Hot Tips for Good Grilling

According to some top area chefs, if you take the proper time to prepare and season your food — and pay enough attention so it doesn’t overcook or undercook — you just might be able to put something on your table as tasty as they do.

What’s cooking?
That can be anything from an informal greeting, to an inquiry about work, to trying to find out what’s for dinner.
In this case, what’s for dinner this summer?
According to some top area chefs, if you take the proper time to prepare and season your food — and pay enough attention so it doesn’t overcook or undercook — you just might be able to put something on your table as tasty as they do.
There’s a certain art to summertime cooking, especially since much of it will be on the grill.
“Grilling should be about simplicity,” said Michael Solomonov, renowned chef from Zahav in Society Hill, who just returned from a trip to Israel. “It’s about highlighting the product that you’re working with.
“Over-complicated sauces aren’t necessary. Marinating your product is important, as are sturdy skewers and, of course, charcoal.”
That brings up an important debate: What if you don’t have a charcoal grill — only a gas one?
“There are pros and cons,” replied Yehuda Sichel, chef at Abe Fisher, a sister restaurant to Zahav. “Charcoal is harder to maintain and harder to clean, but the flavor is better because you’re getting flavor from the charcoal and not just the gas.
“But whatever you use, make sure the grill is hot and clean and the meat is seasoned with salt. And the important thing is to pay attention. A lot of people just overcook their meat because they don’t pay enough attention.
“I’ve been cooking 15 years, and I still pay attention.”
So does chef Erin O’Shea of Percy Street Barbecue, who loves making the seasonal transition.
“Cooking in the summer is quite different from cooking in the winter,” she explained. “It’s a whole different feel, as the food we prepare is lighter in every sense. Think of lots of salads and fish — generally dishes that require less cook time with simpler, cleaner flavors than a long winter braise.
“At the restaurant, we always tease the cold-side crew that, as summer approaches, they better get ready to step up their game.”
The game’s also on at Abe Fisher, where Sichel’s signature summer dish is a steak unlike anything you’ll find at Ponderosa.
“In summer, I usually do a dry-aged 35-day ribeye steak for two,” said Sichel, a Baltimore native now living in Elkins Park. “I like an on-the-bone ribeye, usually about two pounds. With the fat from the steak, some will render out and go into the flame. That gives the steak a smokier flavor, which comes from the fat dripping.
“It’s a showstopper.”
But don’t be afraid to try it at home.
“This steak is easy to do at home,” Sichel said. “Make sure to pull it out of the refrigerator about an hour before [grilling] so it can temp up, and put lots of salt and pepper on there.
“The bigger the steak, the better opportunity to get a really nice char and caramelization. It’s not as easy to overcook because you have a larger window.”
The window is wide open when it comes to choices. The key is not just throwing something on the grill, forgetting about it for a while, then coming back to see something barely recognizable.
“If you’re going to grill, be sure to know what cut of meat you’re working with,” O’Shea suggested. “A leaner cut of beef requires some sort of marinade or brine before grilling, whereas a fattier cut can go without.
“And be careful with fish and chicken. For fish, you need a nice, hot grill. Not just the fire but the grates themselves, so that the fish doesn’t stick. Chicken needs to be cooked through, so don’t get it too hot. If you’re too hot, you’ll burn the outside before cooking the center through.”
But suppose meat, chicken and fish aren’t your thing. Suppose you’re a vegetarian.
Not to worry.
“In the summertime, it’s more about fresh local vegetables and their accompaniments,” Solomonov said. “We use lots of sweet corn and August tomatoes that are ripe for the picking.
“In general, we grill tons of vegetables — like eggplant, which is always a favorite, and zucchini. Right over the charcoal. But few things beat simply skewered fresh tomato, drizzled with good olive oil and cooked right over the charcoal.”
Even Percy Street Barbecue has options you probably have never considered.
 “You can grill anything — even lettuce,” O’Shea said. “What a great component that chargrill flavor adds to any dish. “I encourage people to play around. Think outside the box.”
And then, after you’ve devoured the steak, chicken, fish and/or veggies, comes the one thing most of us can’t resist: dessert.
“I like to lighten it up with a raspberry panna cotta,” said Sichel, who worked at Zahav for five years as a sous chef before becoming chef de cuisine at Abe Fisher. “Sweeten it with milk and sour cream, and add a raspberry puree.”
Of course, there are always the old standbys — cake and ice cream — the latter of which, contrary to those who stand on ceremony, tastes just as good in February as July.
There are really any number of ways to make a delectable dessert — adding fruit, perhaps a sorbet, or even blending a bunch of things together into a smoothie. And keep in mind — in case you’re keeping kosher — many of these items can be bought or prepared pareve. It’s really not that difficult to do.
The bottom line, though, is that since summer is light and breezy, a time for most of us to kick back and relax — whether at the shore or at home — summertime cooking should be the same.
While you can truly never go wrong with hot dogs and hamburgers and surround them with the usual suspects, we’ve just given you a few other options.
So the next time someone says to you, “What’s cooking?” you can reply, “Just wait and see. You’ll love it.”
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0729


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