and evenly, and sprayed with water to avoid burning.
Shashlik goes great with seasonal vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions and so on. Good shashlik is tender, but it can be complimented with some sauce. For sauce you can use adjika (purchased or homemade), ketchup or almost any other type of sauce that goes with meat. It is good to wrap shashlik in lavash — very thin non-yeast bread, sold everywhere.
Be mindful that in Moscow setting open fire (bbq included) is strictly prohibited, except for specially designated places. Many locals are not familiar with the rules and brake the law unknowingly.
If you wan just to try shashlik not cooking it yourself, it is served in many cafes and restaurants. Not a rule, but usually places specializing on Azerbaidjanian and Georgian cuisine make best shashlik.