Gulf Coast Cooking

Coast Cooking: Try cooking up something good on a stick

If you have had the opportunity to travel to other parts of the world, you are sure to encounter street vendors selling some sort of food on a stick.

Spanish speakers call them pinchos, which translates into thorn or spike.

Thai speakers call them satay. In the Middle East it is a kebab.

In many ways, food on a stick is a near-perfect idea. It is the ultimate in portion control. There is simply no easier way to carry your snack around with you, and the combinations of good things to eat that can be paired on a wooden skewer are almost endless. It also requires no pots or pan, and the only real need is a heat source, preferable a charcoal fire.

Some of the more common things you might find on your travels are spicy meatballs, grilled chicken and avocado or mango, and sausages of innumerable description. In Thailand, you will find a delicious chicken satay that has been marinated in sweetened condensed milk. In Vietnam, it might be fish, beef or chicken meatballs.

All are delicious.

So what are the common foods you might encounter in the United States that are served on a stick? Corn dogs and cotton candy? Other than that, unless you are at the state fair, you are pretty much out of luck.

But there is no reason for gloom, it is pretty easy to get the charcoal burning, soak a few skewers in water, and combine some of your favorite things on these almost fire-proof wooden sticks.

Metal skewers work just as well. Do not combine things on your skewers that

require widely diverse cooking times, if you do, some ingredients might be burned and some undercooked.

GRILLED SHRIMP AND AVOCADO

1 pound large shrimp

2 ripe avocados

Olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt

Cilantro, roughly chopped

Juice from on lemon

Peel and slice the avocados, cover in a spritz of lemon juice, so they don't brown and set aside. Season the olive oil in a large bowl with salt and pepper, add the chopped cilantro and the shrimp, toss, then allow to rest for at least 10 minutes. Drain the shrimp, but do not dry. Skewer as many as your skewers will hold, all facing in the same directions, like good soldiers. Please make sure your fire is piping hot. If you are using good quality hardwood charcoal, as you should be, make sure all of the coals are white and covered with ash. Give the skewers a final brush with the marinade and grill quickly, just a minute or two on a side. Nothing makes shrimp more uninviting than a hot fire if held there too long. Remove and set aside. Plate the avocados, place the skewered shrimp on top and dribble just a bit more of the marinade on top. As always, serve at once.

ASIAN-STYLE PREPARED MEATBALLS

Here's a quick and easy recipe everyone will love, even the kids. Stop by the nearest Asian market and look in the frozen section. There you will find a selection of frozen meatballs, some made from fish, beef, pork and chicken. Take your pick, but the pork are exceptionally good. These bite-size meatballs may be factory made, but they are good, especially when given a good char on the grill. Combined with this simple Thai dipping sauce, they are great.

1-2 packages frozen meatballs

Wooden skewers

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1-2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 red chilies, chopped

Small bunch cilantro

1-2 teaspoons sugar

Soak skewers in water for at least 20 minutes. Defrost the meatballs, then skewer 4-6 on each. Make the dipping sauce by combining the vinegar (try to find and use the one that says "gourmet" on the label), soy, chilies, cilantro and sugar. Don't use all of the ingredients at once. Combine what seems enough to you, mix well and taste. Add what needs to be added, according to your taste buds. Grill the meatballs until well-browned. Plate and serve with a small, individual side of the dipping sauce.

COMBO PINCHOS

Sometimes there is no single main ingredients that is going to satisfy everyone. Try this interesting combination. This idea was borrowed from a local Honduran Restaurant.

1 cup cubed top sirloin

1 cup sliced smoked sausage

1 cup whole mushroom caps

2 bell peppers (any color or combination of colors)

Olive oil

Black pepper and salt

Make sure your charcoal fire is approaching the zenith of its hotness, all white ash covered and very hot. Add the beef to a large bowl, then douse with the oil and season aggressively, toss to coat. Let rest 10 minutes. Cut the peppers in half, remove the seeds and cut into 1-inch squares. Now alternating beef and peppers, fill the skewers leaving an inch or two on the ends empty for easy handling. Place on the grill, turning often, until blood droplets appear. Now they are medium well-done and perfect. Remove and set aside. Assemble the sausage and mushroom skewers in the same way. Grill until the sausage is well-browned and the mushrooms have begun to weep and are tender. Serve with a fresh salad and a yogurt salad dressing.

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