By: Chef Cristian Feher
The mercury is rising, the birds are chirping and the sun is out. It’s time to dust off the old grill and do some therapeutic grilling.
How is grilling therapeutic? Think about it; you’re outdoors breathing in fresh, non-recirculated-unconditioned-air. The sun is turning your skin into a vitamin-D-producing laboratory. That burst of flame that shoots up at your face while you’re in there wondering why it won’t light - that’s exfoliating your skin! The charred bits of flavor leftover from your previous fiery feasts - they make you stronger, because according to the old adage, they haven’t killed you. And if that isn’t enough, your grill will actually burn the fat that drips off your food, so your body doesn’t have to. Grilling is therapy for the face, stomach and soul.
Most people look at a grill as just a grill. But did you realize that it’s also an oven (if it has a lid), and a stove? Your grill is basically a full outdoor kitchen with which you can do a lot more than burgers and steaks. Below are a few ideas that may tickle your grilling-bone this summer.
Grill Your Lettuce!
If you’ve taken a personal chef cooking class with me in the past, chances are that you’re experienced the delight of a grilled romaine salad. You have no idea how much flavor is hidden inside of a lettuce leaf until you put fire to it!
Cut the romaine lettuce in half, drizzle the cut side with good quality olive oil, and sear for a minute or three on a really hot grill (cut-side-down) until it begins to wilt and grill marks form. Chop it up, mix it with a garlic anchovy dressing, sprinkle with shaved Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and key lime juice for an unexpectedly flavorful Caesar salad.
Is it Steak or Pizza?
My friend Jorge made this for us in Argentina. It was one of my fondest food memories of that trip and it was insanely good - in fact, everything there was insanely good. The secret to Argentine cuisine is that they have not reinvented the mouse trap. What worked 100 years ago still works the same way today. And that antiquity in agricultural methods, farming, butchering, and cooking just happens to make every dish special, amazing, fresh and revitalizing. It’s real food.
A smoky charcoal fire. A large grass-fed sirloin steak rubbed with kosher salt and black pepper sizzles on the grill. It’s called Steak Pizzaiola. When the steak is a few minutes from perfection, you top it with a simple tomato and oregano sauce, oily sundried tomatoes, roasted red pepper strips, and sliced buffalo mozzarella. Let the cheese bubble and melt, move the steak onto a wooden board and have the lucky participants serve each other slices of this sublime dish. Fresh bread to sop up the juices left on the board? I will cut anyone who gets in my way...
You Make Your Paella in the Oven?
A paella is a traditional dish from Spain. Rice is cooked in a saffron-infused broth with your choice of meats and vegetables - the most popular being seafood, onions, peppers, capers and peas - over a coal fire in a cast iron pan called a Paellera. The unfortunate thing is that few people make it this way in North America. Most cook it on the stovetop or in the oven.
For a real Spanish paella, get a cast iron skillet, put it on a hot grill, cook your ingredients, add the rice and saffron and slowly add the stock while cooking the dish over a smoky charcoal grill, or a gas grill with some wet wood chips inside. Trust me, the smoke and cast iron make a big difference. And if you haven’t quite mastered making a paella, just hire a personal chef to teach you how ;)
Slap Some Hershey’s on the Grill!
It could be that I’m a caveman at heart, but I love to make chocolate cake on the grill. I suppose it could be an acquired taste for some, and if you think that’s you, start off by using your gas grill which should only impart a hint of smoke (as compared to a very smoky charcoal grill). This adds a rustic undertone that makes me feel happy.
Combine 1-3/4 cups of flour, 1-3/4 cups of sugar, 3/4 cup of Hershey’s cocoa powder, 1-1/2 tsp of baking soda, 1 tsp of salt, 2/3 cup of soft butter, 16oz sour cream, 2 eggs, 1 tsp or vanilla extract. Mix it all together, put in a cake pan and stick it in the grill - if you can turn the burner off underneath the cake, good, if not - turn it down to low and close the lid. Bake for 30-45 mins, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm with a big scoop of chocolate or coconut ice cream!
If you have your own creative recipes for the grill, I would love to hear about them! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy grilling everyone!