My glorious and erudite Citizens – it has been FAR too long since I have shared a recipe from my spiritual homeland, the mighty country of Georgia! Long-time members of TFD Nation are well-aware that we have one of the world’s most comprehensive lists of Georgian recipes in English and it is my life mission to evangelize the unmatched cuisine of this culinary powerhouse of a nation! Today, I wish to share with you a simple but totally delicious recipe for Mtsvadi, aka shashlik (Шашлык) in Russian. This is a Georgian-specific version of shish kebab, one that is properly marinated and bereft of extraneous vegetables, as the good Lord intended.
Mtsvadi is a dish of skewered and grilled cubes of meat, similar to or synonymous with shish kebab. It is known traditionally, by various other names in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and from the 19th century became popular as shashlik across much of the Russian Empire. Especially given the current tension between Russia and Georgia, but true regardless of current international affairs – I’d NEVER call mtsvadi shashlik to ANY Georgian, unless you have a severely unfulfilled death wish.
As noted on georgianjournal.ge:
Properly made mtsvadi is an extraordinary dish. Preparing it is an entire ritual. Mtsvadi made outdoors, on an open fire is very special and completely different from that made at home using a frying pan or an electric cooker. This is in Georgian genes. We’ve enjoyed it since ancient times and mtsvadi is subconsciously bound to our distant ancestors’ ritual of roasting meat over a fire after a hunt. By the way, it is known that Erekle ll, one of Georgia’s greatest kings, was especially fond of eating mtsvadi in the mountains.
Mtsvadi can be made with pork, mutton or veal. Beef should be used only if all other options are unavailable. Marinating the meat in pomegranate juice before roasting makes it especially tender, juicy and delicious.
As further expounded at explorepartsunknown.com:
The eating culture is as important as the actual food. Georgians have supra, literally “tablecloth,” referring to the multitude of dishes brought to the table during a feast. There are so many offerings that the platters cover the table completely, like a tablecloth. The toastmaster, called the tamada, leads the feast.
There are no simple “Cheers!” though. Each toast turns into a philosophical discussion, lasting well into the night. Before bed, a beef stock called khash is put on the stove. Served in the morning with a pot of salt, minced garlic, and herbs, this viscous broth (seasoned to one’s personal taste) is the most restorative hangover cure I know of.
I grew up watching men douse meat in vinegar and onions before throwing it on the barbecue, which they called Georgian shashlyky. What I discovered in Georgia, however, was far removed from the mediocre Soviet version. This barbecued meat is called mtsvadi in Georgia, and it is genius in its simplicity. Dried vine clippings are thrown into a barbecue grill and burned until the coals become fragrant.
Pork neck is then skewered and basted over the fire with a mixture of red or white wine and salt. This process creates the most delicious savory crust and tender meat, just cooked, almost pink. The meat is taken off the skewer with a flatbread, which becomes soaked in pork juices. A simple red onion, pomegranate, and parsley salad is served on the side.
My version of this delicious shish is resolutely traditional – please do use pork neck meat, it is by far the best for this dish with a perfect ratio of fat to meat for mtsvadi. Shoulder is a barely-acceptable substitute. Second, you must grill these over vine cuttings for the proper flavor – if not, you are dead to me. You can buy dried vine cuttings here. I have gratefully cribbed the vine burning and meat cooking instructions from my friend Olia Hercules, the mistress of the Caucasus!
Lastly, please use my version of the spicy condiment adzhika in the recipe, as it is far better than any other version I’ve sampled. The recipe is here. My recipe for the Georgian spice blend of khmeli-suneli is here, or you can buy a pre-made version from Amazon here if you’re lazy. If you want to follow my unorthodox use of Svanetian salt in this recipe, you can buy it here.
If this is your first exposure to true Georgian cuisine – congratulations, you are in for a taste treat the likes of which you have rarely if ever experienced! Mtsvadi is a great intro to Georgian food, taking a familiar dish and giving it a unique Georgian twist!
Battle on – the Generalissimo