Grilling The Chefs – Secrets from Morton’s, City Tavern & More…

May 1, 2016

Anyone who has enjoyed a summertime barbecue recognizes the sound of a sizzling grill and is familiar with the distinctive taste that outdoor grilling adds to the various meats and vegetables. No doubt about it – grilling is a popular method of cooking, especially during the warmer months. Grilling enthusiasts can often be found participating in lively discussions, and offering their strong opinions about the best way to grill steaks or seafood, or why they prefer gas or charcoal.

Since the grilling season is now upon us, I wanted to do a bit of investigating and delve into the secrets of  grillingthechefsgreat grilling. I decided to find several Philadelphia chefs who were willing to share their tips and suggestions. Chefs from Morton’s, The City Tavern, Philadelphia Fish and Company, and Feast Your Eyes catering company, each offered their personal favorite techniques for grilling meats and fish to perfection.

On a recent visit to Morton’s Steakhouse, I asked Mark Szymanski, the restaurant’s general manager and resident grilling expert to share his insights with us. Szymanski knows his way around a grill. In addition to his years of experience at several Morton’s locations throughout the United States and as a chef, he, along with his wife, also owned and operated a restaurant a few years ago.

With his recent arrival in the Philadelphia area, he and his family are ready for some summer grilling at home, and he uses the knowledge he’s gained from Morton’s to make this method of cooking a major part of his summer meals. Since the 25-year-old Morton’s restaurant chain is one of ” the largest purchasers of prime beef in the world,” Szymanski is well versed in meat selection and grilling.

With regard to grilling meat, Szymanski explained, “Although it takes a lot practice to master the grill, there are three important points to remember that can ensure a positive meat-grilling experience, whether cooking at home or for a restaurant full of customers: type of cut, grade of meat, and the thickness of the meat.”

He continued, “When selecting the grade of meat, always choose prime beef – or, at the very least, choice. l always recommend selecting a better cut of meat, as opposed to relying entirely on marinating to flavor the food. If grilled properly, meats are flavorful without the marinade.”

Szymanski pointed out that it is essential to have a conversation with your butcher, inform him or her of your grilling plans, and be sure to ask for a thicker cut. He says, “The thicker the cut, the more the juices will be retained and the meat will ultimately have a much better flavor.”

For a sure bet, Szymanski recommends choosing New York Sirloin. In his expert opinion, it works best, because it does not contain a lot of fat.

And what about the debate concerning charcoal versus gas grilling? He said, “Both types of grills are capable of generating intense heat, usually up to temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Charcoal does provide a distinctive flavor that is not easily reproduced, but the gas grill has proven to be more convenient.”

Szymanski says, “For the novice, it is best to use gas instead of charcoal when cooking steaks, because it provides an even cooking surface.” He even recommends purchasing flavored wood chips specifically made for use with a gas grill.

For seafood fans, grilling can bring out the best in a piece of fish. Just make sure you choose the correct fish. “For grilling fish, I prefer farm-fresh salmon, swordfish, halibut mahi-mahi and tuna. It is essential to remember that fish cooks very fast and you need to watch it constantly so it does not overcook.”

Szymanski mentions that “timing” mistakes occur all too often and should be avoided if at all possible. “Sometimes people are very enthusiastic and put the meat on the grill too early, or just let it burn,” he said. Szymanski has seen grilling problems arise when the cook is just tying to do too many things at the same time.

After the successful grilling experience, Szymanski says his absolute favorite part about summer grilling is that “you can cook the entire meal on the grill and there are no dirty dishes to wash afterwards.”

On the other side of town, Kevin Meeker, the chef and owner of Philadelphia Fish & Company, likes to add his own special flavors by marinating the foods prior to grilling.

Meeker said, “Prepare foods, such as whole fish, chicken or meat, on the hot grill that is simply kept oiled. For marinating the foods, I suggest a combination of this: soy sauce base, with Asian Srirocha (a hot pepper sauce), brown sugar and ginger marmalade added. This makes the marinade sweet, hot and salty at once, and adds a terrific flavor!”

Meeker is very familiar with marinades because Philadelphia Fish & Company has been grilling since 1983. Since it opened its doors, this restaurant has won numerous regional and national awards for its food, and ambiance. Meeker continues to expand his culinary knowledge by cooking with top chefs including Emeril Lagasse; Allen Susser and Paul Prudhomme. In fact, a creative alliance with Hawaiian chef Sam Choy resulted in the restaurant offering Pacific Rim fish.

Providing another interesting perspective, Lynn Buono from Feast Your Eyes, an off-premise caterer based in Philadelphia, explains; “The two main grilling secrets we use is marinate and dry rubs. We never use a sugary sauce to grill with because they burn easily.

For flavor, it is best to apply a barbecue sauce at the end.” Buono, along with Skip Schwarzman, began the business in New York, Miss Amelia’s, which features authentic Southern American “Bar-B¬Q.” The Bar-B¬Q Menus offer the traditional foods, along with new twists on smoked foods that work well in gourmet settings.

Buono said, ‘ “At Miss Amelia’s, we use a lot of dry rubs. It forms a crust on the meat as it is grilling, thereby keeping in the juices. Brining turkey breasts and chickens makes for very juicy grilled meat and protects it from drying out.”

In Old City Philadelphia, The City Tavern’s chef and proprietor Walter Staib, believes that marinating the meat, chicken or fish is the key to success. With more than 40 years of culinary experience, Staib is considered to be an expert in grilling and is well known for his unique and flavorful marinades.

The recipient of numerous awards throughout his career, Staib has created and opened more than 300 restaurants all over the world. In fact, he has been named the “culinary ambassador to the city of Philadelphia.” Staib provided several tips arid suggestions for successful grilling. (He was also kind enough to share a recipe for one of his favorite marinades).

Staib’s top five grilling secrets:

• Marinate, marinate, marinate. Beer makes a great marinade, so does bourbon with brown sugar and seasoning (herb rub).
• Don’t be afraid to grill fish and different types of seafood
• Kebabs can be delicious on the grill, but don’t use things that will fall off when cooking, such as cherry tomatoes. Use big chunks and be sure to skewer them exactly through the center, so they don’t fall apart. I like to use big pieces of onion, pepper, etc.
• Vegetables are wonderful for grilling. I marinate them in a little teriyaki for flavor, then quickly grill them, or marinate them in soy with apple cider.
• I also like to do a jerk marinade (see recipe).

Chef’s Note:  The unique flavor of jerk comes in great part from cooking over moist pimento wood, which is not available in the United States. To create that wonderful flavor without the pimento wood, soak one cup of whole allspice berries in water for about 30 minutes, then sprinkle them over the coals of the grill and cover to allow the smoke to permeate the meat or seafood.

Walter Staib’s jerk marinade for meat and seafood;

1/2 pound scotch bonnet’ (remove stem; rough-cut)
1/2 pound thyme (remove leaves) 6 ounces freshly ground allspice I cup fresh ginger, minced
1 Large onion
4 bunches scallions (white and green) 1 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 cup oil (blended)
I6 cloves garlic (minced)
~Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Place all ingredients in rood processor except soy sauce and oil. After finely minced or pureed, place in mixing bowl and add soy sauce and oil, mixing until well combined. ‘ Store in glass jar or clay pot.
For meats (chicken, beef or pork): Place in the marinade and let sit overnight. Remove the meat and grill at a high temperature until cooked through

For seafood (fish; lobster, shrimp): Place the fish or seafood in the marinade for one hour only. Do not over marinate or it will break down the fibers in the fish arid seafood_ resulting in a mushy consistency when cooked. Remove from the marinade and grill at a high temperature until cooked through.


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