Most people planning to fire up the backyard grill this Labor Day will likely focus on the two Hs of outdoor cooking: hot dogs and hamburgers.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but a charcoal-fired grill is a cooking apparatus capable of all sorts of culinary creations.
And that is why chef Ken Schafer, owner of the Boston Deli, suggests that home cooks consider maybe adding a few Ps to this year’s holiday menu.
To be more specific — pork shanks and pineapple upside-down cake.
“Shank is a cut of meat that most people are a little afraid of dealing with, but it’s perfect for cooking on a grill,” Schafer said. “For one thing, it’s so inexpensive. It’s something just about anyone can cook well, and the meat is so incredibly tender and flavorful.”
Schafer’s way of cooking pork shanks involves searing the individual shanks on all sides over a hot grill, then sauteing a mirepoix of chopped onion, carrots and celery in a large pan until soft.
After deglazing the pan with a dry white wine like a chardonnay, add the shanks to the pan, along with bay leaf, thyme and enough red wine and chicken stock to come about one-third of the way up the shanks.
“Then it’s just a matter of letting the shanks braise for about two and a half hours,” Schafer said. “I try to keep the temperature around 325 degrees.”
Once the shanks are done, Schafer takes them out to rest, pours the braising liquid into a blender and processes it, then strains it to use as a sauce for the shanks.
“We’ve done this as a Thursday special at the restaurant, and people have really responded positively to it,” Schafer said.
For those who believe that grills are good only for cooking proteins, Schafer’s pineapple upside-down cake will upend those ideas
At Boston Deli, Schafer and his staff will make the cake batter from scratch, but he said using a box cake mix would work just as well.
Schafer will melt down about a quarter pound of butter and one and a half pounds of brown sugar, then pour this mixture into two 10-inch cake pans that have been liberally coated with cooking spray. He will then arrange pineapple slices in the pans, plop cherries into the center of the slices and pour the batter into the pans.
“You want to bake these at about 300 degrees for about 40 minutes,” Schafer said. “I like to put these in the upper part of the hot box, which is usually hotter than the actual grill surface. It’s a good idea to start checking the cakes after about 30 minutes. We like to top that with grilled bananas and a bourbon caramel sauce.”
Schafer is a devotee of the Tulsa-made Hasty-Bake grills, which he has used in his restaurant ever since he opened the original Boston Deli in downtown Tulsa some 28 years ago.
“We were the first restaurant in town to use Hasty-Bakes,” he said. “I do all sorts of things with them, like baking breads and cinnamon rolls. Personally, I like doing the stuff some people might be afraid of trying to cook on a grill.”
BROILED LAMB SHANKS
“Grilling Grant’s Way,” the 2007 cookbook written by Hasty Bake founder Grant Hastings and former Tulsa World writer Mark Brown, includes a recipe for broiled lamb shanks.
2 lamb shanks
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
12 mint leaves
1 cup watter
1 cup red wine
1 onion, finely chopped
1. Combine the water, wine and aromatics. Place lamb shanks in a large sealable plastic bag or a deep bowl, and pour marinade over shanks, making sure the meat is completely submerged with the liquid. Allow shanks to marinate in the refrigerator at least overnight.
2. Remove shanks from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature before firing up the grill.
3. Build a medium-hot fire. Place shanks over the coals and close grill lid. Cook for 30 minutes, then flip shanks and cook an additional 30 minutes.
— Adapted from “Grilling Grant’s Way.”
PHILIPPE’S FAVORITE HAMBURGER
For those a bit wary of straying too far from grilling traditions, here’s burger recipe that brings a gourmet touch to this backyard staple, courtesy of chef Philippe Garmy.
5 pounds freshly ground chuck
2 tablespoons salted anchovies, chopped
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
5 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1. Combine the meat, anchovies, herbs and seasonings by hand in a large bowl. Gently shape into 10 patties, pressing a divot into the center of each burger to prevent patties from ballooning during cooking.
2. Season both sides of each patty with the extra salt and pepper, and grill to desired doneness. Serve with toasted, buttered buns and choice of condiments and toppings.