Sunday, July 6, 2014

Kebab-e Kubideh

Kubideh or Koobideh.  The word is defined as a ground meat kebab (usually beef, but could be lamb) with the characteristic dimples that run down its length. For some, Kebab e-Kubideh (or Kebab e-Koobideh) is the signature kebab of Persian cuisine.  That says a lot.  Persian cuisine is well known for its kebabs.  Many of those kebabs, like  Kebab-e Jojeh (chicken) or Kebab-e Chenjeh (lamb) grace the menus of Persian restaurants across the United States (and this blog).   There are many, many more kebabs prepared by cooks and chefs in Iran, like Kebab Torsh, which originates in the Gilan province in northeastern Iran.  That kebab is made with sirloin meat marinated in a paste made with crushed walnuts, pomegranate juice, parsley olive oil and garlic.  To me, all of those kebabs could equally be the signature kebab of Persian cuisine. Yet, the title appears to have already been given to Kebab e-Kubideh.

At first glance, one could question whether the Kubideh deserves such status. After all, the preparation of today's Kubideh hardly resembles the methods used to create its predecessors.  The traditional preparation of the kebab was something like a mathematical equation: wooden mallet + meat + black stone = Kebab-e Kubideh.  In other words, a cook used a wood mallet to smash meat on a flat stone.  More precisely, a black, flat stone.  I admit that I have not been in many kitchens in Persian restaurants or in Persian homes, but I think I can say that the preparation of Kebab-e Kubideh today -- at least outside of Iran -- does not involve wooden mallets or flat, black stones.  How do I know that?  One answer may lie in the fact that, at least in the United States, neither Williams & Sonoma nor Sur La Table has sought to entice foodie cooks and chefs with Kubideh mallets or Kubideh stones.  (I should say, at least not yet.)  Another answer may in the fact that every recipe for Kebab-e Kubideh on the Internet calls for the use of ground meat.  80/20 or 85/15, ground beef.  This makes me 100% certain that -- once again, at least outside of Iran -- most Kubideh is not prepared in the traditional way.

I will freely admit that I join the ranks of those who prepare Kubideh without wooden mallets or flat, black stones.  However, I did purchase a set of flat, metal skewers.  One can prepare Kubideh without the wooden mallet and without the stone.  The flat metal skewers are indispensable.  The flatter, the better.  Flat skewers serve two purposes.  First, they help when it comes to shaping the kebabs in advance of the grilling.  Second, they provide more strength and support when it comes to flipping the kebabs during the grilling.  I purchased a set of flat kebabs on Amazon and prepared myself for my first attempt at making Kebab-e Kubideh.

That attempt was fairly difficult.  I struggled to the kebabs to remain on the skewers before grilling. One reason may be that I did not work the ground meat enough during the preparation.  I was working off of a video (the link is provided below) and the video did not specify how long one should work the meat.  In the end, I decided that I would place the kebabs in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes in advance of grilling.  This helped to make the kebabs firmer (without freezing them) to aid in the grilling process.  However, my difficulties can still be seen in the picture, as the kebabs are of differing length without clear, well defined dimples. 

I debated whether to post this recipe, because the end product did not resemble what I have eaten countless times in Persian restaurants.  I decided that, for the fact that I do not cook in Persian restaurants (and with its flaws it nevertheless represents a solid, good faith effort to create the dish), I would post this dish.  Hopefully, as I continue to make Kebab-e Kubideh, I will be able to replace the pictures with better looking kebabs. 

Recipe from Aashpazi
Serves 8

2 small onions
3 pounds lean beef (80/20 or 85/15)
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sumac
1/4 teaspoon saffron

1.  Grate the onions.  Grate the onions using the fine side of a grater.  Pour off the excess water.  

2.  Prepare the meat mixture.  Place the meat in a large working bowl with the grated onions.  Work the onions into the meat.  Add salt and black pepper.  Work the salt, pepper, and turmeric into the mixture.  Add the sumac and work that into the mixture and continue to work the mixture.  Rehydrate the saffron with boiling water in a small vessel, covered, for about 10 minutes.  Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of the rehydrated saffron to the meat mixture and work it into the meat.  Cover the mixture and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.

3.  Prepare the kebabs.  Use flat metal skewers to make the kebabs.  Grab a handful of the meat mixture and begin to form the kebab around the flat metal skewer.  Do not cover the entire skewer, leaving both ends of the skewer open.  Pinch the edges of the kebabs.  Using your index and middle fingers, make ridges along the top and bottom lengths of the kebab.

4.  Grill the kebabs.  Heat a grill over high heat.  Place the kebabs over the grill.  Cook for a few minutes and then turn the kebabs.  Continue to cook for a few minutes and turn onto their sides. Continue to cook for about 1 minute more and turn to the other side for another minute.  Repeat this process until the kebabs are slightly charred and cooked throughout.  


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