These Garlic & Herb Marinated Chicken Spiedies aren’t just your run-of-the-mill chicken skewers– they’re a Central NY specialty that deserves some worldwide recognition. Chunks of chicken breast are marinated for at least 12 hours in a tangy, herb-spiked marinade and then grilled before being served on soft Italian bread with a generous drizzle of garlic sauce.
Cheesesteaks, deep dish pizza, clam chowder. There are some dishes so deeply rooted in a region’s food scene that they become a gastronomical attraction. The kind of dish that inspires locals to fiercely defend their favorites, and sends tourists home raving and scrambling to find some version, any version, of the dish back home.
Unfortunately for spiedies– the most beloved sandwich in Binghamton– upstate New York doesn’t see quite as many tourists as, say, Manhattan or Chicago. As a result, spiedies have managed to remain mostly undiscovered outside of their Central NY birthplace. If it wasn’t for the fact that my cousins grew up around there, I’m sure I would have never heard of them.
SO WHAT IS A CHICKEN SPIEDIE?
So glad you asked. Pronounced like “speedy,” this simple sandwich is made of caramelized, cubed meat wrapped in an open slice of Italian bread or stuffed into a long roll.
There are four “approved” meats you can pile on top: chicken, pork, beef, or lamb. While lamb is the OG, spiedie-lovers have spoken and crowned chicken the true fan favorite.
Whatever meat you choose, it goes into a zesty marinade that tastes a little like Italian dressing. After a long and mysterious marinating process, the meat finally hits the grill, quickly caramelizing quickly on the outside while staying super-tender on the inside.
Now you can order said sauce shipped to you from Amazon, courtesy of the area’s favorite purveyors. As marinades sauces go, even food editors will concede that these are among the best you can get. But this simple and flexible marinade of oil, vinegar, and spices is worth the minimal effort you’ll put in, and will yield the most tender and flavorful meat you’ve ever slapped on a sandwich. Fresh herbs and garlic really do make a difference.
Spiedies are traditionally served with just a drizzle of reserved marinade or a squeeze of garlic sauce (which is also made with the marinade ingredients), and no ketchup or mustard or anything of the sort to distract from all of that tangy, grill-marked meat. If you must add veggies it’s allowable, but absolutely no cheese, ever, under any circumstances. (We’ll find you.)
THE HISTORY OF SPIEDIES
Spiedies’ history, like their recipe, is pretty modest. Located southeast of the Finger Lakes and slightly north of Pennsylvania, modern-day Binghamton is well known for its BBQ pits.
But in the 1920s, the area was only beginning to welcome the surge of Italian immigrants who would change the region’s food scene for good. A humble dish prepared in Italian home kitchens, spiedies flew under the radar for a good 15-20 years until 1939 when a restaurateur named Augustine Iacovelli introduced them in his restaurant, Augies. His original “zuzu” sauce of wine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic and mint quickly became the go-to lunch for railroad workers and shoemakers who spread the news to their own families and friends.
But that’s about all anyone can agree on. The true origin of the spiedie is widely disputed, an urban food legend that it’s best not to bring up unless you’ve got some time on your hands.
Regardless of their history, today you’ll find spiedies everywhere in the area from restaurants to street vendors, to supermarkets. But arguably the most popular spot to sample one is at Lupo’s S & S Char Pit. Almost 70 years since the dish was invented, the Lupo’s family business sells thousands of pounds of spiedies a week and bottles their popular sauce for fans to enjoy at home.
Such is the love for spiedies that there are road trip maps, food tours, and even a Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally held each August. Celebrating its 35th year, the festival draws a crowd of 100,000 visitors for 3 waistband-stretching days of spiedie-eating and competitive cookoffs. If you’re still questioning the combination of sandwiches and hot air balloons, don’t bother. Just embrace it, two-handed, napkin in lap.
CHICKEN SPIEDIES ARE THE PERFECT MAKE-AHEAD DISH
Chicken spiedies are breaking all the rules. (Except the one about “no cheese”. Don’t make me tell you again.)
See, usually, chicken shouldn’t be left in an acidic marinade for more than 5 hours or so, or you risk it becoming mushy. But chicken spiedies are the exception, not the rule. They are marinated for at least 12 hours and can hang out for up to five days in the fridge absorbing flavor.
The upside of the long marinating time is that you’ve got plenty of leeway to start them in advance, or to delay cooking them if you need to.
To avoid wasting any unnecessary time, I like to make more marinade than needed and freeze it in ice cube trays for later. Simply transfer the cubes to a freezer bag, and use as needed. As a rule of thumb, I use one ice cube per 2 ounces of meat.
TIPS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
Skewer sandwiches don’t take themselves seriously, so neither should you.
- Branch Out: Chicken is the “fan favorite”, and a cheap, healthy, crowd-pleaser. But it’s certainly not the only way to make a great spiedie! Use whatever meat you have on hand. Lamb, pork, venison…do your thing!
- Go Veg: The marinade also is delicious on vegetables. If you’ve got vegetarians to feed, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers grill up beautifully so there’s no need to sacrifice that char-broiled taste.
- Tweak the Marinade: Use more or less herbs, dried instead of fresh, or skip the red pepper flakes if you can’t take the heat. Spiedies beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
- Hold the Mayo: Not a fan of mayonnaise? Instead of creating a sauce, simply brush the marinade on your meat after grilling. Make sure to reserve some before marinating, to avoid cross-contamination.
Go nuts and make your spiedie your own! Just whatever you do, remember… don’t add cheese.
MORE GRILLED RECIPES TO LOVE
- Asian Steak and Shishito Skewers
- Grilled Camembert with Balsamic Macerated Berries
- Tarragon Mustard Chicken Skewers
- Grilled Potato Wedge Fries with Roasted Garlic Aioli
- Piri Piri Chicken and Potato Skewers
- Yogurt Marinated Lamb Skewers with Mint-Pistachio Pesto Pilaf
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar, plus more as needed
- 10 cloves garlic, divided
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup fresh basil
- 1/4 cup fresh mint
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks.
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- Italian rolls or bread, to serve
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine lemon juice, white wine vinegar, 6 of the garlic cloves, and all of the herbs and seasonings. Process until the herbs and garlic have been minced and well-combined. Slowly stream in the olive oil while processing on low.
- If using immediately, pour all but 1/4 cup of the marinade into a large, sealable freezer bag. If making the marinade ahead, pour the marinade into an ice cube tray and freeze until solid. Then transfer the marinade cubes to a freezer bag for later use. See note.
- Add the chicken to the bag with the marinade and allow to marinate for at least 12 hours and up to 2 days, moving the marinade and chicken in the bag occasionally to make sure that the chicken is evenly coated.
- Meanwhile, make the garlic sauce. In a small bowl, combine the reserved 1/4 cup marinade (remember, this is marinade that HAS NOT touched the chicken!) with the mayonnaise. Mince the remaining garlic cloves and mix in. Thin with additional white wine vinegar, if necessary. Adjust seasoning to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat and lightly oil the grate.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade and thread onto skewers. Season with additional salt and pepper. Discard remaining marinade.
- Place skewers on the preheated grill and cook until chicken is cooked through, about 12 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove from grill and rest the meat for a few minutes.
- Lightly toast the Italian rolls. Place a skewer on each roll and squeeze the roll around the chicken to pull out the skewers.
- Top with garlic sauce and serve immediately.
When ready to use, add 1 marinade cube per 2 ounces of meat to a freezer bag. Be sure to toss occasionally to ensure that the marinade coats the meat as it thaws.
If using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak the skewers for at least 30 minutes before threading the meat on and grilling.