Persia, one of the oldest, continuous civilizations on earth was incredibly advanced in ancient times and has a history of dynasties that ruled the area throughout time. One constant among the rulers has been the celebration of good food. The people in this region have been eating well for millennia. Traditional Persian cuisine spread through the Middle East during ancient times which still holds true today. Excavations of the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri on the island of Thera (now Santorini) unearthed elaborate stone supports for skewers used before the 17th century BC. If you want to become a great BBQ cook, start at the beginning–cooking chunks of meat on a wooden stick is one of the first cooking techniques ever known to mankind.
Gas or Wood Charcoal Grill
Undoubtedly, cooking over a wood fire adds depths of flavor to our foods. As with everywhere else, the wood readily available is what was used before shipping became an international pastime. Super traditional Persian kebabs use ash, maple, beech, oak, olive, walnut, plum, lilac, alder or fig. Any of these wood charcoals are great to use and certainly add flavor to the finished product. The trick is finding a rack to support steel skewers over the fire. Fortunately, there are dozens of inexpensive kebab racks specifically made for an outdoor grill.
While wood charcoal has its benefits, it’s hard to pass up the ease and efficiency of cooking over a gas grill. For this recipe, I cook the kebabs over a Weber grill with the grates removed, which gets the meat closer to the fire and eliminates any chance the meat will stick to the grates. If the grates can’t be removed, there are also plenty of inexpensive kebab skewer racks made for gas grills as well. Check out: Universal BBQ Skewer holder for gas or charcoal grill
Once you’ve settled on your grill, next set up your fire with three zones: A medium high-heat zone, a low-heat zone, and a holding or no-heat zone. Begin with the skewers over the high-heat zone until a light brown crust starts to form, then rotate the skewer to cook the opposite side. When the kebabs have cooked on each side, move to the low-heat zone and allow to gently finish cooking while you work the additional skewers. This method avoids over-cooking and allows the skewers to keep warm until they all can come off at the same time.
There are hundreds of skewers available. From bamboo, to thin, medium or thick stainless steel, and even flexible skewers. Having cooked for a very long time, I prefer skewers which have been successfully used for thousands of years. Flat skewers are a must. The flat skewers keep the meat from spinning when rotated on the stand. I use a thick, flat skewer for heavy meats, and a small, flat skewer for vegetables or seafood. I typically avoid skewers with wood handles (these inevitably break off) or weird handles that are difficult to grasp with a kitchen towel or hand. Koobideh Persian/Brazilian style 1 inch wide flat skewers are ideal. For a smaller gauge of skewer, I suggest Koobideh/Brazilian 1/2 inch wide flat skewers. Getting the right equipment will make your task easier and safer. The kebabs will be very hot, right off the grill so a firm grip is essential.
BOURGOGNE ROUGE, 2018, Burgundy, France
Barg Kebab - Traditional Persian Filet Mignon Kebab
- Flat skewers (preferably Koobiedeh/Brazilian skewers)
- gas grill or wood/charcoal grill
- 3 lbs beef, Filet Mignon cleaned, butterflied and tenderized
- 1 whole onion, juiced
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper, ground
- ½ tsp sumac red, ground
- 2 tbsp saffron water
Preparing the marinade
- Set up an electric food processor with a medium grating disc, or use a hand grater.
- Using your hands or a bolt of cheesecloth, squeeze out all of the onion juice from the grated onion, over a medium-sized mixing bowl. Once all of the minced onion has given all of the juice, reserve the minced onion for another use.
- In the medium bowl with the onion juice, add the salt, ground black pepper, ground sumac and saffron water. Mix thoroughly to combine. Refrigerate and reserve.
To prepare the meat
- Prepare the Filet Mignon as seen in the illustrations above. Remove all the sinew or silver skin and excess fat from the filet. Cut the filet into 3½-4 inch pieces. Using a sharp knife, butterfly the meat to make a long flat piece of steak. Using the backside of a heavy knife, pound the meat starting from one end and going to the other and back again until the meat is fully tenderized.
- Place the tenderized strips of meat in a nonreactive container and repeat until all the meat has been prepared. Add the reserved onion juice mixture to the meat and allow it to marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight (max) in the refrigerator. Longer marinating will deepen the flavors of the meat, but avoid going more than 8 hours as this will dry the meat out.
Prepare the fire
- While the meat is marinating in the onion mixture, prepare the fire. Cooking over a wood fire adds more flavor, but cooking over a gas grill is so convenient it's hard to pass up. Either way will work, however setting up several zones for cooking is an important step.
- Prepare the fire or gas grill with a low-heat area, high-medium high heat area and no heat or holding area. Setting up these zones will help you control the amount of heat over which the meat is cooking. Start over the medium high heat and once the meat starts to cook rotate the skewer to cook the opposite side. (If you find the medium high heat is cooking too fast then move the skewer to the low heat area.)
- Start over medium-high heat. Once the meat starts to brown, rotate the skewer to cook the opposite side. (If you find medium-high is cooking too fast, move the skewer to the low heat area.)
Skewering and cooking the kebab
- Lay one piece of the tenderized/marinated beef on a large cutting board. While holding a skewer with one hand, place your other hand over the top of the prepared meat and pass the skewer through the center of the beef. (You can feel the tip of the skewer through the hand on top of the meat.) Press down gently, as the tip of the skewer passes through the meat.
- Once the skewer has passed all the way through the meat, gently gather the meat on the skewer so it will be directly over the fire. Place the prepared skewer over a sheet pan or dish and repeat the process until all the skewers are prepared.
- Once the grill has heated up, start the skewers on medium-high heat. Once the meat starts to brown, rotate the skewer to cook the opposite side. (If you find medium-high heat is cooking too fast, move the skewer to the low-heat area.)
- Continue cooking the skewers until all are cooked and have been moved to the low-heat section of the grill. Remove onto a plate or sheet pan and serve.