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. When I was young my mom used to sell her food products at the feria. 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 exciting activities (for my 9 year old self) included the ferris wheel, the carousel, the bumper cars, and 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: candied red apples, delicious bocadillos or sweets made with brown cane sugar and peanuts, cocadas or coconut sweets, guayaba o guava paste 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 beef skewers are also sold on the beaches and coastal areas in Ecuador. In the northern part of Ecuador, especially closer to the Colombian border (and in Colombia) these little pieces of meat on a stick are also known as chuzos. These beef skewers are also called pinchos, though I consider it to be a true pincho when it has thick chunks of meat.
Carne en palito beef skewers are 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. Even 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. These beef skewers are usually served with a sauce, some of my favorites include a basic aji criollo hot sauce, a tomato onion curtido salsa (not spicy), and the typical cheese cilantro sauce that is used for both these skewers and corn on the cob when you buy them from the street vendors. In Ecuador, you can usually get a plain beef skewer or you can also have it with a slice of ripe plantain and/or chorizo on the tip.
Recipe for grilled thin beef skewers, or Ecuadorian carne en palito or chuzos, made with thinly sliced meat seasoned with garlic, achiote and cumin and grilled on skewers.
- 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
- Tomato and onion curtido salsa
- Fried (or grilled) ripe plantain slices
- Aji criollo hot sauce
- Ecuadorian style queso sauce
- 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.
- If using wooden skewers, soak them in water while the meat is marinating - this will prevent them from burning on the grill.
- 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, ripe plantains, and/or tomato onion curtido salsa.
These meat skewers can also be made with chicken or pork.