Up In Your Grill

By David Nelson
Photos by Brevin Blach

An old folk saying laments, “God sends meat, but the devil sends cooks” (to destroy it). However, grilling isn’t the hellish, charring chore it once was. Some contemporary chefs play their grills like pianos, orchestrating symphonies of flavor with ingredients like fruits, lettuces and vegetables that earlier generations of cooks never would have thought to toss on the flames. Hawaiian-shirted dudes out flipping burgers in the backyard on lazy afternoons could learn plenty from chefs like Deborah Scott of Indigo Grill in Little Italy and Island Prime/C Level Lounge (the steakhouse/casual restaurant combo on Harbor Island). While Scott’s celebrated culinary style favors big, robust flavors, she also knows that complex, subtle savors develop when foods sizzle over lively flames.

Like most major dining establishments, Island Prime/C Level Lounge backs up its executive chef with a chef de cuisine- Mike Suttles.

Suttles keeps an eye out for produce grown close to home, and orders ripe, juicy, farmers market peaches in summertime to accompany Island Prime’s succulent, double-cut Kurobuta pork chops.

“We split the peach and dust it with a little vanilla salt,” Suttles says. “Then we put (the fleshy side) on the grill until it softens, then flip it and cook the
skin-side, basting it with melted butter. This takes about two minutes, but it’s always a case of ‘the riper, the quicker.’”

Diners prize the peaches for the sweet accent they give the top-grade pork. C Level Lounge also sells several hundred grilled Portobello mushroom
sandwiches every week. There are a few tricks to getting these vegetarian specialties just right, but anyone can learn them, Suttles says. “Before we marinate the Portobellos in equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar flavored with charred onions and fresh rosemary, we scrape the black gills off the undersides of the mushrooms,” he says, explaining that the gills “aren’t a desirable flavor in your mouth.”

After an overnight marinade in the refrigerator, the mushrooms are first grilled capside down to brand them with attractive grill marks. Midsummer
Portobellos usually are so large that one cap suffices to fill one of Island Prime’s grill-crisped rosemary focaccia rolls, spread with house-made parsley pesto and tapenade.

To give Scott’s pulled chicken quesadillas a kick, Suttles rolls Poblano and jalapeño chilies on the grill until they’re charred black. When cool, these are skinned, seeded and sliced into slender strips called rajas. Tossed with grilled corn kernels and red onion slices, the rajas lend a subtle, south-of-the-border fire to the spiced chicken enclosed in folded tortillas.

So it sounds like all it takes to grill up some savory summertime eating is a hot grill, fresh produce and a lazy afternoon. Hawaiian shirts are optional.

By David Nelson
Two light grill recipes that are heavy on taste. The discovery of fire didn’t bring only warmth and light to the world, but also better tasting wild horse, wooly mammoth and other meats hunter-gatherers had previously devoured raw.

These days, more evolved palates have gourmet grilling options such as a smoky Caesar salad (a specialty at many trendy restaurants) with a flavorful finale of grilled pineapple paired with its best buddy, rum.

Et Tu, Brute?
Grilled Caesar Salad (serves 4)

2 large hearts of Romaine, halved (discard bruised leaves)
¾ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 egg, raw or soft-boiled (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat grill to medium heat. Rub a large bowl with garlic, add egg and whisk lightly, then whisk in lemon, Worcestershire and mustard. Beat until creamy, then slowly beat in ½ cup olive oil. Stir in Parmesan and season.

Brush Romaine halves with remaining olive oil, place on grill and turn several times (for about 2 minutes), until lightly marked, fragrant and warm.

Remove to cutting board, cut in 1½ -inch ribbons and tumble in dressing. Serve immediately.

Caesar salad usually includes croutons. For a tasty alternative, rub baguette slices with crushed garlic, brush with olive oil, grill and serve alongside the salad.

Get a Little Captain in You
Grilled Pineapple with Rum (serves 6)

1 pineapple, cored and cut into rings
(or fresh pineapple spears from the market)
½ cup rum, preferably dark
½ cup brown sugar
½ stick butter, melted

Soak pineapple pieces in rum for an hour. Place on hot grill. Turn and sprinkle cooked side with sugar and drizzles of butter. Grill until sugar melts and glazes. Enjoy alone, over pound cake or with vanilla bean or caramel ice cream.

-Longtime food critic David Nelson is the author of San Diego Cooks. His recipes have been published online and in local and national publications.

Flame-friendly produce and their beneficial nutrients

Beets: C, potassium, manganese
Eggplant: B1, B6, potassium, manganese
Figs: A, B1, B6
Grapefruit: A, C*, B1
Guavas: A, C*, B6*
Mango: A*, C*
Melon (water, cantaloupe): A, C*
Onion: C, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper
Papaya: A, C, calcium, magnesium, iron copper, zinc
Pineapple: A, C, B1, B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, beta carotene
Peaches: A, C*
Bell peppers: A, C*, B1, B6, potassium
Sweet corn: C, B6, copper, selenium, potassium, iron
Sweet potato: C, A*, beta carotene
Summer squash: A, C, magnesium, potassium

*Denotes high level of a nutrient
-Source: San Diego County Farm Bureau, USDA