Thu Sep 26, 2019
Meatwave devotees probably already know this, but spicy foods are my jam. It like a lot of flavor, and it's always a plus when there's some heat behind that. So I was pretty giddy when I decided to do my first Meatwave ever solely dedicated to recipes that focused on hot chilies. I knew every recipe I made would be designed to win my heart, but as I was crafting the menu, I began worrying about my guests who were not hot heads like myself. That brought me around to a finding a pepper that could still deliver some heat, but was more focused on flavor, and I found the perfect answer in these Aleppo pepper and mint chicken skewers.
If you haven't tried Aleppo pepper, you're missing out. It looks pretty similar to regular red pepper flakes, but they are actually less spicy and deliver a ton more flavor. The chili has a strong fruity character with a slight earthy undertone, not that dissimilar from ancho peppers. To really focus on that flavor, I started off the marinade with a lot of Aleppo pepper flakes, which quickly began to turn the olive oil base a red hue. Building upon the taste of the chilies, I also added in a Turkish sweet red pepper paste, tomato paste, garlic, and black pepper. Then for the contrasting notes I used mint for a fresh, herbal component, and lemon juice for brightness.
My chicken cut of choice for skewers is almost always thighs. When I first began grilling, I used the more common breast meat, but quickly learned that it was much faster to dry out, which makes it harder to work with over a very hot fire and also in skewer form, where each piece of meat may not be done at exactly the same time, making overcooking sometimes unavoidable. Thigh meat, on the other hand, is much more forgiving, being able to be cooked to, or slightly above, temperature and still come out juicy and flavorful.
Once I had my boneless, skinless thighs cut into roughly 1 1/2-inch cubes, I tossed them into a resealable bag and poured in the marinade. I prepped these the day before my cookout, so they soaked overnight, but if you're on a tighter schedule, four hours is a good minimum marinating time to shoot for.
Next step was to thread the meat on the skewers. With chicken thighs, I like to pack the meat on so each piece is touching the next, but they're not overly squashed together. This density seems to be right to to make the skewers look uniform in the end while not overburdening the skewer in weight, which makes them hard to handle, or mass, which could increase the grilling time to a point where the interior and exterior may not cook in harmony.
Over a freshly lit fire, these skewers took about ten minutes total to cook. During that time, I stood grill-side and flipped them fairly frequently once they released easily from the grates. The consistent turning helps with even doneness throughout, so it's a common practice for me with most of my kebabs.
The finished skewers were certainly beauties—they had a bright orange hue with attractive charring all over. Their taste matched too. At first bite, there was very little heat, and you would wonder if they really fit into a cookout centered around spicy foods. So it's not a burn that first grips you, but the intense flavor of that marinade. After being cooked, that coating had a robust, slightly sweet and fruity flavor along with cumin-like notes and a mild citrus brightness. After a few pieces of chicken though, a little tingling hotness started to come through, and the full power of the Aleppo pepper was really unleashed with a mellow heat that brought the taste of the pepper into the forefront and made this chicken really unique. So these skewers may have represented the one menu item that day that didn't deliver fully on heat, but they certainly did not lack for peppery flavor at all.
Aleppo Pepper and Mint Chicken Skewers
- Prep Time:
- 20 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 4 Hours
- Cook Time:
- 10 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 4 Hours 30 Minutes
- 6-8 servings
- For the marinade
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh mint
- 2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper
- 2 tablespoons Turkish sweet red pepper paste
- 1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Kosher salt
- 2lbs chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
- Bamboo or metal skewers
- Lemon wedges for serving
- To make the marinade: In a small bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, mint, Aleppo pepper, red pepper paste, garlic, and tomato paste, Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place cubed chicken in a large resealable plastic bag. Pour marinade into bag and seal, removing as much air as possible. Place in refrigerator and marinate for 4 hour to overnight.
- Thread chicken onto skewers so each piece is touching the next.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Grill chicken, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides and center of meat registers between 160-165°F on an instant read thermometer, about 10 minutes total. Transfer skewers to platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve immediately with lemon wedges