Grilling With the Guru of Good Life, Part 3

Chef Rocco DiSpirito builds on the basics with a simple marinade and perfect accompanying summer drink.
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My close friend Laura (whose name has been changed to protect the innocent), who lives in Chicago, read my

last article on grilling and protested that it was too basic. I disagreed -- although people think they know a lot about grilling, when it comes down to it, they usually need help with the basics.

This was reinforced this past weekend over and over: For example, one of my houseguests didn't know get a charcoal grill started up! I actually had to show him how to place charcoal on the grill and light it -- can you imagine?

And then I got an urgent and amusing mayday call from Laura via text messaging. She was entertaining her family at their lake house in Wisconsin and had contracted a sudden, severe case of stage fright. Here's the transcript:

Laura, 12:51 p.m.: "Help with grilling, veg, shrimp, fish and chicken. What when how? What do I put on first?"

Laura, 12:52 p.m.: "What kind of fish? What should I put on it? What veggies do I buy? Can u help?"

Me (I like to tease her), 12:54 p.m.: "Are you kidding me? What else? Can I repaint ur house as well? Didn't you read my article? Thought you knew

so

much! Depends on what cuts, but chicken takes the longest if it's thick, then shrimp then fish -- again depending on the size."

Laura, 12:56 p.m.: "I know what I would buy (yeah right). I was trying to do something different. Never mind. Didn't read your article -- too many words, not enough pics."

Me, 1:12 p.m.: "Ha ha. Didn't you watch me on

The Tony Danza

show?! If people knew this they would crack up!

"Buy large shrimp, whole fish, like bass or snapper, and a grill basket for each. Try lamb chops instead of chicken and make the same marinade for everything -- try freshly squeezed lemon juice, thyme, garlic and olive oil. Toss each in marinade and then into the grill basket.

"Cook lamb and fish first (they cook in about the same time), then add the shrimp. Buy corn in the husk and cook it all on the grill and serve with a giant Belgian endive salad dressed with Dijon

mustard, sherry vinegar and olive oil. And top it off with a Domain Ott Rose. Good?"

Laura, 2:09 p.m.: "This is why I love you -- thanks!"

Everything seemed fine and then at 4:34 p.m., I received another message: "Are sherry wine vinegar and red wine vinegar the same thing?" I am still laughing.

Another tragic meal avoided. It's all in a day's work.

Remember, the basics are always where you start. Once you've laid down the foundation, you can begin to add your own flavor.

So here's a recipe for my foolproof, quick-and-easy marinade, which is infinitely adaptable to individual tastes.

Lemon-Thyme Marinade

2 lemons, juiced

1/2 bunch of fresh thyme, washed, leaves picked off stems

1 head of garlic, peeled and roughly crushed

1/2 cup olive oil

3 pounds of chicken breasts or thighs, lamb chops, whole fish or shrimp

1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and place meat or fish in the marinade. Let sit as long as possible, up to 2 hours.

2. Drain meat or fish, then place in a grill basket with as much of the marinade ingredients pressed into the flesh as possible. Close the basket tightly and grill as desired.

Any marinade like this -- based on oil and vinegar (or citrus) -- is quite simple to prepare and long-lasting, thanks to the acid. But if you're ready to move beyond the basics, try layering it with aromatic, spicy and sweet flavors.

The aromatics used here are garlic and thyme, but they could easily be replaced with fresh rosemary, oregano, cilantro, basil, parsley or lavender, either by highlighting one flavor or creating your own unique blend. And shallots or onions are great substitutions for the garlic.

Still not satisfied? Experiment with adding spicy elements like chilies (fresh or dried), Chinese five-spice powder, curry powder, cumin or fennel seeds -- or sweet flavors like ketchup, honey or molasses.

So now that you're all experts in the art of grilling, want my advice? Go and open a bottle of

prosecco, then make yourself a cool and refreshing summer drink: prosecco and pom.

It's low in alcohol, full of antioxidants and pairs well with just about any grilled food. Sit in the shade and put your feet up; you've earned it. The next time you see your grill, it will be high noon and you'll be armed with shiny tongs, a standout marinade and an abundance of great food.

Prosecco and Pom

Makes: 4

1 lime, cut into wedges

1/2 cup

hibiscus sugar (1/2 cup granulated sugar, blended in the food processor with dried hibiscus flowers) or plain sugar, in a bowl

1 bottle Martini & Rossi Prosecco, chilled

1 14-ounce bottle pomegranate juice, chilled

Ice, if desired

Rub the edges of 4 large highball glasses with lime, then dip rims into hibiscus sugar. Pour 6 ounces (3/4 cup) of prosecco and 2 ounces (1/4 cup) of pomegranate juice into each. Garnish with remaining lime and serve cold.

Note

: Rocco is shooting his new TV show, and he's looking for people with a dramatic situation in their lives involving food. Worried about that engagement dinner with your picky mother-in-law? Trying to win back that ex-girlfriend who's still mad at you for cheating on her? Trying to bury the hatchet with that outcast uncle at your family reunion cookout? Rocco wants to help you! Please

email with your problem and we will contact you!

Enjoy the Good Life? Let us know what you'd like to see in future articles.

Rocco DiSpirito was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens. His culinary experience and love of "the good life" through cooking and dining began at age 11 in his mother Nicolina's kitchen. By the age of 16, DiSpirito entered the Culinary Institute of America, graduating with honors in 1986. DiSpirito's career highlights include opening Union Pacific in New York City's Gramercy Park as chef and owner in 1997, being awarded three stars from the New York Times in a 1998 review, and three more in 2002 from the New York Observer. DiSpirito was also named Food & Wine's Best New Chef in 1999, and "America's Most Exciting Young Chef" by Gourmet magazine in 2000; his show "The Restaurant" first aired on NBC in 2003. DiSpirito is the author of three cookbooks: Flavor, Rocco's Italian American, and

Rocco's 5 Minute Flavor.