Thursday, June 07, 2007

gentlemen, to your grills

So some time ago I read an article in Food & Wine about the amazing dinner parties the owner of famed Tao throws in his perfect backyard, where he achieves heights of wackiness with the grill. To wit, he has created the grilled caiparinha and the grilled Caesar salad. I could not get these ideas completely out of my head, but yet I virtually never grill here in San Francisco. On my block, it's virtually always windy in the afternoons, with gale force winds increasing as the afternoon goes on. (In the mornings it can be quite lovely, but by the afternoon you're back indoors. My neighbor Brad once confessed that he wished he lived in the Mission, where the weather is always perfect, and indeed I myself have been wondering why the rich people choose views for prestige over weather. In ritzy Seacliff, it's usually about 20 degrees colder than in the heart of the Mission. Of course, our whingeing must be kept in perspective, given that we don't live in the fog belt, and also are spared the agonies of blizzards, tornadoes, and locusts people routinely endure elsewhere). So yes, we are spoiled and weak, but we miss the joys of summer grilling outdoors.

The husband, a product of the Midwest, believes firmly that on all major holidays, what one does is make a fire in the backyard and barbecue. It has taken years for him to come to enjoy (or convincingly fake enjoying) having my kind of barbecue, which is an upscale vegetarian feast. (At a family reunion of his, the husband's brother was cooking an actual leg of some animal over an open fire. There it was, an entire leg, poor little hoof and all. I think it was a goat... an animal I particularly admire and love. Worst of all, I couldn't just ignore it, as we all spent most of the day sitting by the slowly cooking leg, and the brother-in-law was so enamored of his cooking abilities that he kept hounding me to admire. "Isn't this the greatest? Have you ever seen a better barbecue? Aren't you amazed?" This unhappy vegetarian-at-a-barbecue feeling only added to the general malaise of being the-only-in-law-at-a-family-party-where-the-family-doesn't-consider-

On major holidays when the husband is determined to grill, I usually make a shallot-port sauce for basting, and we grill corn, potatoes, onions, and other vegetables. Of course, this Memorial Day I had the grilled potential atrocities, salad and caiparinha, in mind, despite the husband's frank admission that he did not think they sounded appetizing.

He was not the first to be unenthused. Previously in the year I had been contemplating going on a group camping trip, and I aired the possibility that I'd make grilled Caesars and caiparinhas from grilled limes, and there was a distinct, unapproving silence following this announcement. I ended up not going on the trip and not inflicting any grilled oddities on anyone, but yet the urge lingered.

And so, I finally scratched this months-old itch, and it turned out to be peculiarly satisfying because, as I am here to tell you, grilled caesars satisfy, to the point where they may be said to kick ass. It was so good that even seven year-old Iris ate heartily (and not many salads are loved by a seven year-old).

The grilled drinks were less of a sell. They were fun, and I sucked down three, but I don't think I'd go to the trouble to make them again (How they were made: cut limes into thin slices, toss with caster sugar, then grill until the sugar caramelizes on each side. Put into highball glasses and muddle the hell out of them after adding a couple of tablespoons of sugar, then build drink in the same glass).

A few weeks later, I read a restaurant review where the critic was marvelling at how one ultra-trendy new spot grills some greens to accompany grilled meat. "If you read 'Food & Wine', critic, you'd have already known about that," I thought. I believe we are on the cusp of a new trend, and what can be more satisfying than to do something before everyone else does it and then move on to the next thing? (Don't answer that; it's rhetorical).

Grilled Caesar Salad

Obtain several heads of Romaine lettuce. Cut each head so that you keep the heart but remove much of the fluffy outer leaves (just lay the intact head on the cutting board and make a horizontal cut about a third of the way down). Preserve the removed leaves for a more conventional salad. Now cut each truncated head in half vertically, through the heart. Brush with good olive oil and sprinkle a little salt and pepper on. Put on a hot grill, and grill each side about 20 seconds (our coals were not very hot, so we left it on several minutes). You're looking for it to have some grill hashmarks, but you don't want this to get overdone. Serve with Caesar dressing (preferably homemade and fresh) and with curls of Parmesan or other hard cheese (like the Tao guy, we used Manchego, which was orgasmic). [To create curls of cheese, instead of grating, use a vegetable peeler]. Que se aproveche!


Anonymous said...

Ooh! I am all over the grilled Caesar! It sounds wicked-good, and like a great way to get the boy to eat more veggies!

I think I finally became a bona fide Texan this weekend, not by owning property (which my California friends believe bestows Texas citizenship), but by purchasing my first grill, a propane-fired Coleman grill! It is the best thing ever, since my house has no central air and heat, and now we can cook outdoors instead of indoors during the summer! (Not to mention that more of the cooking duties switch to my husband, as the barbecue is the domain of the man!)

Grilled veggies are delish! We had grilled zucchini with our chicken marinated in teriyaki and pineapple juice and wrapped in bacon. It was a rockin' meal!

You are, of course, always welcome to come visit us for grilled veggies and sultry summer nights (with or without the family). :)

hughman said...

"propane and propane accessories"

Amy said...

Oh, that sounds good. I am too lazy to make it, but hopefully I will be in proximity to a grill soon.

JKG said...

I've actually had this before. And it is outstanding. But then, I have a lot of faith in fire to improve most food (and some people).

Anonymous said...

Didn't you recently also bake cucumbers and do something to celery?

the Drunken Housewife said...

I did make baked cucumbers in cream, which was magnificent, and also a cucumber risotto from the Farmer John cookbook, which was okay. I'll do the baked cucumbers again sometime.

Baked celery is very old-fashioned, and I tried it, but I wasn't thrilled with the results. "Celery Victor", if I remember the name correctly, used to be a standby.

Anonymous said...

I'll have you know I lived in the Mission/Noe Valley border and never once grilled. Still too damn cold in the evenings.

Now that I'm back in the valley, we grill all of the time. We just grilled sweet potatoes and they were a HUGE hit! We cut them very thin, tossed in olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper and grilled until crispy. Afterwards, tossed with just a bit of melted butter and fresh parsley ... yu-um!