On Your Table: It’s Grilling Season

Summer is here, so is delicious flavor

By Cathy BranciaroliFood Correspondent, The Times

Grilled fruits combined with vegetables add smokiness and sweetness to summer salsas.

Grilled fruits combined with vegetables add smokiness and sweetness to summer salsas.

In late June it’s already high summer, so get ready to get cooking with fire – grilling that is. Grilling brings out the best in the usual roster of meats, fish and vegetables. After a stint on the grill they emerge flame-licked and charred. The smoke, heat and aromas yield added flavors to enhance those already present in these delicious foods. But oh the choices.

It’s great that you’ve decided to grill for a family dinner. But here is where the great debates begin – will my food taste better grilled with charcoal or gas, and should I prepare the food using a marinade or a rub.  

First off is the choice of heat source and opinions support both sides.   Charcoal grills have devoted fans. Lighting them, either with lump charcoal or briquettes can take practice. But the rewards are deeply flavorful.

On the other hand, gas grills are easy to use but some claim less flavorful because they don’t deliver smoky charcoal flavor. In any case, only one side of the grill should have hot coals or lighted burners. This zone produces direct heat that quickly sears the food and gets it a little charred. This is particularly great for larger, denser ingredients. The other side receives indirect heat from the nearby flames for slower cooking or for finishing food already seared on one side.

As to the matter of marinades versus rubs it also depends, this time on the food you are cooking. As a general rule, marinate thinner meats, seafood and vegetables. Use seasoning rubs on thicker cut meats like steaks or pork chops.

Marinade and Rub Recipes: While we call these recipes, they really are just choices of ingredients. For marinades, toss a few tablespoons of oil with a drizzle soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, salt and pepper along with your favorite seasonings in a plastic zip bag. Then drop the food in, shake and refrigerate for a few hours. Another quick marinade is a combination of oil white wine, sage, garlic and ground pepper prepared the same way. Rubs are basically salt and pepper with chili pepper, garlic powder, paprika, cumin and a dash of sugar. Combine the ingredients then pat onto the meat. Let sit for 30 minutes to one hour to allow the seasonings to penetrate.

Grilling Tips:

Chicken is more complicated to cook well than other meats because it can dry out quickly, particularly chicken breasts which should always be marinated.

Seafood is a snap to cook on the grill. Whole fish brushed with oil and whose cavity is stuffed with lemons and fresh herbs can be placed directly on the cooking grates. Use two spatulas to turn the fish and grill till crisp on both sides. For filleted fish make sure to place the fatty side down first.

Meats are the heroes of a grill and can be grilled, smoked, barbequed. Remember that meats with bones take longer to cook then boneless. Temperature can be determined with a meat thermometer, just make sure it is not touching the bone.

Fruits and vegetables of almost every sort can be cooked on the grill, particularly fruits with natural sweetness, and vegetables like peppers or eggplants that can spend a lot of time on low heat without suffering.   Both fruits and vegetables can be used creatively. Try combining grilled, cooled and diced mango, peppers and pineapple with chopped red onions and cilantro and sprinkled with lime juice. Chill and serve with tortilla chips for a flavorful salsa.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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