Grilling with ease
Wrap up your Memorial Day menu to lock in flavor and aroma
Cedar-wrapped mahi-mahi: Tie the cedar paper packages with string, or use garlic chives dipped briefly in hot water to make them pliable. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
These days, though, the grill is increasingly serving as an outdoor stove where a far wider range of fare than steaks, burgers and hot dogs is being prepared. Some food items are too delicate to withstand the searing heat of a grill while others are too small to sit easily on the rack without special grilling accessories. Wrapping them in aluminum foil, thin sheets of cedar "paper" or even husks and leaves offers protection while concentrating flavors and fragrance.
And, just right for Memorial Day partying, cooking food in packages on the grill means no-mess entertaining. Prepare the food ahead of time, wrap, cook, toss the empty wrappings when done.
"The real reason for wrapping things up is, it is a great way to get flavors to infuse into the food you're cooking," says Jennifer Chandler, the Memphis, Tenn.-based chef and author of "Simply Grilling: 105 Recipes for Quick and Casual Grilling" (Thomas Nelson, $24.99). Take sliced lemons, onions and fresh herbs. Throw these aromatics on the grill and they risk falling through the grate, she says, while wrapping them with the meat or fish means cooking together and an exchange of flavors.
Even the wrap itself can lend a taste element, according to Judith Fertig of Overland Park, Kan., co-author of "The Gardener & the Grill: The Bounty of the Garden Meets the Sizzle of the Grill."
"A corn husk can give a slight sweetness. Wrap food in a banana leaf and it will make the food taste slightly like black olives," she says. Even a Swiss chard or kale leaf, brushed with a little olive oil, can be pressed into service.
Whatever you choose, wrap neatly — pretend you're wrapping a package, Chandler says, so edges stay closed — and you are ready to grill.
Wrapping do's and don'ts
Don't overstuff: Sort foods by shape and similar cooking times otherwise "it's almost impossible to get everything cooked properly. Less is more,'' says Jamie Purviance, author of "Weber's Smoke: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill" (Oxmoor, $21.95).
Husks and skins: Corn husks, fresh or dried (soak before grilling) are just one option. Purviance recommends cooking onions in their skins, nestling the bulbs among the coals. If using husks or a banana leaf, Fertig recommends standing close by with a spray bottle of water to douse any flare-ups.
Alternative soaks: Corn husks, leaves and wood papers should all be soaked pre-grilling to reduce the chance of burning. While water works, Chandler recommends experimenting with other liquids, including juice and wine, to infuse the food with another layer of flavor.
Grilled fiesta shrimp
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Note: Adapted from "Cooking Light Way to Cook: Grilling" (Oxmoor, $24.95).
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil