Spiedini, Speducci, and Arrosticini – let’s talk about the difference….. Or not!
Let’s face it, they all lead to the same thing – little morsels of meat cooked over charcoal which imparts a flavour that for a quick second makes you feel as though you’re strolling the old brick streets of Italy! These three words are terms given to ‘skewers’ in Italian. For sake of discussion though, let’s stick with ‘spiedini’.
Spiedini have enjoyed a great deal of popularity more recently as an Italian street food as well as a novelty BBQ item. They are a party food favourite or make for a quick dinner. Everyone will agree they are delicious, simple, and fun to eat! A quick search on the internet and you will find many recipes for lamb, chicken, pork, and beef spiedini. Really though, no recipe is necessary! Try any of your favourite meat cut into very small chunks, skewered and grilled, and these are guaranteed to be a hit. The small size makes for a great finger food that cooks very quickly and stays tender.
This Italian street food didn’t just show up out of nowhere though. In fact, unlike most Italian food, there is no argument when it comes to the origin of spiedini. The Abruzzo province of Italy is a renowned area for sheep herding both in historic and present times. Shepherds escort their herds around the mountains and lower hill sides where they graze on wild grass and herbs. This is said to give a particular flavour to the meat which is unique to the region. On these long journeys, shepherds would often use one of the sheep in the herd as their food source, typically an older male mutton. Nothing was left to waste, not even the smaller pieces of meat close to the bone. They would gather the hardy stems of wild herbs to skewer little chunks of meat and fat together. The small chunks cooked fast and the fat would help keep them tender and juicy. Accompanied by some homemade bread and a glass of wine – this was their meal. Little did they know the trend that would become of this in later years!
Today we aren’t always having to think so frugally and many foods which were once made by the poor and thrifty have become known as trendy and healthy. I’ll never forget working at a restaurant when I was younger and seeing ‘pasta e fagioli’ – pasta with beans – on the menu for $11.00!! It shocked me but also made me start to realize the value of good old fashioned home cooking.
Although, spiedini made with sheep meat are typically the most popular, you are more likely to find lamb instead of mutton because lamb is naturally more tender. Other popular choices are pork, beef, and chicken.
If you’re going to make these by hand you will need your preferred cut of meat, a sharp knife with cutting board, and some wooden skewers that are soaked in water for 30 minutes before preparing. Cut the meat into 1- to 2- centimeter cubes and place the meat cubes tightly together on the soaked skewers. If you plan to make lots of spiedini, there is this nifty tool we picked up at Consiglio’s Kitchenware that allows you to make 100 spiedini at a time! Pair that with the dedicated spiedini grill and you’re ready to go! The Cubo is simple to use – you just stack whatever meat you are using inside, pierce the skewers through the holes, and use the guided knife tracks to cut the cubes. Voila! One hundred spiedini. That sounds like a lot but trust me you can’t eat just one!
Now, yes, they are best cooked over charcoal but if you don’t have room or don’t want a dedicated spiedini grill, you can also get a smaller grill that fits on any existing barbeque. The grills fit the spiedini perfectly so that you are not burning the skewers and you can easily spin the spiedini to brown them nicely all around. Either way, because the chunks of meat are so small they really don’t take long to cook at all. If you have a choice, definitely go with charcoal. You get a better sear, flavour, and the heat is more direct so in just minutes you’re taking them off the grill to eat!
Traditionally, spiedini are not marinated and are dressed with just a little salt and drizzle of olive oil after being cooked. This simplicity truly is awesome but we did make a few simple dressings to try with the different spiedini.
A few dips that we found complemented the spiedini well were: rosemary and mint with olive oil and lemon, parsley gremolata with parsley, olive oil, chili flakes and lemon zest, or lemon with oregano and olive oil.
Let us know what you think and as always, get’em while they’re hot and enjoy!