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How to Avoid Grilling



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"Barbecue is a sort of savage rite, in fact, which consists of placing bloody
portions of cattle on an open fire until they are charred beyond recognition,
and then smearing them with sauces that are not merely an abomination
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How to Avoid Grilling

Home Cooking:
A Writer in the Kitchen

by Laurie Colwin, 1988, HarperCollins
(Reissued March 2000)

“Unlike most citizens of these United States of America, I do not grill. There is no hibachi in my garden or anything else like it. When I moved into my garden apartment I was given a fancy barbecue, and as far as I know it is
still in the cellar collecting dust and mold spores.

Grilling is like sunbathing. Everyone knows it is bad for you but no one ever stops doing it. Since I do not like the taste of lighter fluid, I do not have to worry that a grilled steak is the equivalent of seven hundred cigarettes. [!!!]
Of course this implies that I do not like to eat al fresco. No sane person
does, I feel. When it is nice enough for people to eat outside, it is also nice
enough for mosquitoes, horse and deer flies, as well as wasps and yellow- jackets. I don’t much like sand in my food and thus while I will endure a
beach picnic I never look forward to them.
My idea of bliss is a screened-in porch from which you can watch the
sun go down, or come up. You can sit in temperate shade and not fry your
brains while you eat. You are protected from flying critters, sandstorms
and rain and you can still enjoy a nice cool breeze.
One year my husband and I rented a lake cottage – a rustic cabin set in a
pine grove just a stroll from a weed-choked lake. With this cottage came
a war canoe and a screened-in porch. The motto of the owners seemed
to have been, ‘It’s broken! Let’s take it to the lake!’
The dining room table was on a definite slant and the plates were vintage 1950s Melmac. The stove was lit by one of those gizmos that ignite a spark next to one of the burners and was of great fascination to me. [Me, too. My German ex-mother-in-law, operated daily with such a stove as late as the 1980s.] Near the corner cupboard lived an army of mice who left evidence
of their existence all over the cups and saucers. Anything left around was carried away – quite a tidy little ecosystem. One evening we were visited
by a dog who howled constantly as he sound of mouse rattling drove him
into a frenzy.
Nevertheless, we ate on the screened-in-porch all the time and with great success. Friends with beautiful houses came to our broken-down lake cot-
tage to eat on that crummy porch and watch the sun set over the lake. All around us were grills: we could smell them, but we never so much as fin-
gered a charcoal briquette.
Having said this, I admit to loving grilled food – that is, something that has been exposed to a flame. On a regular old stove this is called broiling. Eng-
lish stoves have a special rack (a salamander) with a separate flame under
which you can grill a chop or brown the top of a gratin. There is no better
way to cook fish, steak or chops.
I have avoided grilled by broiling, and I have never had to bother myself
about getting in a supply of mesquite or apple wood, and old thyme twigs.
For a brief period of my life I thought to us the fireplace as a cooking sur-
face. Years of ingesting gasoline at the barbecues of others led me to wonder if I could do it better. I decided to grill steaks on a rack in my fireplace and
by a stroke of fortune was given some apple and cherry to burn. The results were marred by nervousness, a syndrome that goes with the territory of the wood fire: constant cutting to see how far along your steak has come. I did
not taste the merest breath of apple or cherry although I have been told that you have not lived until you have tasted swordfish grilled over mesquite.
This ay be true, but as Abraham Lincoln is said to have said: ‘For people
who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they will like.’

But what to do on a clear summer evening? The sky is pink. The air is
sweet. It is dinnertime and you are surrounded by hungry people who have just spent their day either swimming or gardening, or have just gotten out
of a car or train or bus and found themselves in the country listening to
the hermit thrushes.
Everywhere in America people are lighting their grills. They begin in spring,
on the first balmy evening. I happen to live across the street from a theo- logical seminary whose students come from all over. I know it is spring not
by the first robin but by the first barbecue across the street on the seminary
lawn. That first whiff of lighter fluid and smoke is my herald, and led one
of my friends to ask, ‘What is it about Episcopalians, do you think? Is it in
their genes to barbecue?’
It is not in the genes but it is in the American character to grill, a leftover
from pioneer days, from Indian days, from the Old West. I have been able
to buck this trend with Lebanon bologna sandwiches or mustard chicken
[or perhaps Laurie's infamous Roast Chicken].
Lebanon bologna is not from the Middle East but from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, in Lancaster County. It is a spicy, slightly tart salami-like
cold cut with the limpness of bologna. I have never had the courage to ask what it is made of but I am sure it cannot be good for anyone. The way to serve it is on whole-wheat bread spread with cream cheese into which you have mashed chives, thyme, tarragon – whatever you or your friends have
in the garden. Spread the cream cheese liberally but use only one (two if
sliced very thin) slice of Lebanon bologna. Make an enormous pile of these sandwiches cut in half and serve with potato salad, cole slaw, or a big green salad. In the summer a large plate of sliced tomatoes is a salad in itself with nothing added.
If you feel you must make something more grill-like, spare ribs are al-
ways nice, especially if you have marinated them for a couple of days.
Some people like a tomato-based barbecue sauce, but I do not. [This guy
I used to know said that anyone who even THINKS of putting ketchup
or any other tomato stuff in barbecue sauce should be shot.] Besides,
these ribs are baked in the oven, not barbecued. I like them in what is
probably a variation on teriyaki sauce.

For one side of ribs you need
one cup of olive oil
one half cup tamari sauce
about 4 tablespoons of honey
the juice of one lemon
fresh ground black pepper
and lots and lots and lots of garlic peeled
and cut in half.

Let the ribs sit in this marinade as long as possible – overnight in the refrigerator is the least, two days is the best. Then put the ribs in a roast-
ing pan (you can either cut them into riblets or leave them in one piece
and cut before serving) and put them in a slow oven – about 300 degrees
F – and leave them there, pouring off the fat from time to time, for three
to four hours. What is left, as a friend of mine says, has no name. The
ribs are both crisp and tender, salty, sweet, oily but not greasy and very
garlicky. You gnaw on them and then throw the bones on the platter.

A finger bowl is actually appropriate here, if you want to be fancy, and so
is the kind of heated washcloth you get in a Japanese restaurant. Plain old
wet paper towels will do as well.
You can cook these ribs in the morning and eat them in the evening. They should not be cold (although a leftover rib for breakfast is considered
heavenly be some people) but are fine lukewarm, and can be kept in a
warm oven with no ill effects.
And as the sky becomes overcast and the clouds get darker, and the fumes
of charcoal starter drift in your direction, you can sit down to your already cooked dinner in a safe place with the satisfaction of not having had to light
a single match or get your hands all gritty with those nasty, smeary little charcoal briquettes. Furthermore, you will never in your life have to clean
the grill, one of the most loathsome of kitchen chores.
Instead you are indoors while being out of doors. You dinner is taken care
of and you can concentrate on eating, which, after a long summer day, is
all anybody really wants.”

Amen, Sister Laurie! And happy summer holidays to all!

More from Laurie Colwin:
Chocolate Cake
Potato Salad
Red Peppers
Roast Chicken
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Texas Smoky Short Ribs
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