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How to imbue grilled food with flavour


TORONTO — Layering rubs, marinades and sauces on grilled and smoked food is the key to complexity of flavour, says Steven Raichlen, author of the new book “Barbecue Sauces, Rubs and Marinades Bastes, Butters and Glazes, Too” (Workman Publishing).

“It’s a little like building a house. You have your foundation, framing, panelling, your walls, your decorative trim, you put in your carpet, you paint, then add your ornamentation,” says the Miami-based grilling expert, adding there are three windows of opportunity to maximize taste.

First, prepare raw meat with a dry or wet rub, marinade, cure or brine.

Once the meat is cooking, another round of flavour can be added.

“That would be like a garlic butter you might brush on, or a basting sauce or a spray of wine, or a mop sauce or a glaze, so there’s an interaction between the fire and the condiment and the meat or fish,” Raichlen says.

“And finally there’s after the food comes off the fire or out of the smoker. That might be a barbecue sauce, a salsa, a chutney. It might be mayonnaise, ketchup or mustard.”

Spencer Watts, host of the upcoming TV show “Watts on the Grill” on Gusto Worldwide Media, calls his philosophy on adding flavour “the double trouble.”

He’ll marinate poultry and reserve some of the liquid ‚Äî which hasn’t come into contact with raw meat to use during the cooking process.

“As I’m grilling slowly I’ll just continue to brush, like turn and baste, turn and baste, turn and baste,” Watts explains.

Marinades usually contain a sweet ingredient. “If you start glazing slowly as the meat is cooking those sugars reduce and caramelize and they become smoky and you get grill marks,” adds Watts, whose “Fish the Dish” TV show recently won a James Beard Award.

Chef Corbin Tomaszeski says the cut of meat being cooked dictates the type of sauce or marinade to use.

“If you’re going to do something a little bit more robust or heavy the quintessential big steak or something that’s hearty and beef-like on the barbecue you need a sauce on there that’s hearty enough to hold up to the actual protein, whereas if you’re doing something a little more delicate, whether it be chicken or fish or even just vegetables, you may want to tone it down a bit,” says the Toronto chef.

He’s not a fan of masking a tenderloin with heavy sauce, but a cheaper and tougher hanger or flank steak is well paired with a more robust sauce or a marinade with acidic ingredients like soy sauce, citrus or wine ‚Äî that will help tenderize it.

Fresh-squeezed citrus juices mixed with herbs and a touch of honey go well with fish or chicken breasts, adds Tomaszeski, whose latest venture is the restaurant Savoury at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel in Toronto.

A time saver for heavier proteins is to pour marinade into a resealable bag, squeeze out any air and then freeze it. Pull it out the night before you want to barbecue and place in the fridge to thaw and marinate, suggests Tomaszeski.

Other flavour enhancers include bastes — such as dry red wine or apple cider — that are applied to meat with a spray bottle while cooking so you get a very thin, very even coating of flavouring.

Mop sauces, which are slathered on meat to add moisture and flavour, get their name from the utensil used — a miniature mop.

“They might have coffee in them, they might have wine or beer, soy sauce, mustard, those kinds of things, but they don’t have a lot of sweetener. They can withstand the cooking process without burning,” explains Raichlen.

Brines and cures have a high salt content and were originally used in combination with salting and smoking to preserve food before refrigeration was widely available.

“We do it today because we love the flavour,” says Raichlen, who likes to brine his Thanksgiving turkey.

Brining time depends on protein size and texture. Shrimp might be brined for 20 minutes while brisket might sit in brine for 24 to 48 hours.

Follow @lois—abraham on Twitter.

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