What’s Cooking: Lots of flavor, not labor

Tribune News Service

Firecracker salmon.
Firecracker salmon. TNS

Americans love to grill and barbecue, and the Labor Day weekend in many areas is a last great chance to get in that summer cookout. (Of course, Californians grill year-round, but we do lose daylight as summer turns to fall.)

Where backyard chefs differ is in how they choose to season the proteins they’re about to throw on the grill.

Some let the meat speak for itself, with little more than a sprinkling of salt. But if you really want to transform chicken, beef or fish from something ordinary into a dish that sings, consider a tasty marinade or sauce.

It’s also good to have a really great spice rub in your grilling arsenal, especially if you want delicious, tender meat on a budget – rubs permeate tough cuts, creating complex layers of flavor.

“They help meat taste and look delicious and they’re crucial to the formation of a tasty, crusty bark,” writes Texas pitmaster Aaron Franklin and co-author Jordan Mackay in “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto” (Ten Speed, $30, 224 pages).

Some tips before cooking:

Always apply a rub to meat about 1 hour before cooking, letting it come to room temperature before placing on the grill. This allows the seasoning to “sweat” into the meat, Franklin explains. Also, try to get an even coat of rub over the surface of the meat to allow for even cooking.

Pay attention to marinating times; leave it on too long, and it can turn the surface mushy. Poultry takes 30 minutes to three hours; delicate fish and seafood shouldn’t swim more than 30 minutes in a marinade.

Never reuse marinade used on raw meat or poultry unless you boil it first to destroy harmful bacteria.

Sauces should be brushed on the last 5 to 15 minutes of cooking. Keep a careful eye on the fire – most barbecue sauces have sugar in them and you don’t want the sauce to burn.

Firecracker salmon

Recipe from “Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ” (Oxmoor House, $24.95, 368 pages).

Six 6-ounce salmon fillets

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper

11/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Vegetable cooking spray

Place salmon fillets in large zip-top plastic freezer bag. Whisk together vegetable oil and next 9 ingredients. Pour over salmon, reserving 1/4 cup mixture. Seal and chill 30 minutes.

Coat cold cooking grate of grill with cooking spray, and place grate on grill. Preheat grill to 350 to 400 degrees (medium-high). Remove salmon from marinade, discard marinade. Grill salmon without grill lid 4 to 5 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork, turning occasionally and basting with reserved marinade. Remove and discard skin. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Grilled steak and potato salad with spicy ranch dressing

Recipe from the Chicago Tribune.

3 small russet potatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil, about

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, about

Coarsely ground pepper

1 pound boneless beef top sirloin steaks (or New York strips), each about 1-inch thick

1 medium red onion, peeled, thickly sliced

1 large head romaine lettuce, tough outer leaves removed

3 small tomatoes, halved, seeds shaken out, flesh cut into small dice

1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, diced

1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (or feta or goat cheese)

Thinly sliced fresh basil, optional

For dressing:

2 tablespoons each: sour cream, mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh: chives, cilantro

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red pepper hot sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to hot.

Pierce potatoes in several spots with a fork. Microwave on high (100 percent power) until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Cool, then cut into 1/3-inch thick rounds. Brush both sides with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Generously season the steaks with salt and pepper. Then drizzle lightly with oil. Lightly brush the onion slices with the oil; season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the potato slices over the hotter part of the grill; put the onion slices around the cooler edges. Cook, turning once, until all are golden and tender, about 5 minutes for the potatoes and 15 minutes for the onions. Transfer potatoes to a plate. Separate onions into rings; slice rings in half.

Grill the steaks over the hotter portion of the grill, turning only once, until medium-rare (or as preferred), about 8 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board; let rest a few minutes.

To make dressing, put all ingredients into a blender. Process to mix. (Dressing can be made ahead and will keep several days in the refrigerator.)

To assemble the salads, cut four 1-inch-thick center slices from the romaine. Alternatively, cut the head of romaine lengthwise in quarters. Transfer one romaine slice to each serving plate. Divide the potatoes and onions over the romaine. Very thinly slice the steak; lay the slices on top of the salad. Drizzle steak and greens lightly with dressing. Sprinkle with tomatoes, avocado and blue cheese. Garnish with basil. Serve salad while the steak is warm.

Per serving: 526 calories, 33 g fat (8 g sat.), 73 mg cholesterol, 35 g carbohydrates, 27 g protein, 720 mg sodium, 10 g fiber.

Serves 4

Rotisserie lemon and lime chicken

Prep time: 30 minutes

Total time: 2 hours

Using the rotisserie is a fun and easy way to use your grill to its fullest potential. The key with rotisserie chicken is securing it to the metal skewer. Two chickens are used in this recipe, each secured with kitchen twine and held together with wooden skewers so they turn at the same time.

Recipe from the Detroit Free Press.

2 whole chickens (3 to 3 1/2 pounds each), giblets removed

1 cup dry white wine, chicken broth or water

4 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into pieces

Basting sauce:

1 tablespoon grated lime zest

2 tablespoons grated lemon zest

Juice of 2 lemons

Juice of 2 limes

1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, optional

2 cloves garlic, peeled, ends removed, minced

1 tablespoon red pepper sauce

1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

Soak two long bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.

Prepare the grill. Attach rotisserie attachment and remove cooking rack if necessary. Place a foil drip pan, using one with sides short enough so when the chicken turns it will not hit it. A foil cake pan works well. Preheat the grill to medium heat.

Tie kitchen string around each chicken securing the wings and legs to its body. Thread each chicken on the spit and secure with spit prongs. Run the skewers through both chickens, above and below the spit, so that they turn together. Combine the white wine, broth or water with the butter pieces in a drip pan. Place drip pan on grill directly below the chickens. Attach spit to rotisserie on grill.

Reduce the heat on the grill to low or shut off one burner to cook over indirect heat. Cover grill and roast the chicken for 30 minutes, basting with the pan liquid every 10 minutes.

Meanwhile in a medium bowl, whisk together all the basting ingredients. Begin basting the chicken with sauce after 30 minutes. Continue roasting about 1 hour more, basting often until the chicken is cooked through or reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer.

Per serving: 298 calories (55 percent from fat), 18 g fat (5 g saturated fat), trace of carb., 31 g protein, 134 mg sodium, 100 mg chol., 19 mg calcium, 0 g fiber.

Serves 8