Some of us grill throughout the year, happily tending to the flames and the food as flakes of snow fall from the night sky and sizzle on the grate.
For people who are slightly more sane, though, grilling is a summer activity.
There is something primal about grilling, the combination of flame and raw meat (or vegetable or fruit or even pizza) that tugs at the caveman within and makes us feel unified with our wild ancestors. It awakens inside us the satisfaction felt by early man after a successful hunt, knowing he would be well fed for several days.
And not to belabour the point, but grilling also happens to be delicious.
Flame, fat and food. It is cooking at its most elemental. It's easy, and it's a simple way to get big flavours out of food. And that may explain why, when we grill, we tend to grill foods that are easy and require little preparation.
The most commonly grilled foods are hotdogs, hamburgers and steak, in that order. Each is easy, none requires much work or thought at all. Each is adequate in its own way, but nothing special. That's why we're not going to talk about any of them.
Except steak. We're going to talk about steak.
One of the meats that best takes to grilling is lamb; it is hugely popular around much of the world. Basically, any countries that have lambs grill them. So knowing how much lamb is grilled all around the Mediterranean Sea, a couple of years ago I created a dish using primarily Mediterranean flavours that I (not very creatively) called Mediterranean Lamb.
Olive oil, of course, formed the base, and because onions go well with lamb, I sliced an entire onion. Garlic was a given, and I added cumin, which is frequently used along the eastern part of the Mediterranean. And then, for a bit of a bite, I added a bit of un-Mediterranean ginger.
I marinated the lamb in this mixture overnight, though you could marinate it for as little as two hours and it would still be great. The spices remain subtle, serving only to highlight the flavour of the grilled lamb.
About that steak: My favourite way of making steak in the whole world comes from a cookbook put out by the San Francisco restaurant Rose Pistola. It's called Terrorized Steak, and it involves creating a paste of fresh rosemary, fresh marjoram, plenty of garlic, olive oil, salt, two kinds of pepper and cognac. You have to respect any recipe that uses a splash or two of cognac.
This recipe is sublime; you get a powerfully flavourful piece of meat with a superb outer char and a hearty, perfectly cooked interior. I have made the dish many times to wonderful effect.
A well-grilled piece of meat, of course, deserves a well-grilled vegetable. Asparagus is always appropriate, but I have been eating so much asparagus lately that I reached instead for the old reliable, grilled corn.
Grilling corn is ridiculously easy. Soak corn, still in its husk, in water for at least 15 minutes. Place on a grill. Cook until done. Eat carefully -- it's hot -- and savour the deep, nutty flavour that comes from the grill.
And because the grill was still hot, I decided to grill a dessert. I don't think I made up the idea of a grilled chocolate-and-marmalade sandwich -- I believe I read about it some years ago, but I had wanted to make one for some time.
Simply spread marmalade liberally on one slice of bread, and cover with an ounce or so of chocolate. Top with another slice of bread, brush both sides with a little melted butter, and place on the grill. Cook on both sides until you get lovely grill marks on the bread and the melted chocolate starts oozing out from the centre.
The melted chocolate blends with the marmalade -- it is not unlike a chocolate-covered orange peel, but a little sweeter -- and it all mixes with the unmistakably toasty flavour of grilled bread.
It is so good, you just might want to skip the meat and the vegetables altogether.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1.8 kg (4 lb) boneless leg of lamb
60 ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 ml (1 tsp) cumin
5 ml (1 tsp) ground ginger
Unroll and pat dry the leg of lamb. Season generously on both sides with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, onion, garlic, cumin and ginger. Roll the lamb in the bowl to coat all sides, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.
Prepare a hot grill for indirect heat. Cook on the part of the grill away from the heat, covered, for 1 hour or until cooked medium rare or medium 60-70 C (140-160 F). Remove from heat and cover loosely with foil and allow to rest at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving and serving.
-- Recipe by Daniel Neman
Yield: 4 servings
Leaves from 6 sprigs marjoram, about 11/4 cm (5 in) long
Leaves from 6 sprigs rosemary, about 11/4 cm (5 in) long
8 garlic cloves
5 ml (1 tsp) kosher salt
5 ml (1 tsp) red pepper flakes
30 ml (2 tbsp) cognac
30 ml (2 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) freshly cracked black pepper
4 strip steaks, 3.75 cm (11/2 in) thick, about 225 g (8 oz) each
In a mortar or mini food processor, pound or process the marjoram, rosemary, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, cognac, olive oil and black pepper into a coarse paste. Rub paste evenly on both sides of the steaks. Allow the steaks to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 11/2 hours before grilling.
Grill directly over a medium-hot fire, turning occasionally, until crusty on the outside, about 5 minutes on each side for medium rare. Allow to rest briefly before serving.
Recipe from The Rose Pistola Cookbook, by Reed Hearon and Peggy Knickerbocker
Grilled Chocolate and Marmalade Sandwich
Yield: 1 sandwich
2 slices white bread
30 ml (1 oz) chocolate
30 ml (2 tbsp) orange marmalade
7.5 ml (1/2 tbsp) butter, melted
Place chocolate on 1 slice of bread, covering as much of the bread as you can. You may have to break or chop the chocolate to do so. Spread the marmalade on the other slice, and put the slices together as a sandwich. Brush melted butter on both sides of the sandwich.
Place on a medium hot grill and cook until both pieces of bread are toasted and have grill marks and the chocolate is melted, turning once. Covering the grill will help it cook faster.
-- St. Louis Post-Dispatch