Spicy Barbecued Appetizers

Spicy Grilled Appetizers

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Spicy Barbecued Appetizers


Skewered Spiced Peruvian Beef and Chicken (Anticuchos)

Cured and Pecan-Smoked King Salmon with Hot Sauce

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail Mazatlan-Style

Margarita-Grilled Shrimp and Avocado Quesadilla

New Mexican Three-Chile Wings of Fire

Tunisian Hot Vegetable Dip (Slata Mechouia)

by Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach

Conjure up in your mind all those appetizers you’ve been offered at parties over the years. Celery sticks with plain cream cheese. Crackers with spray cheese. Sour cream and onion soup mix dip for chips. Deviled ham salad on tiny rye bread rounds. Egg salad in rolled sandwiches. Liver sausage seasoned with ketchup. Herring in dill sauce. Folk singer Mason Williams sang about them: “Them hors doovers ain’t they sweet/Little piece of cheese and a little piece of meat.” And when you’re having people over for an exciting Superbowl party, the last thing you want to do is serve boring munchies!

Of course you have, because those appetizers have gone the way of passenger pigeon pie and are now obsolete. Why? Because they lack character: namely spice, fire, and smoke.

But we’re here to help. In 1986, St. Martin’s Press published our second cookbook, Fiery Appetizers, and the fact that it remained in print for so many years is evidence that appetizers are required to stimulate the palate–hell, even assault it. Bland appetizers merely fill the belly, while fiery appetizers get the guests craving for more heat. At least that’s the chilehead version of the way a modern menu works.

In fact, we have been known to throw parties where the food consists solely of fiery appetizers on the grill. It’s our Southwestern version of a tapas party, and we even invite the guests to grill their own appetizers. What could be better while you’re waiting for the brisket to smoke than to grill little pieces of meat that have been sitting in a hot and spicy marinade? Especially if you can put the guests to work. Hey, smoking is hard work and you need a rest from all that frantic activity.

The appetizers that follow are our spicy favorites from a couple of decades of testing, partying, and chowing down. Some of them, of course, can be served as entrees, but mostly their designed to get the guests thinking about chiles and the spicy entrees and sides yet to come.


Skewered Spiced Peruvian Beef and Chicken (Anticuchos)

Skewered Spiced Peruvian Beef and Chicken (Anticuchos)

These are the famous Peruvian appetizers, sold by street vendors, and grilled to order. The customers just eat the beef right off the stick. Traditionally they are made with beef heart, but we like to use more tender and flavorful cuts of beef, plus chicken. With the highly acidic marinade, you can use tougher cuts if you marinate them longer. The chiles of choice here would be the native ají chiles, but virtually any small, hot fresh chiles can be used. Serve wrapped in a corn or flour tortilla. You can also serve the anticuchos as an entree with escalloped potatoes and green beans. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

Ají Chile Marinade:

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1/2 cup red wine

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

  • 3 red ají limon chiles, seeds and stems removed, chopped, or substitute red serrano or jalapeño chiles

  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic

  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce

  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

  • 1 teaspoon ground achiote (annato) or substitute achiote paste

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

The Beef and Chicken:

  • 1 pound beef sirloin, cut in 3/4-inch cubes

  • 1 pound chicken meat, cut in 3/4-inch cubes

Simmer the cumin seeds in the oil for 5 minutes. Strain the oil and discard the seeds.

Combine with all the remaining marinade ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Toss the meat and chicken in the marinade, place in a nonreactive bowl, cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, and longer for tougher cuts of meat.

Thread the meat on skewers and bring to room temperature. Simmer the marinade for 20 minutes over low heat. Grill the beef over medium-hot fire, basting frequently with the marinade for about 4 minutes a side, until the beef is done. Cut a sample to check for doneness. Serve over greens with your favorite dipping sauces.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Heat Scale: Medium


Cured and Pecan-Smoked King Salmon with Hot Sauce

The key to preparing salmon this way is to make certain that your smoke is rather cool, about 100 degrees. If it is warmer, decrease the smoking time. This recipe takes a fair amount of time, but most of that is spent waiting rather than working. The selection of sauces served is up to the cook, so feel free to experiment. A horseradish sauce will work also. The salmon can also be served on bagels, as pictured here. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

The Cure:

  • 2.5 cups kosher salt

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon ground oregano

  • 1 teaspoon crushed dill weed

The Salmon:

  • 2 large salmon fillets, about 2 to 5 pounds each, or 5 small but thicker fillets

The Sauces:

  • Commercial habanero hot sauce

  • Commercial sherry pepper hot sauce

  • Commercial spicy mustard

  • Commercial creamy horseradish sauce

Combine the ingredients for the cure in a bowl and mix well. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on an aluminum baking pan and spread about a 1/8-inch thick layer of the cure blend and place the fillets on the plastic wrap. Top the fillets with 1/8-inch of cure. Cover the fillets with plastic wrap and cure in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours; a 4-hour cure is preferable. Remove the fillets from the wrap and rinse the cure off each fillet. Allow the fillets to air dry for about 2 hours.

Prepare a fire in the smoker’s firebox with pecan wood or other fruit or nut hardwood of choice, such as apple, apricot, peach, or walnut. When the fire stabilizes and the smoke is no longer hot, place the fillets skin-side down on racks or on the aluminum baking pan.

Smoke the fillets for 4 to 5 hours, depending on their thickness. Regularly check the fire and fillets to make sure that the fish is smoking, not rapidly cooking.

Serve the salmon over crackers of choice topped with any of the three sauces as an appetizer. Refrigerate any leftovers, which will keep for weeks.

Yield: 10 or more servings

Heat Scale: Varies according to sauces added


Grilled Shrimp Cocktail Mazatlan-Style

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail Mazatlan-Style

A Mexican coctel de camarones tends to be a lot spicer than one traditionally served north of the border, and the shrimp is grilled rather than boiled, which adds a different flavor dimension. In a pinch, substitute a Mexican hot sauce like Cholula for the chile powder and the jalapeño chile, and the result will be equally good.

The Shrimp:

  • 4 to 5 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil

  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 teaspoons ground guajillo chile or substitute chile de arbol chile powder

  • 1 tablespoon lime juice, fresh preferred

  • 1 pound medium-sized shrimp, shelled and deveined

The Cocktail:

  • 1 small cucumber, diced

  • 1 small tomato, diced

  • 1 small avocado, cubed

  • 2 tablespoons chopped red onion

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

The Sauce:

  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and deseeded

  • 1/4 cup orange juice

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

  • 2 serrano chiles, seeds and stems removed, quartered, or substitute jalapeños

  • 1 tablespoon chopped red onion

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

To prepare the shrimp, melt the butter in a saucepan, add the garlic, chile, and lime juice. Simmer the mixture for a couple of minutes. Thread the shrimp on skewers. Baste the shrimp with the chile butter and grill over a medium heat, basting continually with the sauce, for 3 to 4 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink and opaque.

To make the cocktail, combine all the ingredients, except the shrimp and cilantro, in a bowl and gently mix. Divide the mixture into 4 large cups or glasses, such as parfait glasses.

Place all the ingredients for the sauce in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour over the cocktail mixture, arrange the shrimp around the rim of the glasses, garnish with the chopped cilantro, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium


Margarita-Grilled Shrimp and Avocado Quesadilla

Margarita-Grilled Shrimp and Avocado Quesadilla

This is one of those cross-over dishes that can be served whole as an entree or cut into wedges as an appetizer. If ever there were such a thing as a “Grilled Shrimp Mexican-Style Pizza,” this would be it. Feel free to substitute chicken pieces for the shrimp if you like. Would you dare serve this with a margarita? Well, why not? We do.

Margarita Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup tequila

  • 3 tablespoons triple sec

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion

  • 2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, seeds and stems removed, finely chopped

  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder

The Shrimp and Final Preparation

  • 1 pound small shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), peeled and deveined

  • 6 7-inch flour tortillas

  • Vegetable oil

  • Guacamole (two mashed or finely chopped avocados mixed with ½ chopped onion, ½ chopped tomato, 1 minced serrano or jalapeño chile, and a little lime or lemon juice)

  • 1.5 cups shredded Monterey Jack or asadero cheese

  • Chopped fresh cilantro

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a nonreactive bowl. Toss the shrimp in the mixture and marinate for one hour.

Place the shrimp in a grilling basket and place over the fire, shaking the basket often to make sure the shrimp is grilled on all sides. Grill for about 4 minutes over a medium fire, or until the shrimp just turn pink and are opaque. Remove from the fire.

Brush one side of 3 tortillas with the oil. Spread the guacamole over the other side of each oil-brushed tortilla, divide the shrimp among each, sprinkle with the cheese and cilantro, and press firmly together. Top with the remaining tortillas and brush with oil.

Grill the quesadillas over medium heat either by the indirect method for 5 minutes, or direct method for 3 to 4 minutes or until the tortillas start to brown and the cheese melts, turning once–carefully.

Cut the quesadillas into wedges, top with a dollop of guacamole if desired, and serve.

Yield: 16 to 24 wedges


New Mexican Three-Chile Wings of Fire

New Mexican Three-Chile Wings of Fire

These wings are not a traditional New Mexican dish, but since it’s one of our favorites, and we serve it in New Mexico, we have dared to adopt it as one of our hot and spicy favorites. Because of the high sugar content in the sauce, use it toward the end of grilling so it doesn’t burn.

Three-Chile Wings of Fire Sauce:

  • 3 chipotle chiles, stems removed

  • 2 dried red New Mexican chiles, stems and seeds removed

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 4 chiltepins, crushed (or substitute 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne chile)

  • 1/3 cup catsup

  • 3 tablespoons vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard

  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 2 cups water

  • Salt to taste

The Wings:

  • 2 pounds chicken wings

Cover the chipotles and New Mexican chiles with hot water in a bowl and allow to steep for 20 minutes to soften. Drain.

Saute the onion in the oil in a saucepan until soft. Add the garlic and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, including the softened chiles, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes to thicken. Remove from the heat, place in a blender and food processor and puree until smooth. Strain if desired.

Grill the wings over a medium fire, turning often, for 10 minutes. Baste with the sauce frequently during the final 10 minutes of cooking, taking care not to burn the wings.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Hot


Tunisian Hot Vegetable Dip (Slata Mechouia)

Tunisian Hot Vegetable Dip (Slata Mechouia)

This recipe is based on the Tunisian grilled salads, as mechouia means roasted. This recipe is easily prepared on the grill and can be served as a relish, dip, or spread. As might be expected, it can also be served with a flat, unleavened bread such as pita. Use a mortar and pestle for a traditional method of grinding the grilled vegetables, or just mash and mix with a fork in a bowl. For a much hotter dip, substitute jalapeño chiles.

  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper, cut in half, seeds removed

  • 2 medium tomatoes

  • 1 small onion, cut in half

  • 4 green New Mexico or poblano chiles

  • 3 whole cloves garlic

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice, fresh preferred

  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds or 1 tablespoon cumin seeds

  • 1 tablespoon chopped brine cured black olives

  • Chopped parsley for garnish

  • 1 small loaf French bread

Place the bell pepper, tomatoes, onion, chiles, and garlic on medium-hot grill, and grill until the skins become charred and blistered. The onions will take longer to cook than the rest of the vegetables. Remove the vegetables from the grill, place in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth to loosen the skins. Remove the skins, but don’t worry–a few charred pieces will add an interesting flavor dimension. Mash the vegetables together and place the mixture in a bowl.

Mix the remaining ingredients, except for the bread, and pour over the vegetables and gently toss. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Serve the dip with the bread and encourage guests to tear the bread into chunks and dip in mixture.

Yield: About 2 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

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