This recipe for grilled thin beef skewers, or Ecuadorian carne en palito, is made with thinly sliced meat seasoned with garlic, achiote and cumin.The first thing that comes to mind when I think of carne en palito, which literally translates as meat on a stick, are snack carts selling these hot and delicious thin cuts of meat on a stick at the feria, an annual fair or carnival in honor of the Virgen del Cisne that takes place every September in the city of Loja, Ecuador. The feria was always a big deal for me; it was a two-week event full of fun, games and awesome snack food. Most kids (and teenagers) go to the feria a few times during those two weeks , but I was lucky and got to spend all of my time there, kind of like a kid that lived at the circus, except my parents didn’t abandon me there or anything like that.First of all, our school year started in October so September was still our vacation time and when I was young my mom used to sell her food products at the feria while my dad sold musical instruments (marimbas, charangos, drums, etc) that he made as well as performed at the music shows that took place there, so of course I spent the whole day wandering around the fair. Every night there were large firework displays called “castillos”, these took place in the center of the city. Some of the most exiting activities (for a 9 year old) were the ferris wheel, the carousel, the bumper cars, the games where you could “win” prizes – one of the best games consisted of this huge board with chewing gum boxes and a few $ bills, you had to take a rifle that shot these small arrows and you won whatever your arrow landed on. Another interesting attraction was the caged naked lady with a snake, she was semi-naked during the day when kids were allowed in, for some reason this was very fascinating to me, though I think I was more impressed by the fact that she had a huge snake wrapped around her than by what she was wearing, and I had this evil dream that the snake would eat her or something exciting would happen, but it never did.
The feria was also a street food heaven for me:apples covered with red caramel, delicious bocadillos or sweets made with brown cane sugar and peanuts, cocadas or coconut sweets, huevitos chilenos or deep fried pastry balls covered with sugar, helados de paila or fresh fruit ice cream made in large bowls, salchipapas, and of course carne en palito or meat on a stick. Carne en palito is also sold on the beaches in Ecuador, in the north – closer to the Colombian border – and in Colombia these little pieces of meat on a stick are also known as chuzos. Carne en palito is made with the very thin cuts of meat, if your butcher or supermarket meat section has carne asada or milanesa cuts these are ideal for this, the meat is seasoned with a marinade of orange juice, olive oil, garlic, achiote or annatto powder, cumin and salt. This is the first time I’ve ever made “carne on palito” at home though I’ve grilled a lot of carne asada steaks and kebabs, for some reason I had this mental idea of “carne on palito” being something that you buy on the street but you don’t necessarily make it at home, I have to say that it they make great appetizers and I will be making them a lot more frequently now. I served these beef skewers with a basic aji criollo or hot sauce, but next time I will try serving them with a few different sauces.
1 lb beef, thinly cut carne asada style and cut in long strips
2-4 tbs orange juice
1 tbs oil
6-8 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp achiote powder
1-2 tsp ground cumin
Salt to taste
- Mix the orange juice, olive oil, garlic, achiote, cumin, salt and pepper together to make a marinade.
- Season the meat with the marinade and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
- Slide the meat onto the skewers and grill on each side until done, depending on your grill this should just take a few minutes per side, make sure the grill is very hot.
- Serve immediately with aji criollo or other sauces.