Meat the Press Mondays: Proper Grill Management

For Meat the Press Mondays, we bring you another episode of Prime Cuts TV.  Today’s episode focuses on proper grill management.  The ability properly manage a grill is essential especially when grilling various items at the same time or trying to cook several meats all to different temperatures.

We apologize in advance for the rough audio.  Unfortunately, the only time you can shoot a video about proper grill management is when the kitchen is busy therefore we had to have our hood fans on and other staff were working around us.  If you are viewing this post in a reader, you can view the video on Prime Cuts TV.

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How to Select the Proper Kitchen Knife

One of the biggest mistakes people make in the kitchen is not selecting the proper tools.  We’ve already discussed the importance of choosing quality knives and now bring you this video from the FoodGear team on selecting the proper type of kitchen knife:

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Do you have a favorite knife in your block?  If so, leave a comment below letting us know what type of knife it is and why it’s your favorite.

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The Steps to Making a Proper Risotto

Joe is known for his famous risotto recipes and today he shares the basics of those recipes with all of you.

Risotto is a glutenous rice that is cooked with small additions of flavored liquid such as stock or broth, rather than the measure, cover, and cook method which is traditionally used for most rice.  This cooking method and the glutenous nature of risotto creates a creamy texture unlike other rice, which is simply delicious, and has led to risotto often being referred to as “macaroni and cheese for adults”.

Risotto IS in fact a rice, not a pasta (orzo is rice shaped pasta)  which it is often confused with because of its creamy texture and the fact that on many restaurant menus, risotto is offered in the pasta section.   For those that doubt that risotto is in fact a grain, look closely at an uncooked piece before you begin to cook it next, and you will clearly see a stem scar, something all grains that were once attached to a plant will have.

The following are the steps to making a classic plain risotto (exact measurements aren’t needed here)

1.  In a rondeau pan, large saute, or small soup pot, on low-med heat, heat some vegetable oil and begin to sweat some thinly sliced shallots or onions(approx 1/4 cup)

2.  When the shallots take on the first bit of color, add your dry risotto (approx 1.5 cups).  I like Arborio rice, but there are many types to choose from.  Stirring occasionally, allow the risotto to be coated completely with the cooking oil and to toast a little bit (about 5-10 minutes).  If it begins to get very brown you have toasted too much.

3.  Time for the first addition of liquid – I almost always use white wine (approx 1 cup).  Both Chablis and Chardonnay work well.  Stirring constantly, allow all almost all this liquid to be absorbed.

NOTE! AT THIS POINT DO NOT WALK AWAY FROM YOUR RISOTTO!  GOOD RISOTTO IS STIRRED CONSTANTLY AND SMALL ADDITIONS OF STOCK ARE ABSORBED QUICKLY.  IF YOUR RISOTTO IS STICKING TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PAN YOU ARE NOT STIRRING ENOUGH, WAITING TOO LONG BEFORE EACH ADDITION OF LIQUID, AND/OR COOKING ON TOO HIGH OF A HEAT.

4.  Add your stock a little at a time (1/2 cup, or a few small ladels worth) and keep stirring.  I like to use vegetable or chicken stock, and if your stock is seasoned properly, you shouldn’t have to season the risotto very much if at all.  When the liquid is almost all absorbed, guess what… add more.  You will repeat this several times, varying in number based on the size of the liquid additions, and type of risotto you are using.

5.  Check for doneness frequently by tasting – you are looking for an al dente firmness, where the risotto is soft and creamy, not dry, but the center of the grains still has some raw “tooth” to it.

6.  When your risotto has reached this stage of doneness, you can take it off the heat if you are going to use it later.  (Spread it in a thin layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment, this will allow it to cool faster and more evenly as well as stop the cooking process).  It is now ready to complete.

7.  You can add almost anything to your risotto at this point, but I suggest before you do, you first perfect the plain risotto and your risotto timing as well.  Put your risotto back in the pan (that is if you took it out to cool for later use) and add another single addition of stock.  When this is all absorbed, taste, if it seems almost ready and needs no further seasoning or cooking, add some cold butter (for this batch 1/4 stick will do).  Let the butter melt completely, stirring constantly of course.  When the butter is melted, add some grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan or asiago (about 1/4 -1/2 cup), stir it in and when it has almost melted completely, turn off the heat.

8.  Possibly the most important step, let your risotto rest for 5-10 minutes before you eat it.  It will need some time to set and get to the right thickness for maximum creaminess and the ideal texture.

Once you have mastered the plain risotto, the possibilities of ingredients you can add are almost endless.  It is however the final timing of the last addition or two of stock that will make or break your risotto.   For example if you were to add shrimp, you could add them raw and let the heat from the cooking process finish them off or you could add pre-cooked shrimp at the very last second. You could also start with a fresh pan and some par-cooked risotto, sear the shrimp to about half done then add your risotto back to the pan with the final addition of stock and let this cooking time finish them off (this is the common restaurant method of making individual portions of risotto to order).

When adding additional ingredients it is possible to over and under cook both the risotto and other ingredients.  Use your level of experience to base cooking times.  You don’t want crunchy, or mushy risotto and you wouldn’t want uncooked or overcooked ingredients, especially proteins.

The best advice for perfect risotto is to keep it to a “less is more” kind of philosophy,  the risotto itself is the star, the additonal ingredients are the supporting actors, and you really don’t want too many of them.   A general rule of thumb is to think of 5 or less flavors and textures that will be present in your risotto.   With the rice, stock and cheese you already have three flavors before you add additional ingredients; Think of the rice, the stock and the cheese, as the main cast and base your supporting actors on what will best compliment them.   Fish stock, cheddar cheese, beef tips, and dried apricots certainly doesn’t sound as appealing as a garlic/veg stock, and Parmesan with snow peas and shrimp.

Enjoy, practice, and have fun with the endless combinations of flavors you can add to a proper risotto!

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Photo by: evilnick

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Grilling Gaucho Style in the Backyard

Although the outdoor grilling season is almost finished for us New Englanders we wanted to write about a fun and different way to kick up your next barbecue.  Joe has done this several times when he realized all too late that he was out of charcoal (kind of like Justin forgetting to charge the camera battery for Meat the Press Mondays 🙂 ).  It is simple but requires a bit of time and a few tools, however the rewards are worth the work.  Just about all New England folk who have a yard and have a fireplace in their home have some type of wood pile out behind the house and most people who have ever barbecued outdoors before have an old charcoal grill, or at least the frame to one.  If this is you, grilling the Argentine way is easy.

The few tools required are a small tree saw and a hatchet or axe, and that’s about it.  Start by completely cleaning out the charcoal grill and removing all but the bottom most grate.  Next you will need to examine your wood supplies, what you are looking for are two things: some small dry kindling wood, and some nice hardwood pieces that are not buggy, rotten, or moldy.  You won’t need a lot of the latter as proper hardwoods burn for a long time.  Our favorites are cherry, oak, and apple, but just about any non-evergreen wood will do, and if you are in doubt whether it’s a good cooking wood, give it a sniff…if it smells pleasant, and not rotten, chances are the food you cook over it will taste good too.

Next, you will need to get a base fire going in the grill.  You don’t want it to be huge but at the same time it will burn down and reduce in mass, so you don’t have to worry too much about this step.   While your base fire is burning down, split some firewood sized logs into 1/4’s or smaller, if theses will fit in your grill with the cooking grate on top, you’re good to go, if not, that’s what the tree saw is for, just cut ’em in half.  When the base fire has burned down to coals, add your nice cooking wood, not too much – two to three pieces should do for most charcoal grills.  Wait for the fire to catch, flame up then reduce in size and intensity typically taking about 15 minutes.  Place the grill grate back on top, let it heat a few minutes, brush it to clean, wipe it with a vegetable oiled towel and you’re good to go.  Cook over it just like you would a charcoal grill, only before you place any food on it, give a quick feel about a foot over the top of the grill to locate your hotspots.

When adding more wood fuel to the grill, add small amounts at a time, and remember they will flame up at first so don’t add wood directly under your food.  Master the art of cooking over a wood fire and you will quickly notice the sweet difference in flavor that hardwoods add, especially to steak.

Try a perfectly cooked, wood-fired steak just once and we guarantee you will be hooked!

What innovative cooking methods have you tried before?  We’re very interested in hearing your stories!

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Contributing Writer: Joseph M. Gionfriddo
Photo by: Munkchip

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Meat the Press Mondays [9/15/08]

For this week’s Meat the Press Mondays we are exploring compound butters as a way to improve a finished steak or a good white fleshed fish.  Compound butters are one of our favorite simple things to do in the kitchen lately.  It is essentially a technique used to flavor butter, which is then used to impart flavor to food in the cooking or finishing process.  The combination of flavors that you can give to compound butter are virtually endless.  Any food that tastes better with butter on or in it (i.e. everything) can benefit from compound butter.

There are a few simple steps used to make good compound butter.  The first and most important is to begin with soft, room temperature butter, preferably unsalted and not melted at all.  Place butter in a large mixing bowl and add any flavoring ingredients, seasonings, spices, etc.  Keep in mind that, except for in small amounts, such as a squeeze or two of citrus juice, liquids will not incorporate well with butter.  Using your hands and some disposable rubber gloves mix the butter and seasonings to thoroughly combine.  Next, with a rubber spatula, place the softened butter on a large piece of parchment paper.  Spread the butter lengthwise along the parchment paper from end to end keeping in mind the finished product is going to be a cylinder approximately the size of a paper towel tube.  Roll the parchment paper as you would paper towels and gather up the ends twisting in opposite directions, this will force the butter into an even cylindrical shape.  Place in the refrigerator until solid.  Your newly flavored butter is ready to use, cut off as much as you like and use with just about anything.

Here are a few recipes for some of our favorite compound butters:

1 lb unsalted butter
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 tsp minced garlic
1tsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Note: This is great used to top a finished steak.  Let the butter sit atop the steak while it is resting and the butter will become meltingly soft and maintain its creamy semi solid texture.

1 lb unsalted butter
zest from 1 orange, and 1 lemon
1tsp chopped parsley
1tsp chopped thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Note: This is a compound butter best used when roasting white fleshed fish,  when the fish is a few minutes away from being done add a few slices of this butter and let melt down the fish and mix with the pan juices us this as the sauce for serving the fish.

These flavorful butters are great on bread, proteins, veggies, in sauces, and as last minute flavor additions to almost any dish, savory or sweet.  Use your imagination, experiment and enjoy!

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Photo by joshbousel


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Meat the Press Mondays [9/8/08]

During last week’s Meat the Press Mondays we introduced you to several different cuts of steak.  Now, we would like to start breaking down each type of steak and providing you with some more information about them.  Today we have chosen the skirt steak.  The most common mistake when eating skirt steak is not cutting it properly.  This literally makes or breaks the experience you will have.  So, for today’s episode we explain the proper method of cutting into a skirt steak.  Enjoy!


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Build the Perfect Fire for Grilling

When starting a wood fire for cooking, the first thing to consider is the wood itself.  Hardwoods are the

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Source: Get Your Grill On

obvious choice for their clean burning nature and density when seasoned.  Some of the reasons why include:

  • good, solid coal formation;
  • an ability to carry a high enough temperature from a piece of wood that will easily catch fire and not smolder;
  • the flavor of the smokes which they produce;
  • ease of splitting or reduction in size which allows the chef to properly control the amount of heat added to the cooking fire.

My favorites for flavor are apple, cherry, and hickory.  My favorites for their functionality in use are oak and red maple.

Now to start the fire…an easy enough thing to do but there are reasons behind the different methods.  I will speak from my expertise which translates to my rectangular shaped grill, of which the fire occupies an approximate 3 cubic foot space.

I start by selecting some of the better burning/splitting “functional” firewoods (oak, maple, birch).  The intention of this is just to get the fire going and to produce a coal base to which you can add your more flavorful smoking woods (apple, cherry, hickory, mesquite) prior to cooking.

When done right you shouldn’t have to take more than two or three standard cord wood sized logs from your woodpile.  You then must proceed to split with an axe or hatchet, down to eight, or tenth sized splits.  Don’t forget to gather up all the little scraps of bark and small wood fragments that result from the splitting process to be used as kindling.   The next thing which I do to produce more small tinder is to go through all my split pieces of wood and pull off any attached fragments of wood/bark until you have a good solid fist full of small tinder.

What’s needed to start the fire? To assemble, the only things you will need in addition to the firewood are some scrap papers/an old newspaper and some type of lighter.

How to build the perfect fire. The following are the steps I suggest taking to build a strong fire perfect for grilling:

  • I use the tapered log cabin style, starting with two of the biggest, similar sized splits which I lay parallel to each other, spaced a little less than their length apart.
  • Next, stack two or three logs, alternating perpendicular layers of two parallel, similar sized splits, reducing the spacing between each consecutive layer to taper the log cabin inward on itself.  This will allow the fire to fall on itself when the wood starts to disintegrate from burning and create a denser coal base.
  • You want to have this base be less than half the height of the interior grill space in order to properly control the intensity of the fire.
  • Now fill the empty interior of your “log cabin” with a layer of loosely crumpled paper, and top the paper with your reserved small tinder.
  • Top the log cabin with one or two large pieces of firewood, which will create larger, longer burning coals and will fall in on the fire directly in the center.
  • If your log cabin is full but still has a good air flow through it, all that is left to do is light it.
  • Wait for the initial fire to die down a bit then re-stoke with some more flavorful smoking woods and be sure to give those a few minutes to fully catch fire


Note: My apologies for the background noise from the hood fans and lack of good lighting.  We’ll improve for the next episode 🙂

Now all you have to do is track down the appropriate hotspot for the food you would like to grill, and voila you are cooking like the Gauchos do on a flavorful wood fired grill!  Enjoy!


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