Over the past few weeks, the occasional fragrance of grilled meat, wafting through my windows from enterprising neighbors, reminds me, in a not so subtle way, that it's time to clean the grill - and that I'm really hungry.
Yes, indeed, with Memorial Day as the unofficial opener of the grilling season, we are ready once again to get serious about the practice of dinner - and maybe breakfast, lunch or happy hour - spent in the great and glorious outdoors, either dining alfresco or cooking that way.
Which is the way it should be! Sunshine and high temperatures are limited resources. We need to linger in them, soak up that vitamin D and celebrate the fresh air, with all of the fragrant, tasty possibilities ready to burst from the landscape.
So until Labor Day, summer by observance, if not calendar, we're focusing on the Great Outdoors. Patio dining. Farmers markets. Cabin cooking. Ice cream cones. Summer cocktails. And grilling, of course.
Consider this the time to ramp up your grilling game with bacon-wrapped onion rings, eggs with prosciutto over the fire, a bánh mì burger topped with pickled vegetables, smoky-sweet drumsticks, and chive-laden baked potatoes over the coals. Hungry indeed. Let's head outdoors.
Bacon-grilled Onion Rings
Serves 4. Note: You need firm outer onion rings, so choose large sweet onions, which will provide this. You will also need wooden toothpicks. From "Project Fire," by Steven Raichlen.
2 large sweet onions such as Vidalias, Walla Wallas or Texas Sweets
½ cup of your favorite hot sauce, such as Sriracha or Frank's RedHot
1½ pound thin-sliced bacon
Vegetable oil for oiling the grill grate
Set up your grill for indirect grilling and heat to medium-high.
Trim the ends off the onions and peel off the thin papery skins. Slice each onion crosswise into ½-inch thick slices. Carefully pop the centers out of each slice, keeping the 2 outermost layers together. (Two layers make a sturdier foundation for the bacon.) Set aside the largest onion rings. You should have 8. Save the remaining onion pieces for another use.
Pour the hot sauce into a mixing bowl or shallow dish. Brush each onion ring with the sauce.
Spiral each onion ring with bacon, slightly overlapping each strip, until the ring is covered. (You'll need 2 to 3 strips of bacon for each onion ring.) Use toothpicks to secure the ends of the bacon.
Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well.
Arrange the onion rings on the grill grate, away from the fire (using indirect heat), and close the lid. Cook until the bacon is golden brown and sizzling, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the onion rings on a wire rack spread with paper towels.
Variation: Use barbecue sauce instead of hot sauce, if you prefer. Or brush the onion rings with melted butter and season them with your favorite barbecue rub. Or brush them with warm maple syrup and dredge the onion rings in brown sugar before wrapping them with bacon.
Nutrition information per serving: 260 calories, 17 g fat, 1,220 mg sodium, 10 g carbohydrates, 6 g saturated fat, 6 g total sugars, 17 g protein, 50 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber. Exchanges per serving: ½ starch, 2 high-fat protein.
Grilled Eggs with Prosciutto and Parmesan
Serves 1 (and can be increased, as desired). Note: You will need a small ovenproof skillet or baking dish to cook the eggs, such as the mini-cast iron skillets from Lodge. If desired, you also need 2 hardwood chunks or 1 cup unsoaked wood chips. From "Project Fire," by Steven Raichlen.
1 thin slice prosciutto or 1 strip cooked bacon
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or other cheese
2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or the greens from green onions
Grilled toast, optional but desirable (see below)
Set up your grill for indirect grilling and heat to medium-high.
Lightly brush the prosciutto on both sides with a little olive oil. Place it directly over the fire and grill until crisp, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
Grease a small heat-proof skillet or baking dish with half the remaining olive oil. Crack in the eggs. Add the wood chunks or chips (if using) to the coals or place in the smoker box of your gas grill. Place the skillet with the eggs on the grill away from the heat (using indirect heat to cook the eggs).
Break the prosciutto into pieces over the eggs and cover with the cream. Sprinkle with the cheese and breadcrumbs. Dot the tops of the eggs with the remaining olive oil or butter.
Indirect grill until the crumbs are browned and the eggs are just set, 7 to 10 minutes. (The yolks should remain a little runny in the center.) Shake the pan to check for doneness - the eggs should wiggle, not ripple. Sprinkle on the chives and serve the eggs immediately with slices of grilled toast.
To grill bread: Set up grill for direct grilling and heat to medium-high. Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well. Arrange bread on the grate and grill until toasted, 1 to 2 minutes per side. If you're feeling fancy, give each slice a quarter turn on both sides halfway through to lay on a crosshatch of grill marks.
Nutrition information per serving: 620 calories, 50 g fat, 760 mg sodium, 13 g carbohydrates, 18 g saturated fat, 3 g total sugars, 28 g protein, 430 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber. Exchanges per serving: 1 carb, 4 medium-fat protein, 6 fat.
Bánh Mì Burger
Serves 6. Note: This is inspired by the bánh mì sandwich, a Vietnamese classic that's basically a bunch of meats with pickled vegetables and a little spice. The best finishing touch for a burger is to put the bun on the grill, with the sliced side down, so the outside gets a little charred and crisp while the inside stays soft and fluffy. From "Gather & Graze," by Stephanie Izard with Rachel Hozman.
⅓ cup Pickled Carrots (see recipe)
⅓ cup Pickled Fresno Chiles (see recipe)
½ cup mung bean sprouts
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sweet and spicy hot sauce (habañero varieties work best)
1½ tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon soy sauce
3 pounds (80 percent lean) ground beef
Kosher salt and pepper
6 quality store-bought sesame-seed buns
Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat.
Toss together the pickled carrots, pickled chiles, bean sprouts and cilantro, and set aside.
In another bowl, make the spicy mayo by combining the mayo, hot sauce, fish sauce, mustard and soy sauce. Set aside.
Form the ground meat into patties, each 1 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper, and grill until desired doneness is achieved, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare.
Toast the buns sliced side down over low heat. Spread with the spicy mayo and sandwich each with a burger patty and some of the crunchy pickle slaw.
Nutrition information per serving: 790 calories, 56 g fat, 1,260 mg sodium, 25 g carbohydrates, 14 g saturated fat, 5 g total sugars, 45 g protein, 150 mg cholesterol, 2 g dietary fiber. Exchanges per serving: 1½ starch, 6 lean protein, 5 fat.
Makes 2 cups. From "Gather & Graze," by Stephanie Izard with Rachel Hozman.
¾ cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
3 cups shredded carrots
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring vinegar to a boil and remove from the heat.
Put the carrots in a heatproof container and pour the vinegar over them. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month.
Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons: 12 calories, 0 g fat, 60 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrates, 0 g saturated fat, 1 g total sugars, 0 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber. Exchanges per serving: free food.
PICKLED FRESNO CHILES
Makes 1 cup. From "Gather & Graze," by Stephanie Izard with Rachel Hozman.
⅔ cup champagne vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sliced and seeded fresh chiles
In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring vinegar sugar and salt to a boil. Put chiles in heat-proof container, pour pickling liquid on top, allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Nutrition information per 1 tablespoon: 5 calories, 0 g fat, 40 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrate, 0 g saturated fat, 1 g total sugars, 0 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g dietary fiber. Exchanges per serving: free food.
Grill-baked Potatoes with Chive Butter
Serves 4. Note: The compound butter can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days. From "Dinner Special," by the editors of Food & Wine.
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup finely chopped chives, plus more for garnish, divided
½ cup sour cream, plus more for serving, divided
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 (10-ounce) baking potatoes
In medium bowl, combine butter, ¾ cup of chives, ½ cup sour cream, and salt and pepper; mix until smooth. Transfer butter to large sheet of plastic wrap and form into a log. Wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
Light a grill. Using a sharp knife, slice each potato crosswise at ⅓-inch intervals, cutting down but not all the way through the potato. Cut chive butter into thin slices, then carefully tuck butter between potato slices. Wrap each potato tightly in aluminum foil.
Set potatoes on grill over low heat, cover and cook, turning occasionally, until tender, 45 to 50 minutes. Unwrap potatoes, garnish with finely chopped chives and serve with sour cream.
Nutrition information per serving: 480 calories, 29 g fat, 745 mg sodium, 51 g carbohydrates, 17 g saturated fat, 4 g total sugars, 7 g protein, 80 mg cholesterol, 5 g dietary fiber. Exchanges per serving: 3 starch, ½ carb, 5 fat.
Sweet and Smoky Drumsticks
Serves 6 to 8. Note: From "Food52 Any Night Grilling," by Paula Disbrowe.
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
⅓ cup Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more as desired
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
20 chicken drumsticks
2 cups wood chips (preferably hickory or oak)
Water or beer (or combo of both), for soaking the wood chips
In a bowl, combine brown sugar, mustard, lemon juice, coriander, cayenne and olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper. Pour mixture into large resealable plastic bag. Add drumsticks and turn to coat. Seal the bag, pressing out the air, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 24.
About an hour before grilling, remove drumsticks from the refrigerator. Soak the wood chips in water or beer for 30 minutes.
Prepare a charcoal grill for two-zone cooking and build a medium-high fire, or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Using a grill brush, scrape the grill grates clean, then carefully wipe with a lightly oiled towel.
Remove drumsticks from the marinade and season with salt and pepper. Grill the drumsticks over direct heat, turning as needed until all sides are nicely charred, 12 to 15 minutes, then transfer to baking sheet.
Drain the wood chips and scatter them among the coals. If using a gas grill, put them in a perforated aluminum foil packet or smoker box and place directly over flames. When chips begin to smoke, return chicken to grill over indirect heat. Close grill and smoke the chicken, turning every 5 minutes or so, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the drumsticks registers 165 degrees, 35 to 40 minutes.
Transfer chicken to serving platter, cover with foil to keep warm, and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Nutrition information per drumstick: 135 calories, 6 g fat, 90 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrates, 2 g saturated fat, 3 g total sugars, 16 g protein, 80 mg cholesterol, 0 g dietary fiber. Exchanges per serving: 2 medium-fat protein.