Thursday, March 15, 2012

Licensed to Grill

A version of this article appeared in the Montreal Mirror on March 15, 2012 (here).

Grilling means cooking by direct heat radiation. The food being cooked rests on a grill, at a certain distance from the heat source—usually, hot charcoals or rocks heated with a propane flame. As the familiar charcoal and gas-fuelled devices are for outdoor use only, grilling is a cooking method most of us use only in the summertime. That’s unfortunate because grilling is both a delicious and healthy way to cook things.

Grilling in the wintertime need not entail freezing one’s derrière. It can be done indoors, right on your stovetop! All you need is a cast iron grill pan—basically, a large skillet with ridges on the inner surface. This can be acquired at a kitchen specialty store for around $50.

It matters little whether your pan is circular or square. The most important thing is the shape of the ridges. They should be at least two centimetres apart and the valleys between them should be at least one centimetre deep. Beware of pans with shallow ridges placed close together! These will just fry foods rather than grill them.

Look at those ridges.

Notice that I said cast iron. Don’t even think of getting anything made of any other material, especially Teflon-coated aluminium. Teflon begins to disintegrate and emit toxic fumes at tempera­tures above 250°C (500°F), which you can easily achieve on a domestic stove. Yes, cast iron is heavy, but why not improve your musculature while you cook?

With use, cast iron naturally develops a non-stick property, not unlike that of Teflon. Your grill pan will not have this property straight out of the box, however. To develop it, you will have to allow layers of waxy fat to build up on the pan’s inner surface. This is called “seasoning” the pan. Even if the manufacturer of your new grill pan claims it is pre-seasoned, you should build up more seasoning by rubbing cooking oil over the inner surface with a piece of paper towel and heating the pan over high heat until the oil is smoking. Repeat the process four or five times, allow­ing the pan to cool before reapplying oil.

When the time comes to grill something on your stovetop, heat the empty pan on medium to medium-high heat. It’s a mistake to use high heat! You’ll burn your food and make a whole lot of smoke. Allow at least 10 minutes for the pan to heat up. Once that pan is hot (it should be smoking slightly), do just as you would on an your outdoor grill. Obviously, the surface area is a little more constrained so you may need to be prepared to cook things in batches.

Even at modest temperatures, grilling on a pan will inevitably produce some smelly, clothing-penetrating fumes. If you have a kitchen fan, I strongly advise you use it at full power. If you don’t, I strongly suggest cracking a window at least slightly open. After an indoor grilling binge in an unventilated kitchen several winters ago, my mother told me I would never reproduce smelling the way I did. She may have had a point.

To maintain your pan’s non-stick properties, avoid washing it with soap. Use only hot running water and scrub it vigorously with a non-metallic but stiff-bristled brush. The inner surface should remain somewhat oily-looking after washing.

Steak with Blue Cheese Butter Recipe


  • 300–400 g well-marbled steak (about 2 cm thick)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 50 g blue cheese
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard

  1. Remove from fridge 30–60 minutes before cooking to bring the steak to room temperature.
  2. Coat both sides of the steak with soy sauce first, olive oil second.
  3. Put the grill pan on medium-high heat. While waiting for the pan to heat up, mash the butter, blue cheese and mustard together with a fork in a small bowl.
  4. Grill the steak, about five minutes per side for medium rare. If you want to impress someone with a sexy-looking lattice of grill marks (see photo), rotate the steak about 60° after three minutes of cooking on each side.
  5. Remove the steak from the pan, cover with a plate or foil and let it rest for five minutes. This is very important!
  6. Garnish with blue cheese butter and serve.




Serves two normal people or one greedy fat bastard (i.e. myself).

Good appetite.