The Upstate New York Style Italian Favorite
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:
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!
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
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.
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.
Mix thoroughly, coating all the meat. Using your clean hands to do this is a good idea.
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.
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…
Take them off the skewer with a slice of Italian Bread. Plan on about 4-5 spiedies per slice of bread.
I dare you to stop tasting these!
Grab yourself a cold brew and enjoy SPIEDIES like a Binghamtonian!! Guaranteed – they will become part of your barbeque fare.
PARLA COME MANGI!
Comments are welcome in the “Speak Your Mind Area” beneath this post online.
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography