Saturday, May 10, 2008
My City Chicken experiment made me crave that other (much more famous and delicious) meat on a skewer that my childhood hometown of Binghamton is famous for – Spiedies. For some inexplicable reason no one who doesn’t have ties to the Southern Tier of New York has ever heard of these tasty treats – and boy are they missing out.
In Binghamton Spiedies are popular enough to have an annual festival called the Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally Ballooning is another popular Binghamton pastime, and I used to love to see the colorful orbs in the sky. They were like a random bit of magic in an otherwise ordinary day. Now the Spiedie Fest has become one of the top hot air ballooning rallies in the country with over 35 ballons each year.
In my family Spieides were both a staple and a treat, and whenever I get together with any of my Binghamton relatives, you can bet Spiedies will be on the menu. So what is a Spiedie, you might ask if you're not from the Southern Tier. It is a skewer of marinated cubes of pork or chicken (although the original ones were lamb), cooked on the grill and served on a slice of fresh Italian bread.
If you live near Binghamton you can buy bottled marinade in the grocery store or buy uncooked or cooked Spiedies at Lupo’s Spiedies, but the recipe is fairly simple and my Aunt Shirley had a copy of it from a famous, but now defunct, restaurant that she shared with me.
Spiedies are thought to have been brought to the region by Augustine Iacovelli, an immigrant from the Abruzzi region of Italy who came to Endicott in 1929 to work at the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Factory, like so many immigrants did in those days. He opened his own restaurant called Augies in 1939 and introduced Spiedies to the Triple Cities of Endicott, Binghamton and Johnson City. The name comes from the Italian word “spiedo” which means “spit” (as in charcoal or wood grilling, not saliva). You can find more information on the history of Spiedies here.
I bought both a package of chicken breasts and a small pork roast and cut them into one inch cubes and marinated them for 24 hours. This is a minimum marinating time, but I think anything more than 2 days makes the meat taste too vinegary. Then I threaded the pieces of meat on metal skewers and Steve grilled them.
When I lived in Binghamton the only kind of bread to use was Felix Roma Bakery sliced Italian made at the Endicott Bakery (LOVED this bread as a kid and it might be worth a trip back to Binghamton just to try it again). On Cape Cod, I’ve found that fresh baked and store sliced Scala bread is the closest substitute. Simply place the skewer across the bread and hugging the meat lightly with the bread, slide the meat off.
When folks (like my hubby) are first introduced to Spiedies, they think the sandwich is too plain and are tempted to add some kind of condiment. Uh, no! There is no better way to foul up a perfectly good spiedie than to smear something on it. It simply must be eaten as is, and now that my husband has been properly trained, he loves them plain too.
4 pounds lamb (or pork or chicken) cubed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vinegar (we used cider vinegar)
2 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried mint flakes
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 bay leaf, broken in pieces
Place meat in a bowl. Add oil to coat it. Mix all the other ingredients with the vinegar and add to the meat. Mix thoroughly and marinade in refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
When ready to serve remove bowl from fridge and stir ingredients. Thread the meat tightly on skewers. Grill until done, but now dried out, about 8 – 10 minutes. Turn meat to evenly grill all sides.
Serve by wrapping Italian bread around the meat and pulling it off the skewer with the bread.