There is something primal about grilling, the combination of flame and raw meat (or vegetable or fruit or even pizza) that tugs at the caveman within and makes us feel unified with our wild ancestors. It awakens inside us the satisfaction felt by early man after a successful hunt, knowing they would be well fed for several days.
It is cooking at its most elemental. It’s easy, and it’s a simple way to get big flavors out of food. And that may explain why, when we grill, we tend to grill foods that are easy and require little preparation.
The most commonly grilled foods are hot dogs, hamburgers and steak, in that order. Each is easy; none requires much work or thought at all. Each is adequate in its own way, but nothing special. That’s why we’re not going to talk about any of them.
Except steak. We’re going to talk about steak.
Before that, though, let’s begin with chicken. Throughout the southern US and Central America is a fast-food chain called Pollo Tropical. With its Cuban-inspired flavors, it may be my favorite fast food anywhere.
Grilled chicken, which is served with rice and beans, is the signature dish. The chicken is clearly marinated in some combination of citrus juices, but after eating it several times I still didn’t know what they were.
That was before the invention of the Internet. I know now, or at least suspect, that they marinate their chicken in a combination of pineapple juice and bitter orange juice. And therein lay a problem. Bitter orange juice is impossible to find here. So we simply substituted two parts of lemon or lime juice and one part of orange juice for the bitter orange.
One of the meats that best takes to grilling is lamb; it is hugely popular around much of the world. Basically, any countries that have lambs grill them. I created a dish using primarily Mediterranean flavors. Olive oil, of course, formed the base, and because onions go well with lamb, I sliced an entire onion. Garlic was a given, and I added cumin. And then, for a bit of a bite, I added a bit of non-Mediterranean ginger.
I marinated the lamb in this mixture overnight, though you could marinate it for as little as two hours and it would still be great. The spices remain subtle, serving only to highlight the flavor of the grilled lamb.
About that steak: My favorite way of making steak in the whole world comes from a cookbook put out by the San Francisco restaurant Rose Pistola. It’s called Terrorized Steak, and it involves creating a paste of fresh rosemary, fresh marjoram, plenty of garlic, olive oil, salt, two kinds of pepper and cognac. You have to respect any recipe that uses a splash or two of cognac.
A well-grilled piece of meat, of course, deserves a well-grilled vegetable.
Grilling corn is ridiculously easy. Soak corn, still in its husk, in water for at least 15 minutes. Place on a grill. Cook until done. Eat carefully – it’s hot – and savor the deep, nutty flavor that comes from the grill. And because the grill was still hot, I decided to grill a dessert.
I don’t think I made up the idea of a grilled chocolate-and-marmalade sandwich, I believe I read about it some years ago, but I had wanted to make one for some time.
Simply spread marmalade liberally on one slice of bread, and cover with an 25 grams or so of chocolate. Top with another slice of bread, brush both sides with a little melted margarine and place on the grill. Cook on both sides until you get lovely grill marks on the bread, and the melted chocolate starts oozing out from the center. It is so good, you just might want to skip the meat and the vegetables altogether.TROPICAL CHICKEN
Yields: 2 to 4 servings
1 kg. cut-up chicken, your favorite pieces
1 Tbsp. fresh garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. white pepper
4 cups sour orange juice (or 2½ cups lemon juice and 1½ cups orange juice), see note
1 cup pineapple juice
Pat chicken dry. With edge of knife or mortar and pestle, mash together garlic, cilantro, jalapeño, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper until it forms a coarse paste. A sprinkling of kosher salt will help it form a paste, if necessary. Spread paste evenly over chicken.
Mix together sour orange juice and pineapple juice in a large bowl. Add chicken to the juices, cover and marinate in the refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight.
Arrange grill for indirect cooking and heat to medium hot. Place chicken on the side of the grill away from the heat and cover. Cook 40 to 50 minutes for white meat, 1 hour for dark meat, turning once.
Serve with rice and black beans.MEDITERRANEAN LAMB
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1 (2 kg.) boneless leg of lamb
¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground ginger
Unroll and pat dry the leg of lamb. Season generously on both sides with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, onion, garlic, cumin and ginger. Roll the lamb in the bowl to coat all sides, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.
Prepare a hot grill for indirect heat. Cook on the part of the grill away from the heat, covered, for 1 hour or until cooked medium rare or medium.
Remove from heat and cover loosely with foil and allow to rest at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving and serving.GRILLED CORN ON THE COB
Yield: 1 serving
1 ear corn in the husk
Soak corn, still in the husk, in water at least 15 minutes.
Set on grate over medium-high fire. Cook 15 minutes, turning occasionally, or until you smell corn cooking. Shuck before serving with margarine and salt.TERRORIZED STEAK
Yield: 4 servings
Leaves from 6 sprigs marjoram
Leaves from 6 sprigs rosemary
8 garlic cloves
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. cognac
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. freshly cracked black pepper
4 strip steaks, 4-5 cm. thick, about 220 gr. each
In a mortar or mini food processor, pound or process the marjoram, rosemary, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, cognac, olive oil and black pepper into a coarse paste. Rub paste evenly on both sides of the steaks. Allow the steaks to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 1½ hours before grilling.
Grill directly over a mediumhot fire, turning occasionally, until crusty on the outside, about 5 minutes on each side for medium rare. Allow to rest briefly before serving.
GRILLED CHOCOLATE AND MARMALADE SANDWICH
Yield: 1 sandwich
2 slices white bread
25 gr. chocolate
2 Tbsp. orange marmalade
½ Tbsp. margarine, melted
Place chocolate on 1 slice of bread, covering as much of the bread as you can. You may have to break or chop the chocolate to do so. Spread the marmalade on the other slice and put the slices together as a sandwich.
Brush melted margarine on both sides of the sandwich.
Place on a medium hot grill and cook until both pieces of bread are toasted and have grill marks and the chocolate is melted, turning once. Covering the grill will help it cook faster.
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT)