The Ins and Outs of Indoor Grilling (Featuring: Lamb Skewers with Apricots)

Chris Schlessinger and John Willoughby have a great book on grilling (surely one of the best) called “License to Grill.” (You can see it under my favorite cookbooks on the lower left hand of the site.) In the opening chapter, they write: “Grilling hasn’t changed all that much since the day some really smart cave-guy first introduced food to fire. All you really need is a fire, some food to cook, and something to lay the food on so it doesn’t fall into the flames.”

What, then, to make of the electric indoor grill? Certainly, this is one of the best:

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It’s the DeLonghi Alfredo Healthy Grill and I bought it after Cook’s Illustrated named it number one (at least I seem to remember it did) in a long ago issue that’s archived somewhere in my brain. The surface is non-stick, it fits neatly in my lower cabinet, and to heat it up I simply have to plug it in. So what’s the problem?

The problem, I think, goes back to that opening quote. The essence of grilling, one might extrapolate, is food and fire. I had plenty of food to grill last night when I made dinner but, much like the marriage of Liza Minelli and David Geffen, there just wasn’t any fire. (Though there was, mysteriously, a male gogo dancer hiding in the bathroom.)

You may recall that the night I made bruscetta, I used the grill to the grill the bread. That worked really well because, well, it’s just bread and grilled bread tastes pretty good regardless of flame or electricity. But when it comes to meat, it makes all the difference in the world. And I learnt that lesson the hard way last night when I made lamb skewers with apricots.

So check out this recipe. It’s a perfect example of what makes this book great. It’s not like they just say, “Stick some lamb on skewers and grill it.” No, no, no. There’s a wily, mysterious and exotic dry rub and a bright, elusive, sweet and soury vinaigrette. Plus, there’s cous cous. Not your typical day at the grill.

Let’s start with the vinaigrette.

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You just whisk this all together. Are you ready? 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon), 1 Tbs molasses, 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh mint, salt and freshly cracked back pepper to taste.

Easy, breezy, beautiful cover girl.

Now then, there’s the rub. Haha! That’s funny! I just wrote that out and…”there’s the rub”…ok, never mind…(cous cous doth make cowards of us all).

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The rub is: 1 Tbs minced fresh chile pepper of your choice (I left this out), 2 Tbs minced ginger, 2 Tbs minced garlic, 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro (or substitute parsley), 2 Tbs cumin seeds, toasted if you want, or Tbs ground cumin, 1 tsp ground cardamom (optional), and 1 tsp ground cinnamon.

Got it?

That’s basically all the hard work. Now you just make your skewers. The recipe tells you to get 1 lb boneless lamb leg cut into 1/2-inch cubes. At Whole Foods, they gave me lamb loin and he cut them into what I think were 1-inch cubes. If I could go back in time, I’d have insisted on lamb leg and then, when I got home, I’d have cut them up smaller. But I’m not a smart man, Jenny.

As it was, though, it was pretty good. Look:

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After coating that lamb with the dry rub, you skewer it with some garlic cloves and two apricots cut up 4 ways. Looks lovely, doesn’t it? Makes you want to start a big fire somewhere so you can cook this sucker up.

Well. No such luck. All I had was my electric indoor grill. Watch how it glows!

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Actually, if you study that picture, you can kind of see what I’m talking about. You get the grill marks, yes, but there’s none of that beauteous, juicy-ish flame-enriched meatiness that comes across in Burger King commercials or episodes of the Sopranos involving sausage. Ok, I mean maybe 3% of that is owed to the fact this was a dry rub, but this lamb needed flames and all it got was cool blue waves of electricity.

In any case, at the end (and figuring out when it was over was tough. I used my insta-read thermometer to determine if it was above 140 and it seemed to be, but each piece was different. I cut into the pieces and they were pink but that’s what we wanted, I think. If for some reason a worm grows in my stomach, now we’ll know why) it looked like this:

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The lamb, apricots and garlic from the skewers (OH! you’re supposed to blanch the garlic for 2 minutes in boiling water before you put them on the skewers. I didn’t do this and the garlic was hard and unpleasant. So you probably should do this) into a bowl and toss with the dressing. Then place on a bed of cous cous or rice or maybe even pita bread. I drizzled more dressing on and it was pretty tasty. But not fire-delicious tasty. Indoor grill tasty which is to say a little depressing.

And those are the ins and outs of indoor grilling.

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