Lamb hasn’t always been consumed widely, nor been readily available in Korea up until recent years. Most of those who tried lamb (it was thought to be mutton, actually) weren’t so sure about the rich, almost pastoral taste and smell they recognized as gamey. But the steady increase of imported meat, and the introduction of cumin-spiced lamb skewers by Korean Chinese immigrants that sat more comfortably with the modern Korean palate, have greatly contributed to the increasing popularity of lamb, so people have become more familiar with the product and how best to cook with it.
This dish is inspired by the daring new flavour combinations created by the migration of people and ingredients, which are accepted and celebrated with love. The complexity of fermented bean paste pairs incredibly well with earthy lamb, taking the roll of ‘spicing’. Laced with a tart sweetness that comes from the pomegranate molasses, this wildly unimaginable marriage of flavours actually creates a magic that I think is absolutely delicious.
Use a needle-bladed meat tenderizer so the marinade can properly penetrate into the flesh of the meat below the surface, and massage the meat by hand to work the marinade until it is fully absorbed. The skewers definitely benefit from being cooked on a charcoal grill: the smoky flavour that comes from slowly caramelized lamb is truly wonderful.
Makes 12 skewers
- 4 lamb neck fillets, about 650g–750g (1lb 7oz–1lb 10oz)
- Sea salt flakes, to season
For the marinade
- 15g (1/2oz) garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp grated ginger root
- 2 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp doenjang (Korean fermented bean paste)
- 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a large mixing bowl.
- Slice the lamb neck fillets in half lengthways, then dice into 2cm (3/4in) thick bite-size pieces suitable for your choice of skewers, bearing in mind they’ll shrink a little when cooked.
- Using a needle-bladed meat tenderizer, go over the diced lamb so the needles penetrate into the meat: it will help the marinade to permeate the tissue more deeply.
- Transfer the meat to the bowl of marinade and vigorously massage everything together to properly work the marinade into the meat. When the meat appears to have absorbed the marinade, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or up to overnight.
- Thread the marinated lamb onto the skewers (about 5 cubes each), making sure they are fairly tightly secured and flattened gently by hand as you go along to ensure an even cooking surface. Repeat the process until you have about 12 skewers.
- If cooking on an outdoor charcoal barbecue grill, cook the skewers on the hot grill when the layer of white ash is visible over the glowing embers. I like to give them a quarter turn every so often to char them evenly. It should take about 6 minutes for the lamb to cook through and appear beautifully charred and caramelized.
- If you are cooking the skewers indoors, heat a griddle pan nice and hot over a medium heat. Place the skewers onto the hot griddle and cook for 3 minutes on each side until nicely caramelized. Alternatively, cook them under the oven grill (broiler).
- When the skewers are done, sprinkle with a little pinch of sea salt flakes and serve immediately.
Doenjang Lamb Skewers Recipe by Su Scott from Rice Table Cookbook