Category Archives: grill

How to Grill a Perfect Asparagus


”Summer is for leisure. Slow down. Take a break. Tune in,” the real me has been whispering to the other me for a long-long time. Multitasking and distractions have been my pet peeve this season (if not this year).  I’ve been so busy and exhausted I stopped admiring food for a while: simple fresh garden food. Can you imagine? What can be worse for the food blogger in summer? I felt food numb, almost like that hilarious food critic played by the legendary Louis de Funès in The Wingor Thigh movie (L’Aile ou la Cuisse) when he was stroke by engurdie(food numbness in French)  Naturally, I used this state as an excuse to start grilling dinners from anything I could grab fast on my way back home, mostly meat: bangers, steaks, chops, chicken breasts… Boys were happy, but soon enough I couldn’t tell apart grilled steak, pork, or chicken. They all tasted like trash to me and just added to the constant headache and fatigue. I wanted to slow down the time and get present again with the food I eat. I needed a good energy fuel. I started grilling peppers, zucchinis, radishes, scallions, eggplants, cauliflower to assuage the animal’s protein guilt and damage. Everything still tasted boring, but was at least a step up from just meat & salad. I’ve experimented with dozen takes on salsa verde and chimichurri… Hmm, better, but still boring. I couldn’t find the ingredient that would bring me back to life. I suppose this is what chefs or writers, or critics call BLOCK.  

Then the asparagus season came and I decided to stop for 30 minutes and took time to explore just ONE very simple thing: how to make a perfect grilled asparagus. The result was outstanding: I finally was able to enjoy my dinner. I also learned a new skill and for a split second actually felt accomplished. It brought me back to the focus I craved so much.

Fast, affordable, simple, elegant, light, nutritious, this dish made me happy. As they say, happiness is not perfect until it’s shared with others, so I’m sharing it with you. Packed with UMAMI, the mysterious mouth filling fifth flavor plays very well with 4 other taste receptors in this quite minimalistic dish. Asparagus is a known umami intensifier, which in this recipe is powerfully enhanced by the Asian-style brushing sauce made of olive/sesame oil, dash of soya sauce, garlic and Dijon and sesame seeds sprinkle. Wow, as simple as it is, it makes FLAVORS GALORE!

Asparagus is liked by almost everyone I know. Yet generally it is not seen as a source of huge inspiration. Well, this recipe was an inspiration to me. I’ve learned some invaluable tips on how to grill asparagus to the perfection. No biggie? Yes, biggie, because, guess what, I can almost bet, YOU didn’t know these HOWs either.

Tip No 1. Previously, I used Mark Bittman’s recipe to drizzle the asparagus with olive oil (sometimes I would stretch to bacon drippings, or duck fat) throw it on a BBQ for a good 10-15 minutes along with other vegetables. Although acceptable, my grilled asparagus always left much to be desired.

I suspected that time and temperature had to do with it, but so all us do with boiled eggs, yet very few actually know or take time to check the exact timing to boil a perfect egg hard, coddled (soft boiled), or mollet (semi-liquid yolk). Last year I was reading My Canada Eats Foie Gras memoir by food critic Jacob Richler and in one particular story famous Torontonian, Chef Marc Thuet, was explaining in a very core way that the perfectly cooked asparagus has to be al dente. A-HA!

Timing of the grilling process vary from chef to chef, critic to critic, home cook to home cook. After coming down from Bittman’s 10-15 minutes to 2-5 minutes suggested by the most famous chefs; I figured the best timing to have a medium sized asparagus grilled to perfection would be exactly  90 seconds each side as advised in this video by Chef Rodney Bowers from Toronto. This timing is best to deliver crunchy and crispy, real al dente spears you can even warm up next day in a microwave and no one would ever say it wasn’t right form a grill.

Tip No 2. I’ve always been frustrated with having to use giant tongs to grab the asparagus losing many valuable spears through the grill. It took me only few minutes to figure out the technique to grill a perfect asparagus from a pro: Sesame Grilled Asparagus recipe from Chef Steve Raichlen which I actually use for this post, with the brushing sauce slightly modified. He uses pre-soaked wooden toothpicks or bamboo skewers to make a raft boat from 4-5 spears at a time. What a genius idea!

Tip No 3. Finally, the dressing: before, during grilling, or after?  I tried all three and they all work well with me. Some don’t like the bitter touch of the burnt oil, so they prefer to season the grilled asparagus after. I personally love the taste of that char, so I brush the asparagus rafts before and during grilling.

Tip No 4. Is optional and relates to the gardening. Last fall, around mid-October I made an experiment and planted some cut offs of asparagus spears into our garden (1-2 inches deep). I completely forgot about it. Last week I was mulching and saw some tiny little asparagus sprouts popping up. WHOA! Definitely maybe I will be planting more this year (will try to use the leftovers all summer long too): it’s a beautiful perennial, great veg and makes one of the most beautiful foliage to please the eye of a picky gardener or a florist. Try it for yourself in preferably half-shadow, moist place (starting it close to compost would be the best idea) planting 3 to 4-inches long cut offs 1-2 inches deep.

That’s it for today. Please tell me if these tips worked with you.

Happy grilling!

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Two Years Ago: Fiddlehead Ferns Pasta
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SESAME GRILLED ASPARAGUS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
Ingredients:
Wooden toothpicks or bamboo skewers
1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons mixed sesame seeds
Salt and black pepper

Instructions:

Soak skewers in cold water for 1 hour in a shallow pan. Drain and set aside.

Preheat grill to high. Snap off the woody bases of the asparagus and discard. Skewer 4 or 5 asparagus spears together, using the toothpicks or 2 bamboo skewers, forming a raft shape.

Combine the olive, sesame oil, soy sauce, mustard and garlic in a small bowl. Stir with a fork to mix. Brush this mixture on the asparagus rafts on both sides. Season the asparagus with a little salt and lots of pepper.

When ready to cook, place the asparagus rafts on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned on both sides, 90 seconds per side. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds as they grill. You can serve the asparagus as rafts or un-skewered.

Note: This recipe makes a large quantity. If necessary, cut the amounts of ingredients accordingly.

Adapted from: Sesame Grilled Asparagus, by Steve Raichlen

No Problem Jamaican Jerk from Sunny Negril

Last weekend was blessed with sunshine, we needed so badly to catch up with endless home and garden chores and have the final year’s swim. We also made some excellent grill dedicated to Jamaican Jerk. Traditionally slow-cooked and smoked to delicious perfection, Jerk is a passport to Jamaican street food. This recipe was brought from sunny Negril. If you are anything like me, once you tried a real thing you would always want to make it at home. We make it in every season, even in winter, yes, that’s how much we like it. There is something magical about the jerk, something very West Indies about, embracing all traditional spices, condiments and the taste of Caribbean in general. And it’s super-hot! Nice green salad and beer are the must companions for the Jerk.
Away from wind, rain and cold and back to the happiest memories of so many wonderful vacations with friends and family… We are going to one of my favorite Caribbean food destinations, the reggae homeland, Jamaica. Mon, I love this country. It has everything the perfect vacation is about: clear waters, pristine beaches, lush islands, emerald rivers, fascinating falls, world’s best Blue Mountain coffee, reggae music, fun people and, of course, all kinds of JERK!
There is even a Jerk Trail guide mapwith few dozen of jerk eateries around the island featuring the best jerk dishes, which are not only limited to chicken, but also include pork, shrimp, sausage, even conch specialties. Particularly in Negril, I would currently also add my favorite 3 Dives and De Bar spots to the list of the most authentic Jamaican jerk experiences.
Something tells me a day on the beautiful beach followed by great local specialty sunset dinner to live reggae music for a pocket change is not only my idea of perfect. Speaking of the beach, the Seven Mile Beach in Negril is of course one of the best beaches in Jamaica (which is, reportedly and sadly, now slowly vanishing). Our favorite part of the beach stretch though is along the shore of the Bloody Bay lined in the forest of towering palms at the level of Breezes and Couples Negril hotels (the letter is hard to beat with their level of services and never disappoints).
No need to dress up, a nice barefoot walk in white powdery sand, with clear turquoise water lapping at your toes is all you need to discover the mini-Jamaica from day one: fresh breeze, smell of the pit-fire pimento leaves smoked Jerk, vendors and musicians in those quirky Jamaican hats, little food shacks made of the drift wood…

I’m still keeping one of the little bracelets the funky guy in marijuana glasses (he was smoking pot at the same time) was making for everyone passing by and just giving them away. For those interested, he was also giving a quick lecture about Rastafarianism…

And how about snorkeling, diving in caves, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and some ocean horseback riding experiences – who on Earth can forget that thrill…

I’ve been to different parts of Jamaica and had some of the most authentic jerk experiences from street stands to beach shacks to dinner huts to hotels and restaurants. Every Jamaican chef has his/her own variation of marinade, but there are some key ingredients to it, including allspice (pimento), scallions, thyme, onion, ginger, lime and scotch bonnet peppers.

Warning: scotch bonnet peppers are extremely hot. If you don’t like it too hot and more than one scotch bonnet pepper sounds incendiary to you, limit the recipe to one scotch bonnet pepper only and then taste the marinade to figure out if you’d like to add a few more. Keep a bunch of Red Stripe beer in your fridge to cool down the flames Jamaican way.
Some Jamaican chefs like John Bull from Reggae Kitchen, don’t use ginger in marinade (he remarkably refers to his jerk prep as ‘maya-neering’ or, sometimes, ‘money-raiding’ (perhaps when he wants to share some ganja tales at the same time). Others, like the Carribeanpot Chef, do and my final collective and tested recipe is close to his.
Don’t be put off by the list of marinade ingredients. It really takes maximum 10 minutes to prepare, as long as you are mentally ready and the list is checked off. Just put everything except chicken in a food processor or blender, and puree the ingredients into the paste. Rub it into the chicken immediately and store in the fridge overnight.  Once the chicken is marinated, you can use the classic grill-smoking, oven-baking or pan-frying methods to cook it.
Note: slightly scoring chicken helps to improve the marination process.
Grilling Method:
Traditionally, the jerk is slowly cooked over the pit fire coals with lots of added smoke from pimento leaves.  At the end it’s supposed to be charred, but not over-charred. For additional smoke in your BBQ, add some smoke chips to the grill or place a piece of smoking wood (spraying it with water when it ignites).
Preheat the grill to medium-high or build a medium hot charcoal grill. Clean and lightly oil the grill. Place chicken skin side down, grill for 5 minutes to form the crust. Turn to the other side. Grill for another 5 minutes.  Cover the grill and lower the heat to the minimum. Continue grilling until cooked through for about 30-40 minutes, turning often to prevent burning. Alternatively, (and if/or pressed with other chores), you can transfer the 10-minutes grilled chicken to 350F oven and finish by baking it for 30-40 minutes.
Oven Method:
Preheat the oven to 400F. Place chicken in foiled and greased pan skin side up. Roast for 20 minutes. Turn chicken to the other side. Lower the heat to 350F and bake for another 15 minutes. Turn chicken back to skin side up and bake for another 15 minutes, or until cooked through and the juices are running clear. Transfer chicken to platter, cover loosely with foil and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Pan-Frying Method:
On a cold rainy night, try a simplified ‘spatchcocking’ (flattening) pan-fried method (I described previously in other chicken recipe) for faster and juicier results. Turn on the exhaust (you really need it for this method – the nice cooking jerk smell will go all over the place). Place the chicken on a medium-heated skillet with a bit of oil (1 tsp), brown slightly on one side for 5-6 minutes, turn, cover with heat-resistant plate and weight (I used the flat stone, you can use the brick or the pan filled with water). You will be surprised how moist, tender, yet crispy your marinated jerk can come out from just a frying pan in less than 30 minutes. Of course, this no longer will be a smoked version of jerk, but you will still get most of its amazing flavors.
Serve with a big green salad (like watercress chopped salad I posted previously) and rice to offset the heat and, naturally, a tall glass of cold beer (Red Stripe would bring you closer to Jamaican experience).
Are you ready now to make Jamaican Jerk in your kitchen? Let’s put some nice reggae from a wonderful soundtrack of the Chef movie and proceed to the recipe:

Cheers to the Jerk! Indulge yourself in real Jamaican flavors…
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One year ago: Indian Summer Dinner
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SPICY JAMAICAN JERK CHICKEN & MARINADE*
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
*Note: This marinade is also good for grilled pork, fish or sausages.

Ingredients:

2 small to medium-sized chicken (preferably, free range), cut in 4 parts each
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp soya sauce
2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
5-6 tbsp apple cider vinegar (optionally, other vinegar)
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1 orange (or ¼ cup of orange juice)
1 bunch of (6-10) scallions, coarsely chopped
½ small onion, coarsely chopped
1 thumb knuckle of ginger, skin on
1 tbsp allspice, (preferably, freshly ground)
1 tsp dried thyme or 2 tbsp fresh thyme
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
3 cloves garlic
1 to 5 scotch bonnet peppers (begin with one and add more after for more heat if desired)*
2-3 tbsp of brown sugar, or Maple Syrup (for Canadian twist)
2 tbsp coarse sea salt
*Note: alternatively, replace scotch bonnet peppers with equal amount of habanero peppers, or double of jalapeno peppers, or 1/3 cup of scotch bonnet sauce.
Instructions:
Lightly score the chicken pieces with few not too deep slits. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.
Mix the rest of the ingredients in a blender or food processor (liquids first, then solids) into a puree. Taste for the salt and add more if desired. Check for spicy, sweet and sour:  the marinade should taste sour-sweet-salt-spicy good and balanced.
Rub the chicken with marinade and refrigerate overnight (to three-five days).
Use one of the cooking methods listed above with instructions: grilled, oven-cooked or pan-fried.
Serve with traditional rice and beans, green salad and beer.

End of Line Adventures: Whole Fish Grilled or Baked in Salt


‘Eww, what’s that?’ I can hear you saying looking at the images while I’m posting this almost a week upon drafting (sorry, I’m temporarily in vacation and away from my computer). Well, what can I say, at least I’m not offering you a blood sausage or a liver pate (not just yet, because one day I surely will). Some foods deserve more attention than they actually get and a whole fish is one of them… I know that besides the ocean/lake taste, scaling, gutting or de-boning fish may repulse some people and I do hope you are not one of them. But if you are, in favor of its deservingly good rep among healthy celeb foodies like Martha Stewart, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sting, Trudie Styler and others, I can tell you that poached, steamed, baked, roasted or grilled whole fish is actually considered to be a light and elegant meal by many; and is a must do on many personal chefs’ menus.  This recipe is one of the easiest and the most impressive one in this repertoire.
Here is what you can do with a pack of salt and one whole fish. Just gut the fish, keep the scale on, wrap it in salt (with the choice of your seasoning) and grill it or bake it for 25 to 35 minutes depending on the size of the fish. I personally find this trick (leaving the scale on) invaluable for fishing or camping menus, when you catch a great perch or walleye (both are great tasting fish, but a bloody disaster when it comes to scaling).  The scale will come off with the salt crust easily upon cooking (where not, just gently remove it with the sharp knife). 
The result: moist, well-done, packed with oceanic or lake flavors tamed by the diffusing aromas of whichever herbs, condiment or spices (from peppercorns and bay leaf to mustard, sriracha, soya sauce, to lemon, bacon, salami, parsley, thyme, or just any edible wild grass you can find around your camping spot including young cattails shoots and wild garlic) you decide to insert in the fish cavity before encrusting it in salt.  Truly, I’ve seen no better or easier way to bake, roast or grill the whole fish to perfection, keeping it simple, not to mention the impressive presentation. Don’t worry about the saltiness, once you break off the crust and remove the salt, the flesh will be just perfectly salty and succulent. 
Earlier this summer we went for our first fishing trip this year to Champlain Lake at the US border for walleye and perch, but only caught some baby pikes, which we released back into the lake. For the times like that I always bring at least one whole fresh fish with me in the cooler to grill later on a BBQ, so we can embrace the ambiance and the great fishing spirit no matter what, and share the incredible fishing stories over the plate of what could have been the fish we caught. 

This time is was a haddock (previously I also salt-crusted successfully white fish, tilapia, perch and walleye). Haddock is great for the recipe: the flavors are enhanced and there is some smokiness added to the taste. We had it with salsa verde and fingerling potatoes and everyone loved the tender savory fillets sprinkled with parsley and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. 

Great tip from Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen:rub the fish with soya sauce before encrusting it in salt to give it some Asian flavor kick:
Even those in our gang who don’t usually admire any kind of fish (they fish for sport, we fish for fish) reluctantly admitted it tasted great. You will never know until you try it for yourself. Good luck fishing and grilling; and as the Irish blessing says: ‘May the holes in your net be no larger than the fish in it.’


WHOLE FISH BAKED OR GRILLED IN SALT CRUST
Ingredients:
One whole fresh fish (1 to 2 lbs), gutted, with head, tail and scales left on
1 tbsp soya sauce, rubbed in fish (optional)
8-10 black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
Small bunch of fresh parsley (or mix of parsley and thyme), chopped
2-3 lbs of coarse salt, preferably sea salt
3+ tbsp of water or beer (to mix with salt)
Lemon, butter, olive oil to sprinkle with when serving
2-3 scallions and some fresh parsley, minced, for garnish
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 400F, or the BBQ to medium high.
Rinse the fish in cold water, pat dry with paper towels. Insert the peppercorns and parsley inside the cavity of the fish.
Mix the salt in a bowl with enough water or beer to make a consistency of the sand castle sand. Spread half quantity of the salt on a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil slightly bigger than the fish. Lay the bay leaves on the salt and place the fish on the bay leaves. Spread the remaining slat over the fish until it’s totally encrusted. Leave the tail fin exposed if necessary.
Place the pan with fish on the middle rack in the oven or on the BBQ grill and bake for 25 (for 1 lbs) to 35 (for 2 lbs fish) minutes. The salt crust will become dry and hard. Remove the fish and gently crack of the layer of salt, removing as much as you can. The skin will come off the fish as well (use the sharp knife to remove the rest if necessary).   
Remove the fish fillets and divide between warm serving plates. Drizzle with olive oil or melted butter and lemon juice and sprinkle with scallions and chopped parsley if desired.

Cajun Grill Summer Fiesta

If you ask me what I’ve been grilling lately, my answer would be: what haven’t I been grilling lately. From classic meat, poultry and fish to pizza to all kind of veggies, including bok choy, Swiss chard and scallions and now we’ve even upgraded ourselves to grilling the fruits too. Peaches, pears, apples, even grapes – everything flies into our BBQ for that juicy quick char and we can’t get enough of it. And what can be faster and more convenient way to decompress after a hard working day and traffic on a cool summer evening? Here are the images of our latest Cajun grill char summer fiesta dinner with the tips on how you can char grill restaurant quality chops, fruits and veggies.

Everything you see was seasoned with practically one home-made spice: Cajun Spice Mix. 
A friend from New Orleans passed us his killer Cajun spice recipe long time ago and I can’t stop appreciating it. Mixed with a bit of olive oil, Worcestershire sauce and sometimes a dash of Jerk or Tabasco it makes a fantastic rub for the pork chops in an instant.  
These are our simple and easy apps for the Cajun spice and that restaurant quality char grill (polished with practice) blackening and the perfect diamond grill marks everybody’s looking for:
Cajun Spice Mix (see the recipe below) is not hard to make as long as you have all the right ingredients. The tips are:

  • Avoid using table salt (it makes the mix too salty and less flavorful) – use Kosher, Himalayan, Maldon, Fleur de Sel, sea salt, etc., but avoid the table salt by all means
  •  Try to use freshly ground black pepper when you can;
  •  Use garlic and onion granules instead of powder to prevent sticking and burning;
  •  Feel free to include or exclude any extra spices of your choice (in moderation) to find your ideal mix.

For the perfect grill marks and quality results with your pork chops (charred on the outside, tender and juice on the inside):

  • Always pat-dry the meat before seasoning, including before marinating or rubbing;
  • Allow the chops to sit for at least 10 minutes in the fridge upon rubbing and before grilling;
  • Heat the grill to high. Clean with brush and brush with oil;
  •  Place your chops on the grate on the high heat at a 45-degree angle to get a single strip of angled marks (1 minute max);  
  • Rotate about 60 to 80 degrees for a diamond-grid pattern (1 minute max). Repeat on the other side (another two minutes);
  • Lower the heat to medium low and cook chops for another 10 minutes (15 minutes max in total) away from direct heat to prevent burning and drying and to attain that juicy tender yet well done state;
  • Do not over-grill your chops (12-15 minutes max in total) or they will become tough.
  • And that’s it: congratulations, you have just made the criss-cross of a pro!

As for the veggies and fruits, just slice them in not less than ½ inch thick, sprinkle with Cajun Spice Mix and throw on the grill for 1 minute each side. Turn carefully as some (like watermelon) can be fragile.

Serve immediately with your favorite BBQ sauce (suggestions: Tkemali or the Spicy Cajun BBQ Sauce below) and/or a quick mix of Salsa Verde with some extra lemon juice, minced garlic and chopped parsley. I also had a bit of currents from our garden, so I gave them a quick stir with a splash of white wine and a dash of maple syrup to make a quick dressing coulis. 

Amazing!  I hope you will find some tricks useful. Enjoy your grilling!

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CAJUN GRILLED PORK CHOPS, CORN, PINEAPPLE & MELON
For: Cajun Spice Mix
¼ cup quality salt
¼ cup paprika
¼ garlic granules or powder
¼ cup black pepper
2 tbsp onion granules or powder
2 tbsp dry oregano
2 tbsp dry thyme
1 tsp dry basil
½ tsp crushed bay leaves
½ tsp red chili flakes
Dash of ground coffee (optional)
Instructions:
Mix all ingredients together and store in the air tight container in a dry dark place for up to 6 months.
For Cajun Fiesta Grilled Pork Chops
  
Yields: 6 portions
¼ cup Cajun spice mix (see recipe above)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
6 medium size pork chops ½ to ¾ inch thick
Instructions:
Mix first three ingredients in a bowl and rub both sides of each chop. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before grilling. Preheat the grill to the high. Place the chops on direct heat for one minute to char at a 45-degree angle to get a single strip of angled marks for one minute. Rotate about 60 to 80 degrees for a diamond-grid pattern for another minute. Repeat on the other side. Lower the heat to medium low and cook chops for another 10-12 minutes away from direct heat to prevent burning and drying and to attain the juicy tender yet well done state. Cover with aluminum foil and let sit for 5 minutes before serving on the heated plates.
For Spicy Cajun BBQ Sauce
1 cup ketchup
4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Yellow mustard
1 tsp Spicy Dijon or Hot Creole mustard
¼ cup molasses
2 tbsp red vinegar (optional)
6 dashes Tabasco sauce or 4 Habanero sauce or 4 Jerk
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion or shallot finely chopped
1 tsp Cajun Spice Mix (above)
Instructions:
Mix all the ingredients in the saucepan and bring to boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Keep warm until ready to use.