This is Skewage!

Robata-Ya

Feast. Japanese-style skewers. Chicken liver. Special chicken heart. Sirloin. Belly-wrapped asparagus. Negi Chashu (Braised pork). Short Rib. Pork Belly. Peking Duck.


The science of skewing.

Usually, skewer-related foods are a safe bet in terms of deliciousness and ease of consumption. No noodle-slurping, steak-cutting, or greasy bone-chomping involved. A clean, meat n veg’ lollipop. The rules for this kind of grilling are fairly simple. Obtain a skewer. Jam cubes of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, livers, hearts, vegetables, and/or starches onto the skewer. Grill and rotate every once in a while. If you’re posh, you can even brush and baste the skewers with your secret sauce.

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"Special" chicken heart. Yes, SPECIAL.
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Belly-wrapped asparagus.
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Liver? Kidney? I can't remember.

In the case of Robata-Ya, or Japanese barbecue, the use of skewage is pretty similar, except the Japanese cooks here implement specialty grills that are designed for highly efficient skewer firing (firing: to begin cooking when the order comes in). Yes, I said it. They’ve got machines designed JUST for hand-held skewers. Since the restaurant is ordered tapas-style/bar-food style/”I want another skewer so I’m just gonna keep ordering” style, we had some downtime in between each skewer. In that time, we were able to observe the “skewer apparatus,” which was basically a modified barbecue grill with wedges at the side so the skewers couldn’t take off on a marathon run.

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Braised short rib. Yes, it was on a skewer.
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Peking duck smothered in spring onion. Skewer special.

I dug around to see what kind of consensus there was on skewing; found this.

A summary of my findings on skewer-cooking apparatuses.

  1. Quantity and quality of skewers matters. The more perfection, the better.
  2. Evenly distributed heat throughout the skewer-cooking apparatus. (post to come, a la Modernist Cuisine).
  3. Ease of rotating the skewers, and different rotation torques.
  4. Ease of clean-up.
  5. High return on investment (no need for special tools, special skewers, or replaceable parts).
  6. There’s alot of inventions out there that try to automate the skewer process. However, machines are not able to beautifully arrange vegetables and meat on a stick, and cook it to perfection. It can double as a timer, and perhaps even sense abnormalities by laser-scanning and imaging, but it can’t rotate the meat because one side is softer than the other, it can’t touch the meat and sense its softness or smell char-grilled perfection. A subtle reminder that the job of a cook is not as simple as an all-in-one microwave-toaster-oven-salamander-stovetop-immersion-circulator deal. Machines do not have five senses. Humans do, and should be using all five senses while cooking. Reminder to the customer: you’re paying for not just food, but your cook’s expertise. No, not the executive chef. The line-cook who knows the executive chef’s recipe back to front and side-to-side. Not an easy job, and seriously under appreciated  (as side note…).
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Our cook, skewing like a BOSS.

Moving on. Types of skewers.

Would my chicken hearts and livers have tasted differently if different skewers were used? Breakdown.

Metal. Hopefully contributes no flavor to the meat (if it does…you might want to buy some new skewers…), but can help cook the meat from the inside. Hot to touch, and sometimes difficult to handle. Metal lacks that gripping friction, and can easily burn the mouth, since its heat conductance is really good. Mother Nature unapproved.

Bamboo. Your standard wooden skewer. Strong, and durable, with enough grip for non-slippage, but has the possibility of burning, and having all your wonderfully cooked skewer meat n’ veg fall into the pit. Soaking bamboo skewers can help to not only preserve some anti-inflammatory properties, but also to get rid of any chemicals in the bleaching process. Environmentally friendly.

Modified wood. Wood skewers that are NOT made out of bamboo. This is probably most applicable in the wild. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a “mesquite/hickory” skewer that immbued flavor to the meat? That would certainly fly off shelves. Maybe. From the environment itself, so, environmentally friendly.

Edible skewers. Worst thing about skewers is the last few pieces. The awkward, “I don’t want to go head-on because the skewer’s going to poke a hole in my neck, but working around it would be messy, and would increase the probability of meat droppage.” Our mammalian brains eventually figured out that we could use the second hand and sliiide the meat forward for better access. What about one step further? Skip the slide, and just make the skewer edible. Perhaps a carrot, or a skewer necklace…made from vegetable fiber? Season 5 Episode 10 of Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word displays a couple in his Michelin-starred restaurant outfitting a normally skewered lamb kabob with a sprig of rosemary, instead of the usual stick. Pretty genius, in my opinion, although they didn’t win the competition.

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The damage. Enough wood to build a couple houses.