Mediterranean Flavors: Grill Station
This is really only the second time I get to work with a grill in a real way. The first time was last year in the AM Line Class. That time, I worked the station for a couple of days, cooking hanger steak, hamburgers, chicken, and calamari steak.
The most nerve-wracking thing about the grill station is that you need to cook meats to the right temperatures. It’s both terrifying and exciting at the same time. I was happy to learn a lot about how to tell how long to cook meats, and what the different ways are that we can tell: touch, sight, and of course, the handy thermometer. By the way, there is no shame in using a thermometer to “temp” your meats. The terrifying part is making sure it’s not overcooked, and the exciting part is slicing open a piece of meat, and finding it to be the exact temperature you wanted!
Another thing that made me nervous was that I would be touching raw meats and poultry, and needed to have a plan as to how to keep my hands clean, and remember where to put raw and where to put cooked things. Strategies include: having a sani bucket (a bucket with bleach water), using gloves, and having multiple sizzle plates (small trays to cook or rest food on). Usually, cooks will have different sizzle plates for raw red meat, poultry, and fish, and a place to rest meat after it is done cooking. The purpose of “resting” meats is to allow the juices to redistribute after cooking. If you cut into meat right after it comes off the heat, all the juices will run out onto the plate and leave the meat dry. Therefore, we let it rest for a while, cut it, and then dab it onto a paper towel before putting it onto the plate.
For example, one of our menu items is the hanger steak:
Before you put the cut piece of steak onto the plate, you dab it onto paper towel so the steak doesn’t drip all over the place, and so that the juices don’t run all over the plate. Our protein cuts are usually around 2.5-3 oz because it is a “small plates” menu. In this case, we grill the hanger steak to medium rare on the grill (unless requested otherwise), slice it, and put it onto a bed of piquillo pepper confit. Piquillo pepper is a type of chili from Northern Spain. They are roasted, seeded, and peeled, and packed into jars (or cans). The confit part means that we cook the peppers in oil. Other elements on this plate are blue cheese crumble and fried shallots.
The grill is super hot. Really, it’s a very very hot place to work. It’s basically a huge metal grate that gives off tons of radiant heat. It’s hard for me to reach over it to put food on because the heat gets to me so quickly. Tongs are my best friend when working the grill.
This is the chicken meshwi, which is basically chicken skewers marinated in garlic, herbs, and spices, and then after cooking dipped in harissa. Harissa is a spicy sauce or paste from Tunesia made from chiles, spices, garlic, and olive oil. There are two ways to use the skewers: you can skewer the chicken before grilling, in which case you need to soak them in water; or, you can grill the chicken, and then skewer it once it’s done. I chose to skewer the chicken before service so as to save time, and because I knew the chicken would be too hot to handle. That would have unnecessarily slowed me down during service. We serve the chicken skewers with tzatziki, which is a garlic-cucumber-yoghurt sauce finished with mint.
And now, one of my favorites: lamb bocadillo!
A bocadillo is a Spanish slider-type sandwich. In our version, we have a mini lamb burger on a slider bun, with an olive-cornichon garnish, and freshly-made fingerling potato chips and an aioli. The lamb burger is made out of lamb merguez sausage, which is a typical North African spiced sausage. Historically, this sausage is made with lamb or beef, and lamb casings because much of the North African population is Muslim (who don’t eat pork). During times of Christian rule, they needed to appear “normal”, so this was a way for them to eat sausage without eating pork – and no one needed to know the difference!
Another one of my favorites, the goat cheese galette, also comes off of this station. We heat it in the oven, thought, and not the grill! The galette is a flat tart with a basic tart dough and spread with a goat cheese mixture.
You get two pieces of galette with caramelized red onions and a petite baby greens salad. The galettes are finished with balsamic syrup. So good!
The only other thing that I had to do on the grill station was grill pitas and breadsticks for the bread baskets and the falafel. Overall, I had a good experience on the grill station. Chef David helped me out a lot by explaining how to organize handling the raw and cooked meats, and what equipment to use. Overall, I only overcooked one steak and one burger. Otherwise I did okay!
Next time: a look at the tiny kitchen and running pass!