July: Spiedies–Heaven on a Stick

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The Upstate New York Style Italian Favorite

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Buon giorno!

The long awaited post is here for the famous Upstate New York Italian favorite, SPIEDIES – or as I like to call them SPIEDIES –HEAVEN ON A STICK! The name has nothing to do with speed and everything to with the Big Daddy of spiedies which is spiedini, the Italian kebab or skewered and grilled meat. So what’s the big deal? Everyone knows how to make grilled kebabs. TRUE! But not everyone knows how to make good spiedies. In fact, the jury is still out in Upstate New York, around my hometown of Binghamton, as to who makes the best, how to make the best, and who’s got the goods on the marinade. They are so famous and popular up there that there is an annual August festival named for them complete with a Balloon Rally. However, even as the word on these meaty gems leaked out of New York sometime ago, many out there are still in the dark about them.

History: All might agree that the the modern day spiedie, as we know it, is the renowned favorite son of the Italian spiedini – which is a very old idea of meat grilled on a skewer over hot coals. Fact is, they really started in the Middle East where they had been “kebabing” for centuries. When the Middle Eastern conquerors invaded Italy, they brought with them many ingredients and cooking ideas that stuck – meat kebabs being one of them. As conquered lands tend to do, the Italians adopted and adapted.. and then.. made them better.The Italians do not add vegetables to their spiedini skewers – it is just a meat thing.

Upstate New York Origin: Most say the origins of these succulent chunks of meaty goodness reside in “greater” Binghamton and with brothers, Camillo and Agostino Iacovelli and Peter Sharak – restaurant owners. Many remember Peter Sharak’s noted hometown haunt, Sharkey’s Restaurant, that still draws spiedie-lovers to this day. From there, they just took off. Back in the 50’s, there wasn’t a barbeque in the Binghamton area that didn’t include spiedies. I remember our west side neighborhood cookouts always had them – usually tended on the grill by my father, Attilio. His spiedies were amazing, as he used his own special homemade marinade full of fresh ingredients and his “secrets.” Everyone has a spiedie story in Binghamton – not to mention a special method or marinade for them. Many commercial bottled sauces appeared over time and are still sold on supermarket shelves, most of which do not stack up, in my estimation, to a good fresh homemade version. Today, spiedies are served in Binghamton at an endless number of local “watering holes” like the ever popular Thirsty’s on the south side, and there is always much disagreement as to who indeed offers the best.

Specifics: Spiedies follow suit with spiedini’s presentation of meat only on the skewers. No veggies.Traditionally, the meat used is lamb (the leg) and/or pork (a tender cut like tenderloin is best). Venison spiedies are a delicacy in the Upstate New York area, where deer hunting is popular and provides a treasured bounty for this dish. Chicken spiedies are also commonly found, but less enjoyed by “connoisseurs”. See an example of chicken spiedies here:

chicken spiedies 2

Using a tender cut of meat helps to insure a tender result. Like everything else Italian, the secret is in the sauce, and when it comes to spiedini’s “sonny boy”, the spiedie, recipes for the sauces or marinades are the stuff of legend..and secrecy! Binghamton natives all know someone who claims to make the best. Determination of what and whose is best is wrapped up in the individual Binghamton memories we all have and cherish. What you remember in the way they tasted on a hot summer day after a ball game, or a bike ride, or a swim at nearby Quaker Lake – they are the best in your heart and forever will remain.

Tradition: It dictates that you need a slice of GOOD Italian bread which you use to “grab” several spiedies and slide them off the skewer. Then you eat them! No mustard, ketchup, special sauces, or condiments. Fancy gourmet embellishments are fiercely frowned upon.The idea is to enjoy the tenderness of the meat and savor that delicious marinade. I have seen the occasional imposter served on a bun. No No NO! The Italian bread is a must, and it better be of good quality.

Secret potions and promises taken to the grave: What? Well yeah! I know some who keep the secrets of their special marinade very close to the vest – never to be shared or divulged outside of the family. Some of these secrets are passed on to the next generation. I am the keeper of one of those family recipes, given to me by my father who didn’t even share it with my mother! Enough with family laundry! Although, Attilio’s infamous spiedie marinade cannot and shall not be revealed here, I have developed a really good marinade that I would like to share with you that I think rivals some of the best!

TIPS: Keep in mind that the freshness of some of the ingredients is critical to a good result. Good cuts of meat make a difference. I highly recommend using the more traditional leg of lamb and/or pork tenderloin. Beef is not and should not be used for good spiedies. Your spiedies should be tender and juicy. There is nothing worse than having a spiedie in your mouth that takes 20 minutes to chew and is a mass of sinew. If you don’t want to cut up the meat yourself, ask your butcher to do it.

Along with lamb from the leg, I used pork tenderloin for this demonstration. Because it is the very BEST pork, I chose  Circle B Ranch pork tenderloin.  Humanely raised and with careful feeding, their products are superior in flavor and tenderness. Chicken breast spiedies are good, as well, and get a bad rap, I think, because people dry them out by over cooking them.

The trick with all spiedies, regardless of the meat you choose, is to sear them on the outside at a higher temp and finish them at a lower temp without drying them out. Don’t overcook them!!

Also, many talk about the number of endless days ( a ritual) that they marinate their spiedies. The argument concerning how long to marinate will go on until the next century. I personally don’t like them to sit in the marinade past a couple of days. This is the reason – it is chemical – meat begins to break down when it sits in marinade (Wine and vinegar are two of the culprits). The texture changes as the muscle breaks down – in an undesirable way. The trick is to marinate it well and long enough– but not too long, ruining the integrity of the meat. The meat should taste like meat, especially if it is a good cut, not a mystery substance soaked in sauce.

That said.. let’s get to it. This is GOOOOD STUFF!

SPIEDIES

Makes: marinade for about 4 pounds of meat (6-8 people)

Prep: 15-20 minutes for marinade

Cook: 10-15 minutes

Ingredients: (important to use fresh ingredients where specified)

4 lb. Tender leg of lamb and/or pork tenderloin, or venison, or chicken breast – cut up into pieces about 1 1/2 inches

1 1/2 c. Olive Oil

Zest of 1 fresh lemon

Juice of a Large Fresh Lemon

1 Tbsp. Tomato Paste mixed with the lemon juice or vinegar

1/3 c. Balsamic Vinegar

1/3 c. Dry Red Wine

5 Cloves Fresh Garlic

2 Tsp. sugar

1 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

1 Tsp. Paprika

1 Crushed Large Bay Leaf

1 Tbsp. Fresh Thyme or Lemon Thyme

3 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary – chopped

1 Tbsp. Fresh Mint – chopped

2 Tbsp. Fresh Oregano – chopped

3 Tbsp. Fresh Basil – chopped

3 Tbsp. Fresh Parsley – chopped

2 1/2 Tsp. Kosher Salt or more ( make sure to be generous with the salt as it brings out the flavors)

Plenty of Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Good Italian Bread

Instructions:

Meat should be cut and ready before making the marinade.

Mix all above marinade ingredients together well. A whisk is a good tool for this. If the marinade sits – re-whisk. Use fresh ingredients where indicated.

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TASTE the marinade!! Especially taste for salt. Plenty of salt and pepper is important. This brings out the flavor. If you don’t add enough – your spiedies will be bland.

Add the marinade to the meat immediately.

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Mix thoroughly, coating all the meat. Using your clean hands to do this is a good idea.

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Cover and refrigerate. I recommend marinating overnight or at most one more day. There is great controversy about this. Read the above text for the reason why I choose a shorter time.

Stir the meat once during the marinating process.

Skewer the meat just before grilling.

Place skewers on a VERY hot grill – close cover and SEAR quickly on all sides. Ideally you will have grill marks on the meat.

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Turn down the heat on the grill or move the skewers to a spot not as hot – use gloves – the skewers will be very hot. Finish the spiedies at a more moderate temperature. They don’t take long.

It is not recommended to keep using a marinade that raw meat has been sitting in. Discard the extra when finished.

Do not dry them out by over cooking. The cooking process should be fairly quick on a hot grill. Taste one! or two…or…

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Take them off the skewer with a slice of Italian Bread. Plan on about 4-5 spiedies per slice of bread.

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I dare you to stop tasting these!

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Grab yourself a cold brew and enjoy SPIEDIES like a Binghamtonian!! Guaranteed – they will become part of your barbeque fare.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE

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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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Comments

  1. Linda Gennett White says:

    Wow, Linda! What a great recipe of the month! Living in Tampa, FL, we sure don’t have spiedies available, but I’ve tried to make them for years. Can’t wait to try your recipe! I had flashbacks of growing up in the Triple Cities, NY area with you!

    • Thanks Linda! Hope you enjoy it! So many good memories wrapped up in “our spiedies!”

  2. Bill Clark says:

    Hi Linda,
    Was it Roma or DiRenzo bread that was the popular spedi bread back in the day.

    • Bill – Actually both were used. My family mostly used the fresh DiRienzo whole loaf and then cut it ourselves.

  3. Linda..just put this together this morning. Smells wonderful! Where again do we find REAL and good Italian bread? You mentioned Whole Foods…which bread do you buy?

    • Barbara – Finding good Italian bread is a relative thing – relative to where you live that is. Many areas have Italian markets and shops. That would be the first place I would look. We have one here in Atlanta that has fresh Italian bread daily. As far as Whole Foods – I would ask for a fresh one in the bakery department. They bake all different types of bread daily also. Look for a crusty “outside” with a softer middle with slices large enough to hold the spiedies.

  4. Kristen Lynne Simonds Broussard says:

    Can’t wait to make this!!!!

  5. BD Pisani says:

    Hi Linda,

    I just stumbled across your site and I’m glad I did – it’s a delight. Well, the spiedi controversy continues!

    Upstate spiedies were well on their way long before Sharkey’s. During the 1920s, the Endicott Johnson Shoe Company hired a significant influx of Italian immigrants, and they brought their spiedini with them. In the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, the old nonnos used to grill spiedies on small braziers outside the taverns on the Village of Endicott’s North Side – my friends and I would pig out on them on our way to the North Side swimming pool. Lamb was the meat of choice, but as costs rose pork was ever more frequently used. Their marinades were a bit different than yours, but the essential ingredients included olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, and mint – everything else was personal preference. I still prepare spiedies to this day for family and friends.

    Keep this great site going and eat more spiedies!

    • Thank you for the great comment! Spiedies are still considered a staple in our house. I do love hearing the individual histories and memories surrounding them. Spiedies have their own culture!

  6. I had these on Mother’s Day this year !2013
    so delicious and perfect way to begin the BBQ season>

  7. Christopher Castelli says:

    Great article, Spiedies are Great !!! We had them often growing up, my father was a son of immigrant Italian parents, and he was also a top butcher at North Side Market ( Italian Owned ), and Masherelli’s both in Binghamton . I actually have the recipe from one of those markets ( I believe )… I have made these for large park BBQs in San Francisco….with various meats…Everyone Loves them … Especially the lamb and pork type !! I usually use 2 different bottles spiedie marinades and add my own ingredients including the mint !!! Yum !!) also knew a woman who would skewer the marinated meat and then bread them ( with cracker-meal I think) and then Bake them for City Chicken…YUM … Her Husband was a bartender at Sharkeys for many years ( in the 60s-80s )…

    • Chris – I remember well the places you mention.The markets in particular are almost impossible to duplicate these days. People from this area all seem to have wonderful memories revolving around spiedies.

  8. Linda, thanks for bringing this lovely dish over to the BBQ. You are such a great supporter of Food on Friday. I have now popped you into the group of regular supporters who get the very first heads up that the link is open for entries. Cheers

  9. What a wonderful idea! Thank you for the Share. These looks beautiful I can taste them from here! Happy Forth of July!!
    Barbara, Sunday at the Giacometti’s.

  10. Tim Scott says:

    Thanks for a great reminder. I grew up in Vestal and ate often at Augie’s (Iacovelli) in Endicott. I remeber Augie well – got me started on speidies and pizza in the very early 60’s. All to the tune of Moon River. For take-out though we went to Pancho’s Pit, then in Vestal, later in Endwell. Pancho gave me my first speidie recipe in the mid-80s before I moved to California – after i begged and swore that I would not share. It was a great recipe, far better than most you see published, but he left something out. It took me 5 years of tinkering, before I serendipitously discovered the secret herb. The instant i smelled some fresh, I was thrown back to Augie’s and Pancho’s and a slice of heaven. I never heard of Sharkey’s in those days and still have not been there. I always thought though that while he didn’t create them, Pancho deserved more credit for popularizing them.
    For us it is lamb only or venison when we get it, none of the other meats realy do the same thing. Doing lamb right however takes hours to strip out the tendons and make it melt in your mouth. I marinade for 4 – 6 days, they don’t even smell like speidies until they are in for about 2 days. And the bread is critical, good Italian, not pasty not too dry, squeeze the bread around the meat and slide it off the skewer. I think I need to go make some.

    • Tim – I think you should make some right away! Thanks for sharing your memories of spiedies!

      • Tim Scott says:

        I would love to try your father’s too. While i am curious about only marinading 24-48 hours I have never tried it. Too bad I don’t get to Atlanta. There is a Speidie Grill in Norcross. Have you ever tried it?

        • The shorter marinating time prevents the meat from breaking down too much and changing its character. Haven’t been to the Norcross spot. We prefer to make our own spiedies!

  11. Hi Linda , I grew up in Binghamton and miss the spiedies and steamed clams during the summer like most of us do. Saw this recipe and figured I’d try it out. One question, is this enough marinade to keep the 4 lbs of meat wet?

    • Kevin – Actually there is! You don’t need to drown the meat in the marinade as long as you mix it well and it has all been turned in it and covered with it. It works!

  12. Hi Linda , just try made a batch of your spiedies with venison. Smells great and I am looking forward to the grilling! Will let you know the results. . Thanks, Eric

    • Eric – Looking forward to hearing about those spiedies. One of our family favorites growing up was venison spiedies from my father’s hunting trips.

  13. Fred Vasconi says:

    Spiedies originated in Endicott, N.Y. in the Italian section on the “North Side”. You could go to any Bar & Grill and see an old guy outside, with a white apron wrapped around his midsection. sitting over a small charcoal grill cookin em up ! They were always Lamb and you pulled them off the “Spiedie Irons”, most of which were made by Endicott Johnson Shoe workers at the factories; with either Battaglini, or Romas bread. They were .50 a piece when I was a kid. Great summer memories.

    • Love those memories, Fred! Nothing like anything you might see these days – and you can’t beat the price!

  14. Dear Linda, I enjoyed your article and plan to have a family cook out with you’re recipe. Use to love Spiedies. But lost that due to dried out Chicken , pork , and a variety of other meats plus to much vinegar. Am looking so forward to making yours. Thank you again, Valerie

    • Valerie, I hope you enjoy this recipe. It has been a popular one on the website. I wish more folks would try making their own marinade with fresh ingredients. It makes all the difference. Buona fortuna!

      • Ejschlicht says:

        I make this recipe often with venison. Always a big hit. Be careful not to over marinate.

  15. Alixandra Hice says:

    Ahhhh. Just thinking about Spiedies makes my mouth water! I am making them this weekend for a pool party and just ordered the meat – lamb, chicken and pork. My marinade recipe is very very close to Lupo’s original Spiedie recipe, if not the exact one, since my Grandmother used to live a literal stone’s throw from the Lupo’s corner market at Watson Boulevard and Rogers Avenue, and was a favorite customer. I know she used to get a lot of winks from the elder Lupo, so her marinade recipe HAD to be legit. Right? Although your marinade recipe looks delicious, Linda, it’s a bit different. I look forward to trying it and comparing. One last thing… Was the North Side Pool also known as the Z-Pool? That’s where I remember swimming when we weren’t at the IBM Country Club pools. Those were good times. ?

    • There are so many spiedie recipes out there. I find that it’s always better to make your own – less salty than the commercial and using fresh ingredients makes a difference. I’m sure your grandmother had a good one! I do not have any info on North Side pool. It was not one we frequented. Ciao!

    • Christine says:

      I believe the North Side pool was called the z pool. I also grew up right around the corner from Lupo’s Market. So sad to see it gone.
      My dad’s recipe is also different from this one. I may have to try this one.

  16. Hi, have you ever used spedies for wild duck.

    • Jimmy – No I have not used wild duck. I’m not sure if they would be moist enough after grilling.

  17. My bride is the chef of the house. Italy runs deep in her veins . I’m always trying to impress but dang she is one hell of a cook. The bar is jus too high. Thanks for the reply.

  18. There is nothing like the real thing!

Trackbacks

  1. […] didn’t know all this before my Italian friend Linda posted her recipe for Spiedies … when I saw those mouthwatering pictures and read the ingredients in that marinade, I knew […]

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