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Souvlaki on the 4th? It's a free country.

 

Fourth of July… the Everest of grilling season!

Before our family’s exodus from the homestead in Cincinnati, we would throw huge parties—complete with illegal fireworks and a replica-sized black-powder cannon—for a large crowd every Fourth. Kids were pulled around in a hay wagon, coolers of beer and soda lined the flagstone patio, and the kitchen bustled with activity as Dad churned out large quantities of slaw, potato salad, and gazpacho to accompany the grill’s bounty. Whatever backyard-friendly fare he didn’t prepare, guests would invariably bring: chips and dip, pasta salads galore, juicy watermelons, cakes. The Newtown fire department’s corn roaster was borrowed once or twice, turning out charred, sweet Silver Queen by the platterful.

A few times, Dad’s grill would be supplemented with a few others, brought by guests who didn’t mind keeping cool with a few extra beers than they would have had otherwise. All manner of beast made it on to those grills over the years: Bratwurst, Mettwurst, burgers, pork loin steaks (back when pork was fattier), bone-in chicken… one and all seared on the grates and liberally splashed with beer.

Alas, such a big production couldn’t be kept up forever. After leaving Cincinnati, Dad’s Independence Day feasts shrank to more manageable, “human” proportions, and consequently got a little more adventurous. And why not? Burgers, brats, and metts are tasty and traditional fare for our ritual Fourth of yesteryear, but branching out is nearly always a good thing.

One crowd-friendly grilling method we never took advantage of when hosting 100 plus people at these celebrations: skewers. They’re easy, versatile, and good for people carrying a plate of food and a drink to nosh as they mingle.

Word to the wise: do not put veggies on the same skewers as the meat. Why pretend they will cook at the same rate when they obviously will not? Another tip for grilling bell pepper chunks and onion wedges specifically: put them on the same skewers and par-boil them in a large pot for a few minutes before you marinate them. This way, you know they will be cooked through and all you have to do is quickly brown them.

One recent discovery worth sharing: thinly-sliced and marinated pork shoulder makes for a delicious kebab. You get a lot of surface area for browning over high heat and the shoulder doesn’t dry out like loin cuts invariably do. A vinegary marinade helps tenderize the cut—which is usually braised or smoked over low heat—and cutting it thin reduces marinating time.

Combine this method with delicious Mediterranean flavors, some flatbread, feta, shredded romaine, juicy tomatoes, green onion, and a creamy garlic yogurt sauce… enter our recipe for Pork Souvlaki. Serve alongside pepper-onion skewers prepped as above, with your favorite slaw, or with a vinegar-based potato salad.

A word about oil, vinegar, and marinating: if you plan to marinate for a short time, use more vinegar; if you want to marinate overnight, use more oil. Vinegar will start to “cook” (or denature) proteins if left too long. Oil has the added benefit of extracting fat-soluble flavor compounds from the marinade ingredients. The downside to using more oil: it will cause flare-ups and burn a bit. This can be an asset if you are using a gas grill that doesn’t get very hot (and want your skewers to brown), but charcoal grillers watch out (or use mostly vinegar).

 

Happy 4th!

Pork Souvlaki
8-10 servings

If marinating overnight, reverse the proportions of oil and vinegar in the marinade: 1 cup oil, ½ cup vinegar.

Slice into ¼ to ½-inch thick slabs:
     2 ½ pounds boneless pork shoulder, big streaks of fat removed
Cut these slabs into 1-inch wide strips; cut any strip over 6 inches in half. Add to a bowl along with:
     1 cup red wine vinegar 
     1/2 cup olive oil
     6 garlic cloves, minced
     2 tablespoons each fresh oregano and thyme, chopped
     1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
     1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
     1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
     1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
     Zest of two lemons
     (Two fresh bay leaves, torn and bruised)
Reserve the zested lemons. Marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for at least three hours but no longer than six (use more oil if marinating longer, see headnote). Take this time to prepare the Tzatziki (see below).
An hour before grilling, remove pork from refrigerator and soak bamboo skewers in warm water, if using. Prepare a medium-hot fire in your grill. Carefully thread the strips of pork on to the skewers. Sear the skewers on one side until browned around the edges, about 3 minutes. Turn the skewers, drizzle with juice from the reserved lemons, and brown on the other side, another two or three minutes. If you are grilling in multiple batches, keep cooked pork in a low oven or over a colder spot on the grill.
Serve immediately with plenty of:
     Flat bread (briefly warmed on the grill)
     Tzatziki (see below)
     Chopped green onions
     Shredded romaine lettuce
     Crumbled Feta
     Ripe tomatoes, diced
     Lemon wedges

Tzatziki
2 cups
Though Labneh and Greek yogurt are supposed to be the same, we find yogurt marked as Labneh to be thicker, creamier, and tangier, so use it if you can.

Stir together:
     1 cup plain Greek yogurt or Labneh
     1⁄2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
     1 tablespoon olive oil
     1 tablespoon chopped dill
     1 tablespoon chopped mint
     1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
     1 garlic clove, minced
     1⁄2 teaspoon salt

 

 

 

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