In Morocco, lamb or beef brochettes are known simply as kebab or by Arabic words for skewers—qotban, qodban and sfafed. They’re a popular street food year-round and a favorite when grilling at home, especially around the time of Eid al Adha, when many families make qotban using meat from the sacrificial animal.
Moroccan qotban is a sibling of Turkish shish kebab. Moroccans marinate the meat differently but more importantly they cut the meat smaller. In Morocco, the kebab is all about alternating cubes of lamb or beef with cubes of fat. (Fat is also added to skewers when making other kinds of brochettes.) You don’t need to eat the fat, but do try to use it as it adds incredible flavor and helps keep the meat moist.
The Moroccan Kebab
The Moroccan use of the word “kebab” differs from the use of the term in many other countries, where it refers specifically to skewers of ground meat (kofte or kefta). I struggled a bit with this while living in or visiting other countries, especially those with an Ottoman influence.
In Morocco, we don’t go to fancy restaurants to eat kebab. When the craving hits, each of us has a favorite fast food joint that specializes in this. The bigger the city, the longer the list of options becomes.
Each weekly market also has a section devoted to grilling, and national roads leading into main cities have coffee shops and restaurants serving brochettes and tagines of all sorts. As example the city of Khemisset used to be famous for the quality of its grills, and the kefta dyal gharb from there was especially a treat.
Kebab usually comes with a seasoned fresh salad of tomatoes and onions; cucumber can be added. Depending on where you order it, it may also come with fries and green olives. Bread is always part of the deal while a cold drink or hot tea may need to be ordered separately.
Some fast food places have started adding white sauce and cheese to this wonderful sandwich. I find it just wrong but since it’s still around, that means some people like it.
At home, we cook kebab of all sorts over an oblong brazier (called kanoun or mejmar) full of glowing coal, which means waiting 25 to 30 minutes for the high flames to calm down before grilling.
Leg of lamb or filet of steak will yield the most tender results in this recipe for Moroccan Kebab or Qotban. Allow ample time for marinating the meat for best flavor.
Suet is traditionally threaded between the cubes of meat for flavor and moisture. If you don't care to eat the fat, you can discard it when removing the cooked meat from the skewers. You can also omit it altogether if you prefer.
- 2.2 lbs boneless leg of lamb (or filet of beef), trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
- 8 oz beef or lamb fat, preferably suet (kidney fat) cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 medium yellow or white onions, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp salt or to taste
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, leaves only finely chopped
- 1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
Trim from most of the fat from the meat then cut the meat into cubes of about 1 inch (2.5 cm). Transfer the meat to a large bowl.
Cut the suet into cubes about the same size as the meat (1" is a maximum) and add them to the bowl. Fold in the chopped or grated onions and chopped parsley. Season and massage with your hands to make sure everything is well combined.
Cover and marinate for at least for 2 hours and up to 8 hours.
Wooden skewers will need to be soaked in water before using them while metal ones don't need any special treatment. Thread around 6 cubes of meat onto each skewer, alternating every few pieces with a cube of fat. Make sure you start and end with meat.
It's important that you don't leave space between the cubes of meat and fat and it's also important that the meat not be packed too tightly. Hold the skewer with one hand and squeeze the threaded cubes with the other to help spread or compress them as needed Cover and set aside or place in the fridge if you plan to grill them later.
Prepare the grill. Make sure the flames have enough time to calm down. Start grilling when you see the charcoal covered with a layer of grey-silver ash. This way you ensure that the meat will be grilled properly.
Place the brochettes on the grill and cook for a few minutes, then turn to cook the other side. The meat should be well colored but still juicy according to Moroccan standards. Some like it well done with burnt edges and some like it just medium.
Serve the lamb or beef brochettes with the garnish mixture along with hot Moroccan tea. Otherwise, green tea with a few mint leaves will do.
We enjoy making a sandwich by sprinkling the garnishing mix over the meat, adding a bit of harissa or green olives, and finely chopped tomato and cucumber salad seasoned with cumin, salt and pepper. You could keep the nuggets of fat but it's better to discard them as they've done their job keeping the meat moist and giving it more flavor.
- The same marinade can be used to make Moroccan grilled cutlets (lamb chops) or steaks.
- Rumsteak, gigot, filet (French words) are the cuts needed to make Moroccan kebab.
- Kebab is always served hot. Slide the cubes of meat (discard the fat if you want) into 1/2 small bread or 1/2 baguette or pita, then sprinkle with cumin, salt, cayenne and press the sandwich between your fingers to release the juices into the bread. The fresh salad can be added in the sandwich; harissa too.
- Should you have leftover meat kebab, think about making a quick version of Moroccan kebab maghdour.