When the weather gets warmer and the holidays are around the corner, you know it’s definitely time for a barbecue. When mentioning barbecue, you may immediately think of skewers of meat or fish cooked outdoors over a fire. But there is a lot more to discover about styles of BBQ across different cultures from around the world. On today’s “Food Delight”, we’ll learn about barbecue in Azerbaijan. With me on today’s show is chef Don David, an Azerbaijani and Vice President of the World Barbecue Association. He started by telling a beautiful story.
Chef Don: “I'll start with a little joke. I do not know if you have heard this or not, but do you believe that Prometheus carried fire? I do not know whether you believe it or not, but Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to people. People, in addition to all the other benefits that fire gives, have discovered cooking on fire. The nickname of our country is the “Land of Fire”. Only a handful of fire mountains exist today in the world, and most are located in Azerbaijan. Due to the large concentration of natural gas natural flames burned there throughout antiquity and were reported on by historical writers. So, in Azerbaijan, there has always been and will be a burning lands, like one of the most attractive turistic place “Yanar Dagh» which means burning mountain. If you go, you will see the mountain is in flames. It has been for the centuries. In Azerbaijan, we have “Atashgah” (Fire Temple of Baku) – eternal flame place, where centuries ago people prayed. One of the modern sightings of Baku Flame Towers also dedicated to the image of “land of fire”. As it is well known, the history of barbecue starts from the ancient people, when they first started to cook their food with fire, a very important step for civilization."
|(Photo: Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan)
KC. What does barbecue mean to Azerbaijanis?
Chef Don: “In Azerbaijan, barbecue holds a number one place. That is, in Azerbaijan, the kitchen, we can say, is partially built on barbecue. We have another name for barbecue. Barbecue is an international name. In Azerbaijan we call it shishlik and kabab. Shishlik is a modified turkic word "shish", which translates as skewer, so the word means what is on a spit.
KC: That’s a brief history to explain why barbecue or shishlik, as they call it, is so popular in Azerbaijan, the Land of Fire. Azerbaijanis love to make shashlik for family and friends gathered for picnics on weekends or summer holidays. A unique thing is that it is the men who take charge of the barbecue.
Chef Don: “It turns out that in Azerbaijan, barbecue is cooked and prepared only by men. As Azerbaijanis, our men never cook in the kitchen. But women also don’t participate in cooking barbecue, because it is a male job. It was a historic tradition that women never go to the fire because of safety.”
Azerbaijan’s climate is highly varied, with different areas of the country containing nine of the world’s eleven climate zones. It is famous for an abundance of vegetables, the greens used seasonally in their dishes and feeding of livestock. The barbecue is traditionally prepared with meat like lamb, chicken, fish or beef and vegetables. Azerbaijanis, prefer not to use too many spices in order to keep the ingredients’ original flavor.
Chef Don: “Along with the meat (which is mainly fresh lam), fish, and vegetables, we can cook a lot of food on the barbecue. This also means that it becomes tastier when it is cooked on the open fire. Another distinction of Azerbaijani cuisine is that we use very few spices. Any dish, any ingredient, which is given to us by God, has its own taste. We don’t marinate the meat. It’s never marinated because we use the meat of young animals which is always tasty,so there is no need for it to be marinated.”
KC. How do you prepare the meat and other ingredients?
Chef Don: “We take fresh meat. We put it on these metallic sticks called shish. When you start preparing the barbecue, you have to use salt. Larger and natural salt, not a mixed one. It’s very important. All barbecue is prepared from fresh meat or fish, only salt and that’s it. It’s a simple dish.”
KC: For Azerbaijani style of barbecue, the focus is on the freshness of the meat and vegetables. The meat is simply marinated with large natural salt and grilled on the charcoal. Now comes the grilling process. Chef Don shows us a few tricks to have tender and juicy meat.
Chef Don: “When it comes to coal, in preparing the barbecue, it is very important to know what kind of wood to use and how, and when to cook. Coal is very important for a tasty barbecue. It depends on what kind of wood- fruit wood, or other wood. It’s very important. It also depends on the weather which determines whether we need fast flaming coal or not. The best coal for barbecue is grape wood. Sometimes the coal also adds a very gentle taste to the meat.”
|Grilled potatoes (Photo: Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan)
KC: That’s basically how Azerbaijani style of barbecue is made. As we mentioned earlier, Azerbaijan boasts a wide variety of dishes and cuisine. Each region has its own specialties, and of course, its own barbecue style.
Chef Don: “So there are one or two differences between BBQ in the region. In the mountains, where it is cold, when people cook BBQ shishlik, they cook with more fat. In the mountains the shishliks have more fat because of its climate. Because it is cold there, they need more energetic food. On the contrary, in the areas near the sea, they cook with lean meat because the people are mainly involved in fishing activities. In the mountains they also use vegetables."
KC: So barbecue is not just simply grilling meat on open charcoal. Each region, each part of the country has its own way to elevate the flavors of the dish and satisfy their taste buds. We’ve just learnt something about Azerbaijani style of barbecue with chef Don David, Vice President of the World Barbecue Association. Surely, there will be more to talk about Azerbaijani cuisine on the next show.