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You've probably been told by someone — your uncle, your dad, or the annoying neighbor rarely seen without his checkered apron and meat tongs — that grilling is a fine art, reflective of primal secrets passed down from one generation to another. But it's also a simple pleasure that beginners can handle with a backyard Weber, a bit of improv and a few pointers.
Matthew Tlusty recently opened the White Anchovie (3061 Lauderdale Drive, 249-4515) in Short Pump with partner Todd Manley, Pescados' chef/owner. But Tlusty has been grilling fish since he owned the fondly remembered Limani Fish Grill in Carytown. Like most grillers, Tlusty likes real wood charcoal, and he suggests adding a bit of regular wood to the fire. "It imparts such a completely different flavor," he says, warning grillers away from fragrant woods such as mesquite or hickory. "Fish is such a neutral meat that it really will pick up whatever you're cooking with," he says. He's finicky about heat, too. "With a steak you want to get a real high temperature. But with fish, not so much." And patience is vital. Build a fire, he says, then wait and wait until you get embers. "The idea is that the temp has to be low enough that you're going to be able to cook the whole fish through. You don't want to cook a medium-rare fish."
Go light on the marinade — olive oil with a dash of sea salt, he warns. Nervous grillers may want to use grapeseed oil, since it has a higher flash point. Tlusty's take on types of fish: Salmon is a dependable standby, but rockfish is also a winner. Or you can go with branzino, a European sea bass. Tlusty orders it from the Yellow Umbrella, the fishmonger on Patterson Avenue. "If you really want to impress friends, bring in some whole fish," Tlusty says. Nothing like eating a meal that stares back at you.
Awesome Fish Marinade
- ¼ cup of white wine
- ¼ cup of lemon juice
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1 cup of olive oil
- A dash of salt and pepper
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, stick included
Mix all ingredients. Let the fish marinate (5 minutes per pound) before grilling over medium heat.
Editor's note: Since the original publication of this article, Matthew Tlusty has left the White Anchovie.
Jason Alley, owner of Comfort (200 W. Broad St., 780-0004), is a big fan of flames, as long as they're not propane-induced. "I like to use a natural [lump] charcoal as opposed to a briquette," Alley says. For vegetables, he advises high heat since the objective is to sear the skins while leaving the inside succulent. "You may want to do a little lower [heat] for corn on the cob," he says, but only if you plan to shuck the ears and place them straight on the grill.
Alley cautions that you should use care with marinades, since drippy cooking oils can spark flash flames that aren't good for veggies. Olive oil, for example, is a great marinade, but you have to be hyperattentive, since it has a particularly low flash point. "I love marinating smallish tomatoes," he says. "Romas are great for it."
Slice 6 to 8 Roma tomatoes in halves. Sprinkle the interior surface with salt, pepper, olive oil, tarragon and minced shallots. Let the tomatoes marinate for 30 minutes before placing them, facedown, on the grill. Sear the tomatoes, then flip them over and grill until the skins begin to separate from the flesh and juices are simmering. Serve the tomatoes along with grilled fish or chicken.
Since man first scrapped flint against a rock and then added meat to the mix, he has been in love with his grill. Representing the species is Henry Reidy, who works at Belmont Butchery (15 N. Belmont Ave., 422-8519) with his wife, Tanya Cauthen, who owns the shop; this year, he's also on the road with his new food cart/kitchen, Meat on the Street.
Here are Reidy's secrets: First, remember that there are two sides to every grill; they should be viewed as separate tools, and mastery of both is essential. One side is for high heat, the other for medium heat, an ideal duality for thick burgers or steaks. Use the hotter side to sear the meat, thus sealing in the juices. Use medium heat to cook the inside to order, be that caveman rare — Reidy's choice — or a civilized medium. Before flesh and flame meet, Reidy says, give both sides of your steak "a good douse of salt and pepper. A lot of it is going to fall off, so give it more than you think is right." And remember that perfection also happens off the grill. "It's very important to let your meat rest after it cooks," he says. "Let it sit there for about 4 to 5 minutes at least. It makes for a much juicier piece of meat."
Hanger Steak, aka the Butcher's Cut
Rub olive oil into the meat, then season it with salt and pepper. Place the meat on the high-heat side of a grill for 1 to 2 minutes per side until the surfaces are nicely caramelized. Move the meat to the medium-heat side of the grill and cook it for 2 to 3 minutes per side. After removing the meat from the grill, let it rest for 5 minutes. Before serving, cut the meat against the grain. "It's absolutely delicious," Reidy raves about this often overlooked cut of meat, once known as the butcher's cut. "It's almost as tender as tenderloin, as flavorful as New York strip and about a third the price of either. It's making me hungry."
Considering that the unofficial motto among firemen is "hurry up and wait," it's no surprise that they're also masters of the grill. "Grilling and firehouses are like this — you have to be patient," says Lloyd Runnett, the battalion chief of Station 22 in Henrico County. He's known by family and friends as "Muddy Boots" Runnett, master barbecuer and griller.
"I do barbecue mostly for charity," Runnett says. Back at Station 22, Runnett doesn't get much time for grilling for his fellow firefighters. But on Sundays, he says, "I always try to give back. I bought my own little grill." Recently he grilled chicken, giving it a sweet, smoky taste by using a Dr. Pepper concoction. "The boys loved it, and the chicken just fell off the bone. They went back and got seconds and thirds. The soda substitutes for beer in the recipe because "obviously we can't have beer at the firehouse," Runnett says. Like all serious grillers, Runnett is persnickety about what's under the grate. "I only use natural, wood charcoal. No briquettes. And no lighter fluid."
He brings a bit of the Buddha to both his grilling and his profession. Grilling has to be left to do what it will for 30 minutes or an hour at a stretch, he says. In firefighting, "we work and train ourselves for the big call — that's like grilling. You only get a certain opportunity, and you've got to be the best you can be when you get the opportunity."
Muddy Boots' Dr. Pepper Chicken
- 1 3- to 3 ½-pound chicken
- 1 can of Dr. Pepper
- 1/3 tablespoon of kosher or sea salt
- 1/3 tablespoon of black pepper
- 1 tablespoon of poultry seasoning
- 1/2 tablespoon of crushed garlic
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
Fire up the grill using lump (real wood) charcoal and a starter chimney. No lighter fluid. Pour the can of Dr. Pepper into a liquid measuring container. Carefully cut off the top of the can, then put a third of the beverage back in the can. Add the salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, garlic and vegetable oil to the Dr. Pepper in the can. Mix together and then add more Dr. Pepper until the can is at least half full. Place the can inside the chicken and put the chicken upright on the grill. (The chicken will stand up on its own if its legs are positioned forward.) Cook the chicken "low and slow" with a grill temperature of 230 to 250 degrees until the meat reaches 180 degrees. Make a sauce with the leftover Dr.Pepper and the same amounts of salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, oil and garlic used inside the chicken. Use the sauce to baste the chicken every 45 minutes to 1 hour. The total cooking time should be about 3 hours. Remember, says Runnett, "if you're looking, you ain't cooking."