An Appetite for Chislic
Meet our state’s officially sanctioned snack.
The state dessert, kuchen, may just have to start sharing the culinary limelight with a state favorite, chislic, as an official food of South Dakota. Legislatures from Hutchinson County attracted over 30 co-sponsors of a bill to designate chislic as the official nosh, or snack, of South Dakota.
If you’ve been around these parts a while you know what chislic is. If you’re new to the area, I’m sure you’ve been teased about your ignorance of this meat treat as locals taunt you to try it as an appetizer at a local bar or restaurant. Of course, there’s nothing scary or bizarre about chislic. If you like beef, you’ll love it.
First, a bit of history about chislic. I was surprised to learn that it originated as lamb. And I was even more surprised to learn that many of the places that serve it, and are famous for it, still use lamb, or mutton. The concept of cooking small cubes of meat is a carry over from shish kabobs. In fact, here’s Wikipedia’s explanation that seems on the up and up.
The word chislic is arguably derived from the Turkic word of shashlik or shashlyk, which is cubed meat or liver grilled on a skewer with tomatoes, peppers, and onions. The origin of the word shashlyk is rooted in shish kebab, the Turkish and Arabic words for skewered meats. According to some sources, chislic was possibly introduced into the United States by John Hoellwarth, who immigrated from Crimea to Hutchinson County, South Dakota in the 1870s.
South Dakota Magazine includes a great story about the epicenter of chislic; Freeman, SD. They talk of South Dakota’s most authentic and best tasting chislic inside the Chislic Circle, which is comprised of bars and restaurants within a 30-mile radius of Freeman. The chislic in this area is typically prepared and served on skewers. Festivals and competitions take place to see who can eat the most sticks of meat. Common cooking methods include grilling, frying, or broiling. Most places in Aberdeen don’t serve it on a stick, probably because it is deep-fried, and is of the beef variety.
One reason I don’t deep-fry a lot of food at home is because it can be less than healthy if the oil isn’t at the right temp, and it’s just too messy. Dealing with the oil afterwards is the worst. So I set out to make chislic quickly, without the vat of grease, and it actually worked. My method is still mighty dangerous, so precautions should be taken just as if you were deep-frying this dish.
I did a little experimenting to see if marinating the meat was absolutely necessary. Turns out, for the cuts of sirloin I bought, it was. I cooked one batch with just salt and it was too tough. I settled on the recipe here recalling the flavor of the chislic from places I most recently had it.
For the absolute best results, start two days ahead.
- 1 pound sirloin steak, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1-2 tablespoons grape seed oil
Make sure all large chunks of fat are trimmed from the sirloin. Marbling of fat is okay and preferred. Combine all the other ingredients in a zip-top bag and squish everything together into a paste. Add one tablespoon of grape seed oil as well. Grape seed oil smokes less at high temps and it is said to splatter less. Add the beef and keep squishing to coat all pieces. Place in the refrigerator for two days, if you can wait that long. If you must, one overnight will probably be okay.
- CAUTION This method uses extreme heat and you must plan and prep your cooking area in advance. Put a cast iron frying pan on a rack as high as it will go in the oven. Preheat the oven to 500∞. Meanwhile, ready two silicon oven mitts or potholders. Fabric ones of any kind will burn when the frying pan touches them. Turn a wire cooling rack upside down on a couple layers of paper towels on a cookie sheet. Youíll need a slotted spoon and a timer.
- Take the marinated meat out of the fridge and dump it in a mixing bowl. It needs to be well coated with oil. I added another tablespoon of grape seed oil at this point and mixed it well. If your meat looks shiny already, donít bother. But it must be well coated with oil for this to work.
- When the oven is preheated, the pan will be really, really hot. Using a silicon mitt or pad, pull out the top rack, exposing the pan. Carefully deposit the beef chunks away from you into the pan and spread them out evenly. Itís best if they donít touch each other. Close the door, turn on the exhaust fan if things start to get smoky. Set the timer for one minute. After one minute, open the door, away from your face, pull out the rack, firmly grasp the pan handle with silicon and mix the meat up a bit with the slotted spoon. You donít have to worry about flipping each piece. Close everything back up for another minute. When the timer dings, carefully spoon the meat onto the waiting wire rack. I was able to remove the pan to an awaiting silicon potholder, but itís best to keep it in the oven so others donít touch it. Just turn off the oven so the remnants donít smoke up the place.
- Meat should always be rested after cooking, but this cools so fast I didnít worry about that. You may find youíll want to add more salt at the wire rack stage. Just give it a taste. This produced chunks that are still a bit pink in the middle. If you want it rarer, try 45 seconds each time. I found that cooking the pieces cold helped retain that medium doneness rather than letting the meat come to room temperature before cooking. Try cooking one or two pieces at first to get the timing down for your liking. Then do the whole batch.
- Serve it however you like your chislic. Ranch, french, BBQ sauce, you name it. So now we can begin a meal with the official state nosh, eat our state bird for an entrÈe, then enjoy a state dessert. At the very least, itís fun to share with visitors or newcomers to our area. Enjoy! Be careful! //–Troy McQuillen