Last week I went to a cooking class to learn how to grill.
Now I know what you're thinking--what's the big deal? You just fire up the gas monster, throw your meat on the rack and be sure you've got plenty of ketchup, right?
But oh there is so much more to grilling than just cooking a piece of meat. To start with, there's a big difference between barbecue and grilling. I guess if I'd ever stopped to think on the subject I would have realized that barbecuing was slow cooking over lower temperatures while grilling is fast and furious but I'd never stopped to think. And I know I've never stopped to think about cooking anything but a burger or two--maybe a chicken breast if I was feeling really wild and crazy--so I was thrilled to see how it was to grill an entire Italian meal.
I've been to these Allen and Petersen classes before and have been pleased. I've picked up great recipes and enjoyed learning a few new tricks but this one was the best yet. Probably because the instructor knew her stuff so well. She was no weekend chef or self-made fry cook, she had a four-year degree in culinary arts and there wasn't a question I could throw at her (from sauces to knives to cookware) that she couldn't answer. Besides that she was completely cute and perky and adorable, which I liked. So sue me.
We grilled radicchio and steak and peaches and everything in between but what I really came for was the pizza. Pizza is possibly the world's most perfect food and I could probably eat it, three meals a day, for seven or eight years before I'd think about getting tired of it. Only once have I met a pizza I didn't like (and let me tell you it was horrible--think "saltine with salsa" and you'd be close to the evil nature of what I experienced) and I'd heard people say that pizza grilling was a divine endeavor, one that would reward you with pleasure beyond your wildest dreams.
But, come on--how are you supposed to actually grill a bunch of dough? I had to see it to get the full picture and I'm pleased to admit that it's actually not too hard. In fact, I went out the next day and picked up a couple of the ingredients I lacked at home and recreated the entire meal on the back deck for Andrew and me with harmonious and delicious results, as you can see from the pictures.
How to Grill a Pizza: Get Your Dough
First, the dough is fairly important. Typically, to bake good bread that is tender and chewy and marvelous you don't want too much flour. Stiff, heavy and immovable dough just makes for a nasty hunk of bread but with a grilled pizza dough you do need to be careful. Don't let it get too sticky or tacky because you don't want your dough falling down through the cracks. As the instructor put it--if you touch the dough and your finger leaves a tacky mark then it's too soft.
So start with a good recipe. I'm going to refer you to my own pizza dough recipe. You don't need a fancy one, usually salt, flour, water, yeast and olive oil are the basic components that do the trick (I've been told olive oil gives it chewiness).
After that obligatory rest/raise period shape a small circle and remember that for your first time, smaller is going to be easier to work with. For our little romantic dinner out back I made two little personal sized guys rather than attempting a full-on 16 incher.
Roll the dough out with your rolling pin until it's about 1/8" thick. As it relaxes once again it will shrink back to a thicker, smaller size so don't worry if it's big and thin immediately after you roll it out. Let it set for a few minutes--maybe 20--once again on a lightly floured surface so it doesn't stick as it sits there.
Now here's where things get different. With oven-baked pizza you pile on the toppings and throw it in the oven to let it cook through and get bubbly on top. But with a grill you will instead cook the dough on both sides and then top the pizza for the final melting of cheese/heating of ingredients. This is going to make your pizza turn out quite different of course, not your golden-bubbly variety of pizzeria pizza but with fresh ingredients (chopped basil, fresh mozzarella and fresh tomatoes are a great tradition) you'll get a completely new yet highly desirable product.
Brush vegetable oil all over the top of your dough then lay it, oil side down, on your preheated grill on a medium high heat. You don't want to use olive oil because the burn point is too low so if you just can't bring yourself to use canola oil then use avocado or grapeseed oil which at least won't burn up on the grill (though they're both expensive options).
After the edges begin to look somewhat whitish and begin to bubble a bit, brush oil on the top of the dough and flip it.
Add Your Toppings
Now you scatter that sunshine. Top the dough with garlic, basil, tomatoes, cheese, salt, herbs, whatever you want and let the heat finish the job. I found it worked well to close the grill lid at this point so the cheese could melt thoroughly but still keep an eye on things. Especially if your grill has hot and cold spots.
Once it's got those pretty grill marks and looks done take it off and serve. With the dough being rather thin it should cook well in about 10 minutes total.
I wish I could give out the recipes for the Bistecca alla Fiorentina or the peaches with almond-caramel sauce. I'll tell you now that when I first saw our instructor getting ready to stick those glorious peaches on the grill I thought it was sacrilege.
A perfectly ripened peach is the most perfect fruit in the world so to do anything beyond what Mother Nature has already accomplished seemed profane to me but when I tasted the grilled quarters drizzled with the most amazing caramel sauce (no, seriously--when I made up my own batch of the stuff and had Grace try a spoonful we both giggled. "You can't eat this stuff without giggling it's so good!" she said, and rightly so) then topped with a bit of vanilla ice cream I let a sigh escape. Or maybe it was a moan, I'm not sure--I kind of blacked out at that point.
But see for yourself. I notice that they've got a Moroccan Feast class coming up and I bet Autumn is teaching that one too--her specialty is Mediterranean cuisine, including north African, and I'd love to have her show me the ropes of the region. Bring on the tagines!
Every time I go to these classes my family gets so very, very happy.
Sponsored by Allen and Petersen Kitchen and Appliance Center
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Last week I went to a cooking class to learn how to grill.