Pera Adana Kebabs are Still Made by Hand

Think of Sezai Çelikba as a chef de kebab.

EMAN6-LowRes3Think of Sezai Çelikba as a chef de kebab: He’s the man responsible for the succulent skewers at Pera, the 3-year old Turkish restaurant near Grand Central, and his specialty is the Adana, a mix of spicy ground lamb named for the northern Turkish city where it was originally grilled.

At Pera, Turkish fare is fine dining and even the street-food-style Adana gets top treatment: The lamb is chopped not by a Robot Coupe but by Çelikba himself, using the massively thick knife the Turks call a pala.

Çelikba learned his way around the big blade from his father, Ahmet, the chef at a famous kebab spot in Istanbul. (Ahmet’s nickname was Pala, since his moustache took the same shape as the knife.) Çelikba? still uses the moves he mastered early—”all my life, since I was 5,” he says—starting the process nearly every morning with either a whole lamb or a sizeable chunk of one.

Working first with a small knife, Çelikba strips away nerves, tendons and sinew—his expert hands slender but strong—and separates fat from muscle, cutting each into cubes until he reaches a ratio of 30 percent fat to 70 percent lean. (Saving the head, neck and shoulders for other recipes, he prefers the saddleback, a slightly marbled piece of meat that sits exactly where you’d think.) He sprinkles on kosher salt, Turkish paprika and a paste made from roughly crushed red chilies called marash, then brings out the pala, working back and forth, stopping only to pat the bright orange mass the way a baker kneads dough.

When it’s the consistency of artisanal burger meat, Çelikba kneads a lump into a fist-sized ball and slips it onto a skewer. After a six-hour rest in the refrigerator, they’re ready for the wide, gas-powered grills in Pera’s open kitchen.

Admittedly, in Turkey the grills would be charcoal and the Adanas would be at least 50 percent fat. No-holds-barred meat lovers take note: A special fat night might just be in the works.

Photo credit: Blake Sinclair

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.