Fire up the barbecue for kebabs, satays, and more
Don’t get him wrong: Beh Sigari, general manager at Cazba Restaurant’s downtown location (1103 Davie Street), loves a big ol’ grilled steak. But sometimes, to change it up, he likes Persian barbecue. He and other restaurateurs around town offer some inspiration from their restaurants for getting you started in shaking up your own grilling at home. (Please, not burgers again.) During an in-person chat at the restaurant, Sigari explains that Persian barbecue tends to be deliciously juicy, and not at all spicy. His steak replacement is the chenjeh kebab, which consists of a dozen pieces of AAA Alberta sirloin threaded onto a metal skewer. The meat is marinated overnight in yogurt, onion juice, canola oil, and ground Persian saffron. The yogurt tenderizes the beef and gives it tang, and the saffron imparts its subtle yet distinctive flavour.
The same basic marinade is used for other skewered meat options, like the joojeh (chicken breast) kebab and shishlik (lamb chop) kebab, the latter of which has lemon juice for zing. When Sigari goes camping with his buddies, they polish off his koobideh kebabs, which are made from finely minced beef sirloin. (He suggests using lean ground beef if you can’t grind your own meat.) Children adore these kebabs since they’re super-tender. Sigari recommends serving them with saffron rice and a grilled tomato.
Jose Madappilly, owner of Salam Bombay (217–755 Burrard Street), explains that yogurt is also the key ingredient in Indian grilling, along with tons of spices. At the restaurant, he rattles off some of them: ginger, garlic, green chili paste, turmeric, red chili powder, ground coriander, cumin, fenugreek leaves, mustard oil, Himalayan pink salt, lemon juice, and fresh mint and cilantro. Madappilly likes to grill chicken legs. First, he soaks them for five minutes in lightly salted water with a bit of green chili paste mixed into it. Then, he marinates them in the yogurt mixture for at least 24 hours.
Madappilly says the same marinade works beautifully for halibut, as well as lamb tikka kebabs with even more mint and fried onions to stand up to the strong lamb flavour. Yogurt’s also used for the chicken malai kebab, which is marinated in a thick, rich mélange of yogurt, cream, ginger, garlic, green chili paste, lemon juice, and cashew purée.
At Sawasdee Thai Restaurant (4250 Main Street), co-owner Busaba Poonpoem says that Thai grilling is all about the satays; she goes through 60 kilograms of meat for them every week at the restaurant. She brings out already marinated, ready-to-hit-the-grill chicken and pork satays threaded on bamboo skewers; even uncooked, they smell fragrant from the coconut milk, turmeric, garlic, onion, lemongrass, and galangal mixture they were left in overnight. Served with peanut sauce, they’re gobbled down soon after they’ve been grilled.
If you feel like barbecuing a whole chicken (gai yang) or chicken legs, Poonpoem recommends a marinade of soy sauce, garlic, sugar, coriander seeds, and Madras curry powder. She also likes to snack on pla muek yang, or sweet-and-salty barbecued squid that’s seasoned with oyster sauce and sugar, grilled until just charred and firm, and then sliced for serving.
Satays are also a signature dish in Malaysia, but unlike in Thailand, where they tend to be made from a single strip of meat, they’re instead made from four to six small pieces of meat threaded onto a bamboo skewer. The marinade is also slightly different. Calvin Chong, who owns Banana Leaf Malaysian Cuisine (various locations), lists vegetable oil, sugar, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, and ground coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds as ingredients. He cautions that the sugar and spices on satays tend to burn very easily, so be sure to keep an eye on them.
Over the phone, he also suggests grilling your favourite white fish in a Malaysian style. He marinates his for two to three hours in a house sambal sauce that contains lemongrass, chili sauce, dried shrimp paste, ginger, garlic, and Malaysian curry spices such as turmeric, cayenne pepper, coriander, star anise, and cumin. In Malaysia, he explains, pieces of marinated stingray are first seared and then wrapped in a banana leaf packet with the marinade; they’re then covered in foil and placed on the grill. The finished dish is spicy, salty, aromatic, and umami-rich from the fermented shrimp paste. It’s just the kind of flavour explosion that’s guaranteed to launch you out of a grilling rut.