Grilling already has its steaks, slabs and skewers. With summer coming, maybe it’s time to slap another “s” down on that sizzlin’ hot grate – as in “stuffed.”
Stuffing can mean extra prep work, not something most people will naturally want to deal with on a lazy, hazy summer day. But it’s all worth it to Ted Reader, a Toronto chef, barbecuing expert and product developer, who has a number of stuffed recipes in his latest book, “Gastro Grilling” (Pintail, $25, 384 pages).
“The No. 1 reason is to add fun to your food, to change it up,” Reader says in making a case for stuffing. “You can grill burgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken breasts, and that’s great. But there’s so much more you can do to make these things better.”
Stuffing can add flavor and moisture to foods, particularly leaner cuts of meat, says Jamie Purviance, an El Dorado Hills-based chef and author of several grilling cookbooks. (The most recent? “Weber’s Big Book of Burgers,” Oxmoor, $21.95, 256 pages.)
“I think about pork and poultry and sometimes beef,” Purviance says, when asked what he tends to stuff. “A flank steak works well, but it takes a bit of handiwork with a knife. Butterflying something, rolling it up and tying it is not necessarily for beginners.”
Reader agrees. Stuffing before grilling allows “a little bit of showing off,” he says, “but it also requires some expertise.”
Some ingredients may need to be precooked. You’ll have to cut a pocket in thicker cuts of meat to hold the filling, and tie or skewer the pocket shut so the stuffing won’t fall out.
Thinner, pliable pieces of meat, chicken or fish can be spread with a filling and rolled, but you still need to tie that roll closed.
Check out these tips from Reader and Purviance on how to making grilling stuffed foods trouble-free:• Freeze cheeses and butters before incorporating into the stuffing to help prevent leaking. It will take longer for them to melt during cooking. Choose slow-melting cheeses. “String cheese takes forever to run,” Reader says. “Skim-milk mozzarella takes a while, pepper jack or Monterey melt much more slowly.”
• Use a moderately high grilling temperature, about 350 degrees. Do what Purviance calls the “sear and slide”: Sear the stuffed meat over direct heat to brown it, then slide it away from the heat source to finish cooking with indirect heat.
• Precook certain stuffing ingredients, such as raw meat or mushrooms, to speed up overall cooking time.
• Tie stuffed meat tightly and firmly to keep stuffing from falling out. “It’s got to be like you’re tying a shoe,” Purviance says. If rolling meat, roll tightly before tying. “Take your time and be patient,” Reader says. “If four pieces of twine aren’t enough, add a fifth or sixth piece.”
• Appearances count. Your stuffed meat should look attractive, with no stuffing oozing out. Aim for firm, not floppy, the guys say.
• Don’t place just-stuffed meat on the grill. Wrap it up and refrigerate for up to one hour. The chilling “allows the stuffing and meat to become one,” Reader says. “The stuffing won’t fall out when you take it to the grill.”
• Worried the stuffing still might fall out? Reader recommends you wrap the meat in aluminum foil and begin cooking on the grill. Unwrap after the initial sear and continue grilling.
• Let the stuffed meat rest before slicing. “That will help let the juices settle back in the meat and may let the stuffing hold a little bit better,” Purviance says.
Variations on stuffing recipe at right
Mediterranean: Replace apricots with 3 tablespoons diced sun-dried tomatoes and 1/2 cup cubed mozzarella. Replace bacon with 6-8 slices pancetta. Use with pork loin roast or veal.
Smoked cheese and mushroom: Skip the apricots and bacon. Use 1/2 to 3/4 cup cubed smoked Emmenthal or Gouda cheese, plus 1/4 cup sautéed, chopped leeks and 1/2 cup sautéed, chopped mushrooms (Reader likes to use chanterelles). Use to stuff a chicken breast or portobello mushroom caps or in a flank steak roll-up.
Lobster and brie: Skip the apricots and replace with 1/2 cup cubed brie cheese (freeze cheese to slow melting while cooking) and 1/2 cup cooked lobster or crab meat. Use with salmon, sole, halibut or chicken breasts.
Bacon, apple and cheddar: Switch 1 apple, diced, for the apricots. Add 1/2 cup cubed aged white cheddar cheese and a pinch of cinnamon.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Makes about 8 cups
Ted Reader, author of “Gastro Grilling,” uses this filling to stuff whole chickens, chicken breasts, pork loin or tenderloins, or turkey. Follow your usual cooking method for each meat, making sure the meat and stuffing cook through. “My stuffing recipe can easily be modified to work with a variety of meats and seafoods and to give you a whole new twist on stuffing,” he writes in an email. His variations below follow this basic recipe. (Leftover stuffing? No worries, writes Reader: “I will often wrap it tightly in foil and heat it on the grill separately. Everyone loves stuffing.”)
1/2 loaf day-old sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 41/2 cups)
6 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
2 ribs celery, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely diced dried apricots
1 tablespoon each, chopped: fresh parsley, fresh sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup apple juice or broth
Place bread cubes on a baking sheet; transfer to a 200-degree oven to dry slightly, 30 minutes. (For chicken breasts and other small cuts, use coarse breadcrumbs, about 3 cups.)
Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until rendered and almost crisp, 8-10 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Remove all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat from skillet; save extra bacon fat for another use.
Add the butter to the pan; when the butter begins to bubble, stir in the celery, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, 2-3 minutes. Pour the mixture over the bread cubes. Add the reserved bacon, plus the apricots and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper; gently mix.
Drizzle with apple juice, starting with 1/4 cup and adding more if required. Mix again. The stuffing mixture should be quite moist but not runny, enough to soften the bread and bind all ingredients together.
Per 1/2 cup serving: 85 calories; 4 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 10 mg cholesterol; 9 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 115 mg sodium; 1 g fiber.