I’ve never been into grilling; yet despite my stance on it, we’ve owned three. Our first one was a small electric that we had purchased for our small terrace in our New York studio apartment. We used it three times. When we moved to a downtown-San Diego one-bedroom condo, with a considerably larger terrace, we bought a medium-size gas grill and used that no more than four times before we gave it away when we moved to New Jersey. So last year, now situated in a rural suburban townhouse, with quite a large deck that’s fitted with a natural-gas hookup, we bought an even larger grill and, as you might have already guessed, we used it maybe five times. This year, however, we decided it was time to join the grilling craze and began our outdoor grilling season with a huge ginger-soy London broil.Read more
Musing: A New Way with Lamb Chops
During these days of sheltering in place, avoiding crowds, and making the most out of what’s available at the supermarket, I’ve grown more flexible in the kitchen. This short post is one example of an old dog learning new tricks.
More often than not, when it comes to lamb chops, I opt for baby lamb chops cooked scottadito (Italian for burnt finger). Thin, lightly marinated chops are placed on hot grill pan, cooked on high for two minutes a side, and then served with a dollop of green sauce or pesto. I’ve written about them here.
Lately, however, I’ve been unable to procure these baby chops and have had to settle for thicker loin chops, which until recently weren’t turning out quite right for me. Because of their size, they were coming out either dry and over cooked or too rare and chewy.
When it comes to pure flavor, I’d have to say that tuna, raw or cooked, is my favorite fish. As a true beef lover, I find tuna the perfect substitute when trying to eat healthy. Because I truly enjoy the flavor of this fish, I like to prepare it with a minimum of ingredients and cook it as simply as possible.
My go-to recipe for this “king of the sea” is “Basic Grilled Tuna” in Mark Bittman’s Fish: Fish: Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking.
The recipe calls for marinating a thick tuna steak (1.5 to 2 pounds) in a high-quality soy sauce and olive oil marinade for an hour or less and then grilling it on a hot grill or under a broiler, and basting occasionally with the marinade. After five minutes, the steak is turned and you start checking for doneness by cutting into the steak with a thin-bladed knife.
He warns that tuna should not be cooked to the well-done stage as it will continue to cook after its removed from the heat.
The first time I prepared this recipe, I overcooked my tuna. Now I turn my fish after about 3 minutes on a hot grill pan and then cook it for about 2 minutes on the other side. Rather than using a knife, I keep my eye on the sides of the steak and remove them before the rare middle is cooked. You can see the band of “rare” tuna in the photo above.
Although Bittman provides a recipe for an optional ginger-soy dipping sauce, I prefer to serve the tuna plain with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a lemon wedge.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc
Grilled Flank Steak
After making our wills yesterday, we found ourselves somewhat dispirited. Dealing with one’s own mortality, after all, isn’t easy. So we decided it was time for some Margarita Madness, a spread of chips, salsa, guacamole, and frozen Margaritas, to restore our spirits and start the evening.
To follow this festive beginning, we opted for a simple flank steak grilled and served with a compound garlic-and-parsley butter. A visit to one of our butchers yielded one of the finest looking flank steaks I’ve ever seen.
Because they are somewhat uneven in thickness, grilling flank steaks can be a little tricky. I get over come this hurdle by keeping the thickest part of the steak closest to the direct heat of my grill pan.
While the pan is heating, I dry the steak with paper towels and liberally season one side with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle it lightly with extra-virgin olive oil. When the grill pan is hot, I place the steak on the pan, seasoned side down, with the thickest part of the steak closest to the hottest part of the pan, which is directly over the flame.
After one minute, I reduce the flame to medium and cook the steak for about 4 minutes. During this time, I season the exposed side with salt and pepper. When I see the juices starting to appear on top of the steak, I flip the steak and continue to cook for about another 4 minutes. I test for doneness by feeling the steak with my index finger. When it bounce back to the touch, it’s the perfect medium rare, for me the perfect temperature for flank steak.
I place the steak on the cutting board and place a thick round of my parsley-and-garlic compound butter in the middle of the steak and let the meat rest, tented, for about three minutes.
To serve, I slice the steak thick on an angle and serve with steamed spinach dressed with extra virgin olive oil.
For more on grilling steaks, and cooking almost any type of food and knowing when it’s done, I highly recommend James Peterson’s recently published Done.: A Cook’s Guide to Knowing When Food Is Perfectly Cooked.
Wine Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese.
Grilled Steaks, Corn on the Cob, and Tomato Salad
Gone are the days when I could eat steaks like this 3 or 4 times a week. Now, more health conscious, it’s more like a once-a-month indulgence. Rather than our small electric grill, I prefer to use a two-burner grill pan to prepare steaks like this one.
I leave the steaks out of the fridge for about an hour to let them come to room temperature. I dry them with paper towels, and season one side liberally with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. I place the steaks seasoned-side down on a preheated hot grill pan pressing down to ensure full contact with the grill. I then season the second side as I did the first.
I cook on high for one minute and then on medium for about 5 minutes more for steaks that are an 1.25 inches thick. I then flip and cook on high for one minute and on medium, again for about 5 minutes.
After each one minute sear on high, I move the steaks to the center of the grill so that they’re not directly over the flame.
After cooking, I allow the steaks to rest for several minutes before serving.
For our salad, I prepared a fresh tomato salad that I used to enjoy as a child. For the tomatoes, I used some beautiful mini San Marzano tomatoes grown in Texas by Village Farms that I just discovered at our local Whole Foods. They’re perfectly textured and delightfully sweet.
I slice the tomatoes in half and season with Kosher salt. I then add one large garlic clove thinly sliced, a pinch of dried oregano, and about 6 basil leaves torn. I drizzle the salad with extra virgin olive oil and add a small ice cube. I then cover the salad with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. The ice cube is a carry over from my aunt, who used it to extend the dressing.
Wine Pairing: Valpolicella Ripasso
I’m a steak lover: sirloin, flank, t-bone, skirt, NY-strip, almost any cut will make me happy. In my wanton middle age, I used to indulge in steak several times a week. Now, in my sixties, it’s maybe once a week. Alas, I’ve grown heath conscious.
I cook my steaks simply. Rarely do I use marinades or rubs, and when I do, it’s only for a flank or skirt steak. I also prefer to use locally raised beef and, when possible, go for grass fed. Granted, in NYC “locally” may be farther away than in other locations.
Limited to a small outdoor electric grill on the terrace, I prefer to use a two-burner grill pan. I take the steaks out of the fridge about an hour before cooking and let them come to room temperature.
While heating the grill pan, I dry the steaks with paper towels and season them liberally on one side with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, followed by a drizzle of olive oil.
When it’s hot, I lightly oil the grill and place the steaks, seasoned side down, near the center of the pan so that they are not directly over the burners. I press down firmly on the steaks to ensure that they are in full contact with the grill and get some grill marks. Note that this is the only time I press on the meat. At this point, I season the other side as I did the first with coarse salt and black pepper.
I cook the steaks for about 1 minute on high to sear them and then reduce the flame to medium. I do not move the steaks at all during cooking. Let the grill do its work.
After 6 or 7 minutes for a 1.25” strip, aiming for medium rare, I turn the steaks and return the heat to high for one minute. I then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook for about another 6 or 7 minutes, using the last minute to brown the fat on the side of the steaks. Of course, grilling times will vary depending on the thickness of the steaks and the desired level of doneness.
I remove the steaks from the grill, place them on heated plates, tent with foil and let them rest for about 3 minutes.
That’s it. I eschew making or using any sauce for steak since I find that it masks the true flavor of good local raised beef. I do, however, drizzle the steaks with a high quality extra virgin olive oil, for a touch of unctuousness.
For sides as well, I keep them as simple as possible. Baked potato with olive oil and lemon; maybe some steamed spinach. A lightly dressed arugula salad finishes the meal.
Wine Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Valpolicella Ripasso
Spicy Grilled Chicken Roman Style
Last night, we grilled on the terrace for the first time this year. Not allowed by our building to use charcoal or propane, we have a small outdoor electric grill which does have its limitations (size, heat, etc.). Nevertheless, the grill is large enough to accommodate a splayed chicken held in place with a clamp grill, like the one used to grill hot dogs.
This recipe comes from one of my favorite Italian cookbooks, Cooking the Roman Way. (The book is out or print, but is available in an affordable Kindle edition.) It calls for a four-pound chicken with its backbone removed and then flattened with a mallet. You can either do this at home or, if you’re like me, ask you butcher to do the dirty deed.
The result is a juicy lemony chicken, fragrant with rosemary and garlic, with crispy skin and moist meat.
Galleto alla Diavola (Adapted from Cooking the Roman Way by David Downie)
4 pound chicken, back bone removed , spread, and flattened with a mallet or rolling pin.
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 sprigs of rinsed and dried rosemary (remove the leaves from two and chop fine; leave the other 4 whole)
2 lemons juiced and halves flattened
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (The recipe says you can also use 2 peperoncini, Italian hot chili; but these can be rather hard to find.)
2 strips bacon
Kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper (The recipe specifies fine salt, but I chose coarse Kosher.)
1. Rinse and pat dry the chicken and place it in a baking dish large enough to accommodate it spread open.
2. In a small bowl, place the minced garlic, 2 sprigs of minced fresh rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon (or a tad more if you really like things hot) of crushed red pepper flakes, the juice of two lemons, and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Flatten the juiced lemon halves and reserve. Mix thoroughly.
3. Using a basting brush, spread this mixture on both sides (skin and meat) of the chicken.
4. Secure 1 slice of bacon with a toothpick to each inner side of the chicken. And then place two sprigs of rosemary over each slice of bacon. Top these with the flattened lemon halves. Season the chicken generously (or to taste) with Kosher salt and fresh coarsely ground black pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and/or foil and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for at least one hour or even better over night. (I went for about 8 hours.)
5. Preheat your grill or build a medium-hot charcoal fire. (You can also do this dish in the broiler, but unless you’re good at broiling, I would not attempt it.)
6. Place the chicken in the clamp grill with the rosemary. (I removed the lemons.) Clamp it shut and place the chicken on the grill. (I started skin side down.) Cook turning frequently until cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes. (Given my grill, I cooked the chicken for almost 50 minutes and turned it almost every 10 minutes.) You can tell when the chicken is done by pricking it with a fork and the juices run clear. You can also use an instant-read thermometer.
The book gives directions for cooking the chicken either under a broiler or on a grill without the clamp grill using a steel spatula. Given the frequent turning and the size of the bird, I think it’s better shelling out a few bucks for the clamp grill.
We served with fingerling potatoes roasted with garlic and herbs followed by an arugula salad.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc
Steak Night Ribeyes
After a week of being “good,” I thought we deserved some big beef. Passing by my butcher, I found some irresistible local-grown bone in ribeye steaks. Living in New York City, many of us don’t have the luxury of an outdoor grill and need to turn to alternative methods of grilling a steak. Many opt for broiling or oven roasting, but I depend on a good grill pan.
I pat the steaks dry and then season both sides liberally with kosher salt and pepper and rub the fist side to be cooked with a small amount of olive oil.
I then place the steaks on the preheated grill, pressing them down rather firmly to ensure full contact and help obtain the ever elusive grill marks. I sear the steaks on high for 1 minute and the turn the flame down to medium. I cook a 1 to 1.5 inch steak for about 7 minutes a side, cooking each side on high for the first minute.
When the steaks are done, I place them on heated plates and the let them rest tented for about 5 minutes.
On serving, I drizzle each steak a bit of first quality Tuscan extra virgin olive oil.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, Brunello