Paired with that delicious grilled shrimp and potato salad, I wanted to continue the Mediterranean theme for our Memorial Day cook out with these yogurt marinated chicken skewers. Grilled chicken skewers are terrible 99% of the time. And if you happen to consider your version pretty damn delicious than I apologize for the generality, but for real, Cook’s Illustrated wouldn’t publish one of their classic recipe “fixes” if people were nailing these consistently.
But despite how much I love Cook’s Illustrated, I was pretty surprised on the conclusion they reached. Two major factors were discussed. One being flavor and the other being moisture. Flavor to me is the easy part. Because I’ve had plenty of flavor packed, dry as a piece of leather chicken skewers in my day. So while I am intrigued by the use of a bacon paste (that is right, a bacon paste!) to coat the chicken pieces to retain moisture, it seems like a little overkill. Right? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love bacon and like most people think it goes with everything, but there’s got to be a better way!
Well, while I may not have the two page trial and error description that Cook’s Illustrated offers, I do think my chicken skewers offer the best of both worlds! Marinating the small cubes of chicken thighs (key point here) in yogurt, lemon juice, curry, cumin, jalapeno, dill and parsley not only packed these skewers with flavor, but it was the first step in ensuring we were left with some moisture. The yogurt and lemon juice help tenderize the chicken and by selecting thighs over breasts, we’ve increased our chances for success. While it may be harder to cut these in perfect cubes, the skewering process takes care of that no problem.
This being the second step towards chicken skewer greatness is another crucial piece to the puzzle. I used to always skewer and leave ample space between the meat and the vegetables or the meat and the meat (depending on the skewer type). The rationale was that this would ensure even doneness throughout. But think about when you walk into a Greek or Turkish take spot for some Gyro or Doner. Meat packed tightly on top of meat and slowly simmering in front of the flame all but guarantees that pita’s filling will be moist and delicious. So for my chicken skewers, I slide those cubes of chicken thighs on nestled tight together and let the marinade and the natural fat baste from within.
The last and final step, at least in my humble opinion, is a bit more obvious. Whether you are grilling on charcoal or over gas, the more you do it, the more you realize the importance of multiple temperature areas on the grates. Flames and grill marks are wonderful on steaks, burgers and veggies, but these are all things that cook pretty quickly. For chicken skewers (particularly if you are using thighs) there is no medium rare. The chicken is cooked through and as we all know, the line between done and dry is pretty damn small. But by starting the skewers over direct heat, you’ll develop all of the char you need and help sear on that delicious marinade. But once you’ve developed said char, move those suckers off of direct heat and let the grill act as an oven the rest of the way. The indirect heat will slowly cook the chicken giving you a much better chance at the “oohs” and “aahhs” we all want when we serve our family and friends.
It might not be bacon, but I can promise you, they are pretty damn delicious!