Field to Fork: Grilling meats for something unique

By From page B3 | July 25, 2012

Once in a while you want something special for your protein on the barbecue.

Perhaps company is coming, or you need a break from the standard chicken breast, hotdogs, plain hamburger or tri-tip.

Try at least one of these. Then you’ll want to tackle the other two.

Herbed lamb burger
An herbed-lamb burger is a simple option. The flavor is impressive. John Bledsoe at the Davis Farmers Market usually has ground lamb that originates in Dixon. The Davis Co-Op has very good product too, ready to go in the freezer case. I’m sure Nugget can accommodate you as well.

The herbed-lamb burger can be served as patties on hamburger buns. Diane and I at times create tubular-shaped, smaller patties, flatten them slightly, and grill them for convenient use within a tortilla.

The yogurt with ground cumin lends a Mideastern touch that nicely accompanies this lamb burger. Skip the ketchup and mayo. Another twist is to mix yogurt, cumin and cucumber as a side, with tomato slices on the lamb. An eggplant spread, available ready-made, might be another condiment choice.

The basic recipe appeared in Bon Appetit many years ago, suggesting the burger be served in a pita. That’s a mess to eat. Try the options above. Here are the ingredients.

1 lb. ground lamb
4 tablespoons finely chopped onion
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste

Mustard’s nearly no-fat marinated chicken

Some folk have a great antipathy to animal fats, so we’d be remiss not to offer a grilling recipe in that vein. Mustards Grill in Napa Valley developed this offering long ago for just that purpose.

When we moved to Davis in 1983, our ancient Buick LeSabre almost died coming over the Sierra. (“Died” as in limped up the bigger grades in second gear, sometimes on the shoulder.) We soon bought an old Datsun station wagon in good shape mechanically, but the silver paint job was badly scorched.

This became relevant the weekend afternoon we pulled into Mustards parking lot, after touring our new home state with the three kids for many hours. From what I saw, even the dishwasher had superior wheels. Here come the Clampetts! Ah, but the food. That type of California grilling was new to us.

Brine the chicken breasts first in the fridge for an hour (2 tablespoons kosher salt mixed in a half-gallon of water), assuring tenderness. Local chicken is easy enough to find. The Davis Food Co-Op comes to mind as a constant source.

Fresh basil is a must, and it has so many uses. But I bridle at paying a few bucks for supermarket sprigs of a fresh herb I’ll use in only one dish, especially if it’s for a marinade. A former executive chef within the Hyatt chain once gave me this advice: soak certain dried herbs, such as oregano, tarragon or thyme, in a bit of white wine for an hour or two to reconstitute them.

Rub a hot grill with vegetable oil just before grilling. It’s just one to two minutes per side for normal-sized chicken breasts. Yes, it grills very quickly. If chicken breasts are very large, cut a view opening in a thick part of a breast to check doneness.

This is excellent grilled chicken, not a serious compromise.

2 tablespoons rough-chopped basil
2 tablespoons rough-chopped oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
Pepper to taste
4 skinless chicken breasts

Steak with a full-flavored mushroom dry-rub

The bold flavor of grilled steak done in this manner usually has guests asking for the recipe. I’ve promoted it before. Its origins are lost to me. It costs a few dollars, so only people who will one day come to your funeral are worthy.

The original recipe calls for dried porcini mushrooms and a thick rib-eye steak. Yes, that’s optimal, but it’s pricey. A lesser cut of steak would be viable. Nugget occasionally has New York strip steaks on sale. The supermarkets typically sell small packets of dried porcini. Note that the seemingly excessive amount of black pepper doesn’t come through as such after grilling.

Reduce the dried mushrooms to tiny bits and dust in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients to create the marinade. Rub the steaks generously. Marinate overnight in a plastic bag in the fridge. Just before grilling, discard marinade and lightly rub the meat clean (but not too clean).

The grilling technique is everything. Local beef, grass-fed, cooks quickly anyway. This marinated beef will grill in a heartbeat. That’s one reason you must have a thick steak. We all love grill marks, so sear directly over high heat on both sides. Once seared, shift the steaks to indirect heat. (Too much charring can cancel the marinade’s flavor.) Important: let the steak sit, off the grill, for 5 to 10 minutes to settle the juices before serving.

In the better steakhouses, steaks and grilled swordfish are often finished in the kitchen with butter, which melts before it hits your table. In this dish, drizzle the steaks with a little extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The key, once again, is to have thick steaks and monitor carefully for doneness. Can’t find thick steaks for a reasonable price? Just before grilling steaks that aren’t thick, pop them in the freezer for 20 minutes, and then grill. This will heighten the contrast in doneness between the exterior and the middle.

5 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon kosher salt (half that much if table salt)
Red pepper flakes to taste (a few pinches?)
1 tablespoon ground black pepper (not a typo)
1/4 to 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
2 thick rib-eye steaks

— Dan Kennedy, a Davis resident, has a long history with the bounty of gardens and small farms. Reach him at [email protected]

Dan Kennedy

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