The Flavours of Summer: Hot Off the Grill
By Patricia Nicholson
Although restaurants grill year round, many customers associate grilling with summer. That's just one reason why grilled items make great additions to summer menus.
"Grilling is its own flavour," says Bob Villeneuve, Sysco Executive Chef in Toronto, adding that one of its primary advantages is that it's a flavour profile that people like. It also works well on menus: the adjective "grilled" has great customer appeal, and a higher perceived value than some other cooking methods.
It also has a higher heat than other cooking methods, offering operators the advantage of turning product around very fast, Villeneuve says.
"You need a hot grill," says Dominique Dien, Sysco's Executive Chef in Vancouver. "It has to be hot enough that the meat is not going to stick and not going to burn."
For classic grilled steaks, it's important to make sure the steaks are completely thawed before being placed on the grill, or they won't cook properly, Dien says. "You want to season it basically when it's almost cooked."
For steaks, Dien favours rock salt and cracked pepper for seasoning. For other meats and vegetables, a marinade with a few simple ingredients can enhance flavour: "Fresh herbs work well: basil, chives, fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, a little bit of fresh garlic and you get a great marinade," he says.
Grilled kebabs can be seasoned with different sauces for almost endless menu variety. Ready-to-grill beef, chicken and shrimp kebabs can be dressed with sauces such as Kashmir Curry, Satay, or Sysco Imperial Five Peppercorn to bring new dimensions and menu appeal to these summer favourites. Classic Smoky barbecue sauce brings timeless hickory smoke flavour to any kebab. Asian flavours such as Szechuan or Teriyaki bring exotic appeal to the grill.
At outdoor events, such as golf course barbecues, menus can include steaks, pork chops, baby back ribs with hickory or mesquite flavoured barbecue sauces, or lamb. Frenched lamb chops are an elegant addition to a grilled menu. For lighter fare, rare or medium-rare tuna works very well on a salad, Dien says.
Grilled vegetables, including red, yellow and green peppers, grilled asparagus, and grilled bok choy are excellent additions. Baked potatoes
can also be cooked on the grill.
Dien recommends doing bruschetta on the grill: "You can do very nice goat cheese and tomato barbecued bruschetta," he says. Pepper salsa and green tomato are other options.
"If you're a little bit adventurous you can do some smoking," Dien says. Throwing some hickory wood onto the barbecue and closing the cover for a few minutes results in a wonderfully fragrant hickory smoke.
Rib-fest events have drawn crowds in locations across Canada, demonstrating the appeal of a simple but hearty menu such as barbecued ribs and corn on the cob. Corn on the cob can be simplified by blanching in advance, Villeneuve says. It looks and tastes great finished on the grill, and saves the trouble and bother of having a corn pot full of boiling water at hand. If the whole meal is cooked or finished on the grill, the operator only has one piece of equipment to look after.
Since grilling is so well received by customers, Villeneuve says many operators will put anything on the grill that won't fall through. Grilled wraps, such as a chicken BLT wrap that's thrown on the grill just before serving to heat it and add those appetizing grill marks, are one example. Grilled meats served with salads and fruit salsas make appealing summer meals. More creative examples include grilling whole lobsters by placing them on the grill and then covering them with a stainless steel bowl to create a combination of oven and grill.
Of course, there's no beating the nostalgic appeal of hamburgers and hot dogs. Caterers now do corporate events at which they cook hot dogs and burgers on a barbecue, and serve them to guests in suits and ties in the parking lot - just because it's fun, Villeneuve says.
For an updated patio classic, try creating signature burgers using inspired toppings. One of Dominique Dien's tempting creations is topped with roasted chipotle pepper mayonnaise, green mango, lime and cilantro, finished with crushed green peppercorns.
Grilled items are crowd pleasers all year round, but in summer, their appeal only grows as customers are drawn to the fun, flavour and fond memories of cooking and eating outdoors.
Ready-to-grill beef, chicken and shrimp kebabs can be dressed with sauces such as Kashmir Curry, Satay, or Sysco Imperial Five Peppercorn to bring new dimensions and menu appeal to these summer favourites.