By Chef Selwyn Richards
Think of warm weather, summertime, and outdoor activities, and you’ll soon be thinking of planning a picnic. There’s nothing like sharing food in the great outdoors to give you plenty of reasons to smile.
Firing up the grill for a picnic usually brings on thoughts of hamburgers, hot dogs, and barbecued chicken. That’s all dandy and certainly delicious, but wouldn’t you like your grilled food to stand out a little from the rest?
Perhaps there are ways to present old favorites on the grill in new ways, or even try something completely different.
Here are a few thoughts about new ways to grill up some summertime dishes:
Rethink the Sauce
One popular ingredient in many grilled, main dishes is barbeque sauces and other types of glazes and marinades. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes to add more flavor to whatever you’re cooking. If you have been grilling for many years, you’ve probably made your own sauces or have found a few favorites. But, maybe it’s time to rethink those sauces.
Begin by experimenting with a whole range of ingredients. Don’t limit yourself to the ingredients you’ve been using. We know you automatically pull out the mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, and honey, but what else is there to make a sauce for the grill?
Take a look, first, in the fruit bin. Consider the lemons, limes, oranges, apples, and yes, even the watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, and kiwis. Now, pull open the vegetable bin and grab the fresh tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, celery, onions, and even avocados.
Turn to your pantry and take out the apple jelly, orange marmalade, maple syrup, raisins, dried cranberries, red wine vinegar, tarragon vinegar, and all the dressings, including Ranch, French, Thousand Island, and Green Goddess. And, don’t forget the spice rack. There is basically nothing off limits, grab it all.
Don’t be afraid to grate, smash, or simmer ingredients together, that you might never have used in the same sauce before. Combine contrasting flavors — savory with sweet, tangy with smooth, creamy with crunchy — until you have a unique sauce that you can call your own.
Now, marinade, glaze, or brush the sauce onto whatever you are grilling. Try a fruity, white sauce on meat; a tomato-based hot sauce on fish; or a savory herbed sauce on fruit. Put it on the grill and see what happens. You’ll have completely new dishes that will perk up and surprise the taste buds. And, isn’t that what grilling is all about?
Rethink the Main Dish
If you’re used to throwing a steak on the grill, but want to experiment with other cuts, try grilling full roasts. With the right preparation and setup, you can put a big beef roast or pork roast on the grill, either in a rack or on a rotisserie, and surprise your family and guests with a tender and juicy roast that did not come out of the oven.
Instead of your usual cut-up chicken pieces, wings, or legs, try grilling a whole chicken. The juices stay in a little better when the chicken is whole. Not sure you have time for a whole chicken? You can also “butterfly” a chicken by cutting out just the backbone and pushing it down flat, keeping the chicken whole but providing a flattened version that cooks up in no time.
Fish is another grilling favorite at picnics. Use fish that is firm and solid, so it grills well and doesn’t fall apart or become dry. Oily fish, like salmon, is perfect on the grill, but there are many other types of fish that work equally well. Fish grills best when you don’t have to flip it with a spatula, that’s why you want to invest in a grilling basket, which encloses the fish and you flip the basket instead of the fish itself.
You say your taste for a juicy grilled burger is too powerful to ignore? You’ve still got lots of choices for variety at your picnic. You can dress up your burgers, inside-and-out, with many different flavors. Remember, beef isn’t the only burger in town. Ground turkey, pork, or chicken are great substitutes for those who want a different kind of burger at this year’s picnic. But, don’t stop there. Salmon and crab meat make great grilled patties, too.
Besides what goes into the actual patty, think beyond conventional recipes and marinate your ground meat or fish with anything from red wine to a mixture of Worcestershire, soy sauce, or steak sauce, lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar. Add to the inside of the burger, or as condiments, a variety of flavorful cheeses, hot or mild peppers, nuts, and salsa. Instead of throwing a raw onion on top, caramelize some onions in a cast iron skillet on top of the grill over low heat. The incredible sweetness will surprise and delight you and your guests. These are no longer your grandpa’s burgers!
Sometimes, you need to rethink the way you prepare your main dishes at a grilling picnic to make serving simple. Think shish-kabobs and you hardly even need to bring plates! These bite-size pieces are a great way to cook, serve, and eat your favorite foods easily at a grilling picnic. Alternate cut up meat, meat balls, poultry, or seafood with grape tomatoes, chunks of sweet onions, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, or mushrooms. Some foods lend themselves very well to a tropical taste, too. Include pineapple chunks or citrus with chicken or seafood for a taste of the islands.
Rethink the Dessert
Sure, you can serve popsicles and watermelon, but the grill is right there, all fired up. Isn’t there something you can do to put it to work creating delightful desserts? For instance, go ahead and cut up that watermelon you brought… but wait. How about grilling it before serving? Yes, you can grill watermelon, too. Cut it off the rind, into about one inch thick pieces. Grill quickly on both sides until grill marks show. Put it on a plate and drizzle a tiny bit of balsamic vinaigrette over each piece. The saltiness of the vinaigrette compliments the sweetness of the watermelon in an unbelievable way. Now THAT’S a grilled picnic delight!
You can make banana boats in foil filled with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, or perhaps your tastes lean toward grilled apple slices topped with a syrup of brown sugar and raisins. Grilled pineapple rings is another classic. Serve these simply on a plate as they are or use them to top slices of angel food cake or pound cake with a drizzle of chocolate.
As you can see, you can grill just about anything you want to serve at your picnic. Even if you choose to serve sandwiches, why not grill them? When you fire up your grill for your picnic, don’t limit the menu to hotdogs and hamburgers. Use your imagination. If you can cook it, you can grill it.
Selwyn Richards is an award-winning master chef. He is also the President and Executive Chef at The Art of Catering Inc. and is the author of “The Art of Cooking: Soul of The Caribbean”. Chef Selwyn can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone — (905) 619-1059.