It’s only May and it’s already summer in the city in Paris — a great time to enjoy grilled pork brochettes with tomato, cucumber and red onion, even if you don’t have a barbecue. Today’s recipe adds a French twist to a Russian summertime favorite, shashlik. The secret is marinating the pork in — wait for it — red wine vinegar. I couldn’t believe this when a Russian friend first gave me the recipe. In France we mainly marinate in wine. But it works.
Brochettes de porc grillé / Grilled pork brochettes
Shashlik, which is popular across the former Soviet Union, may also be made with veal, beef or lamb (favored in Central Asia). It is usually grilled over an open fire or barbecue, but may also be cooked tandoori-style in the oven. It differs from shish kebab in that no onions or peppers are threaded onto the skewers, only meat.
The French version adds olive oil and herbes de Provence to the marinade, which also includes sliced onion and minced garlic. But this recipe is highly adaptable. You can easily produce versions redolent of Greece (with tzadziki), the Middle East (with cumin) or Southeast Asia (with lime juice instead of vinegar and satay sauce alongside).
I first encountered shashlik while working as a reporter in Russia in the 1980s. The occasion was a yard party on June 21, the longest day of the year. In Moscow that means the light lingers until around 11 p.m. and is back just three hours later. The party was held in the courtyard of my building, a foreigners-only residence guarded by the KGB. Journalists, diplomats and a few bold Russians danced through the night to the strains of a Russian dixieland band. Beer, wine and vodka flowed as the genial U.S. ambassador to Russia, Arthur Hartman, manned the barbecue. It was a grand evening.
But normally shashlik is dacha food, prepared in the country in quiet, leafy surroundings. So when I returned to France and found a ‘dacha’ in Burgundy, it was only a matter of time before I wanted to try making it on my backyard barbecue. This happened when my friend Debby and her Siberian husband, Kolya, came for a visit. My daughter was about five at the time. She watched with rapt attention (I watched in horror) as Kolya poured vinegar over the meat. A few hours later we lit the barbecue. What came to the table was, well, perfect — tangy, juicy, tender. By the time Debby and Kolya left, my daughter had learned some Russian — podnimi menya (‘pick me up’), and shashlik.
Grilled pork on skewers has been back by popular demand many times in our home since then. As I no longer have the dacha, I now make it in a very hot oven. To be honest it’s best over charcoal, but it’s pretty darn good that way too.