What is grilling? Does it have to happen outside? Why?
These are questions I often ask myself, especially since I’ve yet to be able to buy my dream grill (a Weber kettle drum charcoal grill) to begin my own grilling education. In the interim, I’ve read–in fact, I’ve written in my own cookbook–that you can replicate the effects of outdoor grilling with a cast iron skillet at home. Problem is, any time I’d ever done this I added oil to the skillet and whatever I was “grilling” ended up tasting like it was fried in oil, not grilled. What would happen if I heated my cast iron skillet until super hot and added food to it without any fat? Would that result in a more “grilled” flavor? I decided to give that a try with cauliflower steaks.
To make cauliflower steaks (as I blogged about once before), just slice cauliflower all the way down from top to bottom through the base until you have a few thick steaks.
Then, to grill them indoors, heat your cast iron skillet until holding your hand over it hurts, and drop the steaks in without any fat.
I sprinkled them with some salt and waited. What would happen?
Well the apartment started to smell good; it was that good smoky smell you get when you grill, not that greasy smell you get when you fry in oil. I flipped the cauliflower over when it got some color, sprinkled the other side with salt, and continued cooking this way, monitoring the heat, until a knife went through the cauliflower easily. (If the steaks are coloring faster than they’re cooking through, you can cover the pan for a bit.) Behold: grilled cauliflower steaks.
For those of you on diets, this is an excellent thing to do because you develop lots of flavor without adding any fat. You can add the fat later by way of a condiment. I had some kumquats from the farmer’s market:
So I sliced them (seeded them in the process) and tossed them in a bowl with slightly chopped kalamata olives, red onion, parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil and a splash of vinegar (white wine, if I remember correctly). (Do it to taste.)
This is powerful stuff: it’d be equally good on fish or chicken or really anything you want to pep up with bright, acidic flavor.
As it was, I used it to pep up my grilled cauliflower steaks.
And man, there was so much flavor going on considering how little fat I used.
Now that I understand how to grill indoors, I’ve been grilling lots of stuff. Bread for that spring pea toast and asparagus that I topped with fresh olive oil, lemon juice and Parmesan after it came out of the dry skillet. (In fact, this was the second half of my cauliflower dinner.)
If you don’t have an outdoor grill and want to do some grilling this summer, get yourself a cast iron skillet. Try grilling without fat on very high heat and see how it goes. Based on my own experiences, I have a feeling you’ll do very well.