Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Grill, Baby, Grill

'Tis the season to be grilling! It's back to "normal" post-solstice temperatures (we had a rather cool spell...you'll never hear me complain about that) and at such times I try to avoid using the kitchen in the late afternoon, except to make salads and scoop ice cream. The grill wheels itself out to our rescue in an admirably faithful manner. (Okay, so I have to wheel it out myself, but it's still faithful, despite being stored for a few winters on the porch without a cover, partially exposed to the bitter Minnesota elements.)

I love grilled food. Anything I can cook over even our relatively flavorless (compared to charcoal) propane flame somehow always tastes better. I love to grill vegetables and potatoes and even bread (and the occasional marshmallow destined to be squashed between graham crackers with a chocolate bar), but it seems that meat tends to take center stage, or center grate, on our grill. And I love barbecue sauce. Our grill may be the greatest saboteur in my hopes of someday being at least mostly vegetarian.

I have dreams of someday perfecting my own barbecue sauce (Anne Marie's Super-Atomic Gusto Sauce: guaranteed to stain your apron and blow your mind!) I haven't even begun my food detective work on that case yet, but I do have an Asian-inspired marinade/sauce that is quite reliable. It is flavored with hoisin sauce, a Chinese barbecue-style sauce that I'm not crazy about in dishes like stir fry or fried rice. But put it on a barbecue, and I'll lick it off my fingers.

This marinade is easy to throw together and will keep for a while in the refrigerator (just don't keep any sauce in which you already marinated something.) It makes enough to marinade and glaze about six servings of your choice of protein. (I usually make half of this recipe, since I most often cook for two.)

I have picked, chosen, and consolidated several recipes for hoisin-based marinades and sauces and have settled (for now) on one that is almost as versatile as it is delicious. I've used it on chicken, steak, pork loin, salmon and tofu, and have loved the results with each one. I bet you could brush it on shrimp or scallops as well. I just marinate whatever I'm cooking in some of the sauce, putting the remainder aside to brush on later. I marinate beef, chicken and pork for several hours; salmon for 30 minutes; and tofu for as long as is convenient. When the marinating is complete, I discard the marinade and put the food on a hot grill.

I then glaze it with the reserved sauce as it cooks. It forms a nice glaze and has tremendous flavor that hints at American-style barbecue sauce, but with a performing cast that is clearly Asian, with soy sauce and sesame oil politely requesting notice.

You should be able to find hoisin sauce in the supermarket with other Asian ingredients in the ethnic foods aisle. Shao Hsing wine (you may find it spelled differently, like shaoxing) is harder to find, but is increasingly available in ethnic aisles at supermarkets as well. I think I found my bottle at Woodman's. If you can't find it, you could substitute dry sherry, or broth, which is probably more convenient.

Chinese-Style Barbecue Sauce and Marinade

1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup finely-chopped green onions (scallions)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons peeled ginger, minced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wind, dry sherry, or broth
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Use as marinade or barbecue sauce.

Makes enough for at least 6 servings of grillable protein.

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