Skewer and skewers in historical perspective

pollo alla griglia

Spit-roasted meat boasts very ancient origins. After all, it is the simplest meat cooking technique that can come to mind in the absence of containers suitable for the purpose and therefore already known in prehistoric times. After using hot stones or burning embers, the next step was probably to stick the pieces of meat into a pointed stick, similar to those used for hunting, and let them cook slowly, turning them from time to time without any direct contact with the fire. A simple but ingenious idea at the same time which allows for homogeneous and optimal cooking of the meat which is thus browned to perfection.

The first written testimonies on the spit technique for cooking meat date back to Homeric poems (9th century BC), particularly in the Iliad where in the first book spit cooking is described during a celebratory banquet in the final events of the Trojan War. This technique was invented in the East and then spread to Egypt, Greece, Syria, Anatolia, Armenia up to ancient Mesopotamia.
From Greece it then reached Rome particularly in the area known as Magna Graecia where food habits and customs from Hellas were imported, thus leading the spit technique to spread throughout the world Roman culture. In fact, Virgil talks about it in the Aeneid but there are also testimonies from Cicero and Pliny the Younger who describe spears or long pointed irons (called venabulum) in which pieces of meat were skewered and then placed over embers.

The evolution of the spit occurs with i Lombards, one of the large foreign populations north of the borders of the Roman Empire, with which the venabulum becomes Roman spetus and spread throughout Italy from the Middle Ages onwards. In medieval kitchens in fact, there were skewers of different lengths and types based on the quantity of meat that had to be inserted into them: they were skewers of variable height mounted on metal supports which were then improved little by little over the years. In the late medieval period, the consumption of small feathered game was particularly widespread since the hunting of large wild animals was prohibited and the spit was the preferred preparation technique, in addition to the grill.

The spit has remained a highly appreciated technique especially in the north of our peninsula, typically in the pre-Alpine area, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in Franciacorta, Val Sabbia and in Lombadia. Brescia particularly boasts a great tradition spit-roasted meat being a characteristic dish of this area and much appreciated. Initially it was prepared using only birds and the addition of butter, lard or lard as a condiment while over time loin, pork neck, sage and potatoes were introduced into the peasant tradition. The home version - widespread throughout Italy - is represented by skewers generally made with chicken meat, sausages and aromatic herbs arranged on sticks and thus served directly on the plate. A delight that is easy to prepare and excellent to enjoy on many occasions.