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The Art & Science Of Skewered Meat

Updated on December 29, 2009

While munching corndogs in the movie "Something About Mary" (the film that made millions of people look at hair mousse in a whole new, and totally disgusting light), Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller philosophize about one of the great issues currently facing humanity. Their characters, Mary and Ted, may be out on a first date, but they cut straight through the small talk to discuss an issue of global consequence: meats on sticks.

MARY: You know, I don't think that they have enough meats on sticks. No, seriously, I mean if you think about it, they have plenty of sweets, right? They have lollipops, they have Fudgesicles, they have Popsicles. They don't have any other meat on sticks.

TED: Yes, you don't see that many meats on sticks.

MARY: Absolutely not.

TED: You know what I'd like to see? I'd like to see more meats in a cone. You don't hardly ever see that. You know, that's an idea that I think's waiting to pop. Just like a nice, you know, a nice big waffle cone stuffed full of chopped liver.

Mary may have a mean golf swing and watch "SportsCenter," but when it comes to meats on sticks, she couldn't be more wrong. They have lots of other meat on sticks. And this is where we get to that "issue of global consequence" business. You see, it seems that everyone, everywhere, all around the world, has meats on sticks. It just may be the one thing that ties all us humans together. Wherever there are people, there are meats on sticks... and for good reason. Meat is generally pretty sloppy stuff to work with, but stab it with a stick, and you have a food that's perfectly suited for cooking and eating on the move. A skewer keeps pieces of meat from falling through a grill and doubles as a built-in handle.

Putting meat on a stick is such a good idea that traditional cuisines all over the world include some sort of variant. The United States, of course, has that monument to American ingenuity: the corndog, whose stick is the ideal solution for roving county-fair consumption. The term "shish kebab" originated in Turkey, but variants of the food can be found all over the eastern Mediterranean. Italians have "spiedini" and the French have brochettes. Greek "souvlaki" is lamb chunks marinated in olive oil, lemon and oregano, then skewered and grilled. In Southeast Asia there is the ubiquitous street food satay, grilled skewered meat served with a spicy peanut sauce. Traditional Russian "shashlyk" is skewered lamb marinated in spiced pomegranate juice and served with a plum dipping sauce. Russians visiting Germany should beware: the shashlik that they'll find for sale on German street corners may sound familiar, but the cruel surprise is that it's kidneys on a stick, and we're not talking about beans.

As for meats in a cone, it's sad but true that "you don’t hardly ever see that." If you look hard enough, though, you will see some. Poke your head into a sushi bar to check out temaki, or hand-roll sushi: raw fish and rice wrapped up in a cone of nori seaweed. It may not exactly be "a nice big waffle cone stuffed full of chopped liver," but it is some kind of flesh served in a conical wrapper. You’ll also find meats in a cone in some swanky American restaurants, where chefs have introduced innovative meat-in-a-cone dishes. Summertime at the Napa Valley's French Laundry means it's time for one of Chef Thomas Keller's favorite dishes, a fun little number he calls “cornets.” He makes crisp little pastry cones out of buttery tuile dough and fills them with lemon-infused salmon tartare and crème fraîche. The result is a savory, upscale spinoff of the ice cream cone and acts as a festive amuse-bouche that greets all summer diners as soon as they sit down.

As for that chopped liver in a waffle cone, it just may happen: while Ben and Jerry's (no, not the Stillers) doesn't presently have any plans to add meat ice cream to their current lineup of zillions of flavors, I've submitted an official recommendation for "There's Something About Chopped Liver Chunk." Keep your fingers crossed.

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