Now that the summer grilling season is at hand, it’s time to think about what we’re throwing on the fire these days, and how we’re serving it to guests.
As a public service, I recently attended a grilling class at Le Marais restaurant in Midtown to pick up a few tips, while sampling some tasty treats and a few shots of fine single malt in the process. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. (See video excerpts below.)
Our host and teacher, executive chef Mark Hennessey, treated us to some grilled tuna, corn chowder, lamb sliders and beef short ribs, among other delicacies. But first he taught us the difference between grilling and barbecuing.
Grilling, of course, means direct contact with the flame.
The beautiful chunk of fresh tuna he seared for us stayed on the grill just long enough to get those luscious-looking grill marks and to turn the top lightly brown-gray, while the inside remained pink. The chef served the tuna steak with watermelon, tomatoes radishes and wild arugula.
Among the side dishes for a gourmet grill outing were corn chowder (see full recipe below), and baked beans, both of which the chef garnishes with slices of kosher "bacon," made from smoked veal.
The lamb burgers were prepared from neck or shoulder cuts, which make for a stronger piece of meat since those sections are used most by the animal. Chef Mark seasons the chopped meat with rosemary and fresh mint, and adds richness with a schmear of lemon mayo. For French fries, he recommends using peanut oil because it interferes least with the natural flavor of the potatoes.
If you’d like to try dry rubs to season and marinate meat or fish, plan ahead. The chef recommends applying 12-24 hours before cooking. “A dry rub is added before to infuse flavor, while a sauce is more last-minute to create carmelization,” he says.
His favorites include Texas dry rub, with brown sugar, paprika, mustard powder and ground coriander; Memphis Dry Rub with chili powder, paprika and course ground black pepper and Kansas City Dry Rub with kosher salt, light brown sugar and chili pepper.
For grilling the main attraction, barbecued short ribs of beef, Chef Mark notes that the distinctive flavor of barbecue meat comes from smoke, and true barbecue means keeping the meat away from the flame and letting the smoke and heat do the work.
Try filling an emptied #10 can, such as those containing crushed tomatoes or pineapple slices, with hickory wood chips, puncturing the bottom with a dozen holes. The meat should be placed above the unlit part of the grill with the can of wood chips either on a side burner or on the grill. Then close the grill top, making sure there is ventilation for the smoke to escape. Chef Mark suggests slow cooking at 300 degrees for about three and a half hours.
I tied this method on Memorial Day, and not only did it avoid the waste of charred burgers and dogs but allowed all the grill items to cook evenly (rather than just the bottoms) with minimal flipping required. I used mesquite chips, but other varieties such as maple, apple or pecan also add flavor.
As a general rule of thumb, the difference between grilling and barbecue is essentially time and patience.
“Barbecue is low and slow with lots of smoke, while grilling is done relatively quickly with high heat searing,” says the chef. “If you were to go to certain parts of the country and confuse the two, you would be laughed out of town. Or worse!”