Friday, May 27, 2011

Summer is for Grilling

Memorial Day is approaching and that traditionally signals the beginning of summer. Grilling is such a great way to impart flavor to foods, and since this blog is all about flavor, I would be amiss to not cover this universally-embraced cooking technique.

Did you know that grilling food is the single most important reason for the successful development of the human race? Amazon carries a book called Catching Fire - How cooking made us human. Looks like an interesting read. The review says, "Contrary to the dogmas of raw-foods enthusiasts, cooked cuisine was central to the biological and social evolution of humanity, argues this fascinating study. Harvard biological anthropologist Wrangham dates the breakthrough in human evolution to a moment 1.8 million years ago, when, he conjectures, our forebears tamed fire and began cooking. Starting with Homo erectus, these innovations drove anatomical and physiological changes that make us adapted to eating cooked food the way cows are adapted to eating grass. By making food more digestible and easier to extract energy from, Wrangham reasons, cooking enabled hominids' jaws, teeth and guts to shrink, freeing up calories to fuel their expanding brains. It also gave rise to pair bonding and table manners, and liberated mankind from the drudgery of chewing (while chaining womankind to the stove). Wrangham's lucid, accessible treatise ranges across nutritional science, paleontology and studies of ape behavior and hunter-gatherer societies; the result is a tour de force of natural history and a profound analysis of cooking's role in daily life. More than that, Wrangham offers a provocative take on evolution—suggesting that, rather than humans creating civilized technology, civilized technology created us."

Ok, so back to this weekend. If your plans call for spending time with friends and family, as ours do, especially outdoors, enjoying the great weather (it’s in the 70’s where I live – perfect!), then a grill fest is sure to be in order. Our friends Anna and Mike are hosting the fete: a Sausage and Beer Fest. Should be great.

Here are some great grilling tips to keep in mind before you light up:

1. Use the right equipment – flat, all-metal skewers are great for grilling vegetables, a small spray bottle filled with water to put out any small fires that may erupt, a silicone basting brush, a wire brush to clean the grill, and a pair of extra-long metal tongs for moving things around on the grill.

2. Start with a clean, oiled grill – A clean grill reduced sticking food and flare-ups. Scrub grill clean with a stiff wire brush, then brush the entire grate with a neutral-flavored cooking oil such as canola, grapeseed or vegetable oil. Extra virgin olive oil is too precious to use here and is also not suited for high-heat grilling.
3. Bring ingredients to room temperature – moving meat and vegetables straight from the fridge to the grill leads to uneven cooking. Let foods come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before putting them on the grill.
4. Score steaks and chops – leave ¼ to ½ inch of fat on steaks and chops for natural basting and real flavor in the cooked meat but be sure to score the fat (make small cuts in it) so the meat doesn’t curl up while on the grill.
5. Wrap fish in leaves – protect fish from the heat of the grill by wrapping whole fish or fillets in large leaves such as grape leaves, fig leaves, banana leaves or corn husks. They also make a great presentation as you bring them that way to the table.
6. Use herbs for added flavor – tie a bunch of herbs together, particularly rosemary, and use them as a basting brush, but also add sprigs of hardy herbs to the smoker tray of your grill to impart additional flavor to the food.
7. Prevent Flare-Ups – Flare ups burn food, add bitter char, and increase carcinogens in grilled foods. Starting with a clean grill will help, so will cooking with the lid on (completely or slightly ajar). To manager flare-ups that occur despite these precautions, keep a small spray bottle filled with water at the grill, ready to spritz rogue flare-ups.
8. Flip Once – limit handling items on the grill. Grill completely on one side before turning or flipping, and then cook completely on the other side. Minimizing handling helps meat hold on to its juices and everything develop attractive grill marks.
9. Touch your food – chefs can tell when meat is done just by poking it. With a little practice, so can you. Raw meat feels very soft, rare meat is still soft, medium rare is fairly resistant but yields a bit, medium springs back at you a bit quicker, medium well and well will be solidly firm. This is something you can only learn with practice, so start poking!
10. Let food rest – this tip is particularly important for all poultry and meat. Let meat rest – sit at room temperature (tented with foil to keep warm, if you like) to allow the moisture and heat inside to distribute evenly. Resting is the final step in cooking meat and should not be overlooked. Ten to fifteen minutes is good for most items.

So, let your inner caveman/woman get the better of you this weekend and fire up your grill. By the way, grilled asparagus, if you can still find any around, is wonderful and takes only minutes.

Grilled Asparagus

  • a bunch of asparagus
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • coarse, or regular, high-quality sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
Wash asparagus and peel, especially the tougher bottoms. Lay out evenly, so none overlap, on a foil-lined grill. Drizzle with the oil, salt and pepper. Grill for about 5-7 minutes on medium low, watching the whole time.
Take off grill and enjoy immediately!
Happy Memorial Day!

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