These Catalan lamb skewers, seasoned with a marinade made with garlic, paprika, and cumin and served with a spicy pepper and sofregit sauce and a cooling cucumber-yogurt salad, are an authentic tapas or entrée. Who doesn’t love food on a stick?
These Catalan lamb skewers take their gentle heat from a Moroccan-inspired marinade of paprika, garlic, and cumin, which is a nod to the northern African influence on much of southern Spain’s cuisine. They’re embellished with a spoon-licking-good Spanish pepper sauce and then counter-punched with a cooling cucumber-yogurt salad that hints of the Middle East. Whether served as tapas (or, as happened with us, intended as tapas but turned into dinner when we just couldn’t stop polishing them off), this is our sorta fusion food.–Jenny Howard
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What’s the difference between skewers and pinxos?
Technically, these Catalan lamb skewers aren’t skewers. They’re instead referred to as pinxo morú, at least in Catalonia, which runs along the northeast edge of Spain bordering the Mediterranean. Here pinxos are, more often than not, skewered foods displayed in Catalan bars for guests to nibble while drinking, explains author Daniel Olivella. “Traditionally, the bartender keeps track of how much to charge you by how many skewers you leave on the bar.” These pinxo morú are a bit larger than other pinxos, similar to a kebab.
As one of our testers said, call these little offerings what you will. Skewers, kebabs, brochettes, or pinxos moru. We’re just going to be over here calling them perfectly delicious.
Catalan Lamb Skewers
- 8 to 10 skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes if wooden
For the lamb skewers
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 garlic clove minced or pressed
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound boneless leg of lamb or top round trimmed of silver skin* (see NOTE below) and excess fat and cut into 1-inch (25-mm) chunks
For the pepper sauce
For the cucumber-yogurt salad
- 1/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (not Greek-style)
- 1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 medium (5 oz) English cucumber peeled, any seeds removed, and thinly sliced on the diagonal
Make the lamb skewers
- In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the cilantro, paprika, salt, cumin, garlic, lime juice, and olive oil. Add the lamb and shake to coat. Press the air out of the bag, seal, and toss in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
- If using wooden skewers, soak them in water at least 1 hour before grilling.
Make the pepper sauce
- Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the chiles, remove the pan from the heat, and let stand until the chiles are soft, about 20 minutes.
- Transfer the drained chiles to a blender or food processor. Add the roasted red pepper, sofregit, olive oil, lime juice, and cumin and season generously with salt. Pulse until the mixture is smooth and very thick.
Make the cucumber-yogurt salad
- In a medium bowl, stir together the yogurt, mint, and a generous pinch salt. Add the cucumber and toss to coat. Use immediately or chill for up to 3 hours.
Assemble the Catalan lamb skewers
- Place a grill pan over medium heat or prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over medium heat.
- Remove the lamb from the marinade and thread 4 to 5 pieces on each skewer. Grill the skewers, turning once, until the meat is charred in spots and the desired degree of doneness, about 8 minutes for medium-rare.
- Divvy the cucumber yogurt salad among plates and top with the skewers. Drizzle the pepper sauce over the skewers and salad and pass any extra pepper sauce on the side.
*Note: How To Remove Silver SkinThe silver skin is the thick, shiny, opaque membrane that covers some cuts of meat. It can keep a rub or marinade from penetrating the meat and it’s also unpleasant to chew. To remove it, use a sharp knife to make a small cut through the silver skin at one end of your cut of lamb. Then insert the tip of a sharp knife between the membrane and lamb and angle the blade slightly toward the silver skin. Use a paper towel in the other hand to grasp the slippery silver skin and pull it away from the meat as you carefully slide the blade against the silver skin, slowly working your way along the length of the cut of meat. Trim any other bits of silver skin that remain.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I like lamb but don’t often choose it when planning meals, so this recipe was a bit of departure for me, and a very happy one at that. Each element was delicious on its own, but when combined, were even more delicious. We found ourselves repeating “Oh, this is good!” with each bite and eating more than we normally would.
Despite the number of components in the Catalan lamb skewers and wanting to make the sofregit, the steps were straightforward and easy to follow. I made the sofregit the day before and the marinade for the lamb in the morning so the meat had a full 10 hours to marinate in the refrigerator. I roasted the red pepper at the same time as I was softening the chiles, which left me free to measure other ingredients and prepare the cucumber salad. By the time those tasks were done, the meat was ready to be skewered and cooked. I used a grill pan and won’t hesitate to do so again, but I think the grill would be worth using to produce a noticeably better and satisfying char on the meat.
The pepper sauce is delicious on its own and would be great on virtually any protein or something as simple as scrambled eggs. The depth of flavor and slightly spicy heat on the tongue is well within the limits of most peoples’ tolerance for heat. The chiles were soft after 20 minutes and the sauce was thick, smooth, and not runny.
Loved this dish, it’s definitely a keeper.
Call these little offerings what you will: skewers, kebabs, brochettes, or pinxos moru. I’m just going to call them perfectly delicious. The lamb gains tenderness as it marinates (the longer the better) and it’s a quick grill to get them cooked medium-rare. That said, it’s really the sauces that move this recipe up the ratings ladder.
I made a batch of sofregit using the supplemental recipe and had to stop myself from hovering over the pot with a spoon for “just one more taste” when all that onion and pepper goodness had literally melted together after a long simmer. It was amazing. This sauce would complement just about any grilled meat and I love that it’s a cinch to pull together and then freeze for future use.
The minted cucumber yogurt sauce (which could also be made with sour cream) offers a bright and fresh counterpoint to the richness and slight bite of the red pepper sauce, and when stirred together on the plate with a bit of lamb, the complementary flavors combine to make this dish something distinctive. I envision this as a main dish, mostly so that the kebabs can be plated atop a nice bed of the pepper sauce with a dollop of the yogurt sauce aside. These would also work as an hors d’oeuvre or starter at a party, but be sure to supply some plates so that guests don’t miss out on those fabulous sauces.
I couldn’t find dried arbol chiles in 3 stores, so I used dried arbol chile powder instead. I used 1/2 tsp but I think 1 tsp would give a better approximation of the heat that the recipe intends.
Most of the hands on time for the recipe is in prepping the ingredients (ie, trimming the lamb and preparing the cucumber). It goes very quickly! I marinated the lamb for 24 hours.
These Catalan lamb skewers are an outstanding variation on a lamb kebab or brochette. The meat and salad are super easy to prep and cook, and the most effort is for the sauce, which is totally worth a little planning and can be done ahead. I think it’s easy to forget how easy and satisfying skewered kebabs are, and that they’re such a crowd pleaser. The sauce makes plenty in case you want to scale the lamb and salad up for a larger party.
If you’re making your own sofregit (sofrito), plan to either do that early in the day or even a day before so you can take your time to thoroughly cook it down. It’s a great weekend project where you can be near the kitchen to stir frequently while you get on with other things.
The same can be said for the meat prep—cutting up the lamb and marinating it the night before will make it all go easy when you’re ready to grill. As someone who has been skewering lamb kebabs since childhood, I must say DO NOT STRESS if you do not have perfect square cubes. The technique of cooking skewers really is forgiving of slight variations, including trapezoids. I might even make them a bit larger if this is a main dish, though the smaller-size cubes are great for tapas servings.
Since you’re soaking and then pureeing the chiles, go ahead and shake out the seeds while you’re handling the dry chiles and then soak and puree them with the other ingredients.
The salad is super simple and easier than a traditional Tzatziki. I would double it as it’s so nice and it is quick to make.
I marinated the lamb for 5 hours. When it comes time to assemble the skewers, take care, especially is using metal ones, as they’ll have a sharp tip for piercing the meat.
Watch your grill time. We felt that 10 minutes was just a bit more done that we wanted, so we tried 4 minutes each side on a subsequent batch and that was more to our preference.
Try to not be greedy—this combination is just that good!! The pepper sauce is delicious and a great accompaniment. There will be plenty, so consider making more skewers or using the sauce to slather on a grilled eggplant sandwich! Leftover skewers are wonderful over salads or in a pita.
Prep for the lamb can be more tedious since a boneless leg has lots of fat or silverskin to trim and getting cubes is a little more effort. I think the top round might be easier to cut in perfect cubes but less flavorful. And the shape isn’t actually a deal-killer with kebabs. You will probably find your boneless leg of lamb is larger than 1 lb, so you should have a plan for the extra meat (like more skewers) and maybe use tiny bits of trimmed meat in a stir-fry or burgers.
Originally published February 28, 2019