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The mark of the pros.

Byline: JIM BOYD The Register-Guard

IF YOU HAVE a Jenn-Air grill next to your kitchen stove or a gas grill outside under the shelter of a porch roof, stop reading now. This story is for the person ill-equipped to grill in Oregon's winter rain.

A grill pan is the solution. Using a grill pan, you can cook a steak or chop - even vegetables - on your kitchen stove and produce crosshatch grill marks that are as attractive and as professional looking as any you will see on a restaurant plate.

A grill pan looks like a skillet with ridges. Like the charcoal or gas grill, it's designed to cook naturally tender, portion-size or smaller pieces of meat, poultry, fish and other foods. The food is placed in the pre-heated grill pan and cooked by heat radiating from the pan bottom and by direct contact with the ridges.

The brown grill marks left by the searing hot ridges are created by caramelization and a series of complex chemical changes called the Maillard reaction. These produce the tasty flavor of grilled and roasted meat.

Keith Ellis, director of food services for Fettucine & Company and Market of Choice stores, says a steak seared in a hot frying pan will have a different flavor than one cooked in a grill pan. The steak cooked in a flat-bottomed pan or griddle will tend to stew in its own juice and fry in its own fat, Ellis said, while the ridges on a grill pan allow the fat to drain away.

I decided to test his theory with two small tri-tip steaks that my wife had purchased for dinner. I seared one on both sides in a flat-bottomed, cast-iron frying pan and the other on both sides in a cast-iron grill pan.

Perhaps it wasn't a fair test, but I didn't notice a lot of difference in the flavor of the two steaks. What did impress me, however, was the geometric beauty of the grill marks on one compared to the less interesting, even brownness of the other.

Ellis and Mike West, the owners of five Eugene restaurants, work hard as professional chefs to produce attractive grill marks. They - and virtually everyone else in the restaurant industry - use the same marking technique.

They place a seasoned steak lengthwise on a preheated grill pan (or grill) at about a 45-degree angle to the ridges (or rods). After the first set of marks has browned, they turn the steak a quarter turn (about 90 degrees) so it now sits at about a 45-degree angle in the other direction. The pattern they see when they turn the steak over is one of little squares standing on their points.

"10 o'clock and 2 o'clock is my rule," West said. "Imagine your broiler is a clock (with the rods or ridges running from 6 o'clock to 12 o'clock). Point the product at 10 o'clock and let it get its first mark and then point it at 2 o'clock. Real simple.

"This way-that way," West said as he indicated how the steaks should placed on the grill pointing first to the left and then to the right. "Imagine a herringbone of skis going up a slope."

There are myriad possible angles when grill marking, but chefs seem to have agreed that marks made about 45 degrees left and about 45 degrees right of a steak's long axis are the most pleasing. For example, grill marks made parallel with and perpendicular to a steak's long axis look strange.

"It kind of almost looks like it was through some sort of factory pre-grilling technique that's not real," Ellis said.

On the other hand, round foods that have no long axis - things such as slices of eggplant - pose a special challenge. For those, Ellis changes the angle, burning in one grill mark at 10 o'clock and another at 12 o'clock (instead of 2 o'clock) so the grill marks form rustic diamonds instead of squares.

The restaurant broiler at West's Riverside Ranch Steakhouse is 8 feet long and 2 1/2 feet deep and has eight adjustable gas valves so it can be zoned for different temperatures. The presentation side of every steak gets grill marks seared on at the highest temperature. Then the steaks are turned over and can be moved to one of the lower temperatures, depending on whether the steak is to be served rare, medium-rare, medium, or well done.

West didn't have enough room for a broiler in the kitchen of Three Square, his new restaurant and bar at the Southtowne Shoppes. His solution was to buy Lodge brand, cast-iron grill pans - 12 of them. They are used two at a time. One heats while the chef cooks in the other. When the pan gets fouled, it's sent off to be washed and a clean grill pan is put on to begin heating.

Because they are easy to wash and don't require seasoning, Ellis prefers the All-Clad brand pans made from sandwiches of stainless steel and aluminum that his wife, Kathy Campbell, sells at Cook's Pots & Tabletops.

"We tested all types of grill pans - round and square, nonstick and stainless steel, with lids and without - with prices ranging from less than $20 to more than $100," Cooking Light magazine reported in its March 2001 issue.

"We actually liked the least expensive pan the most: Lodge's 10 1/2 -inch, cast-iron Square Grill Pan ($16.95; available at major retail and discount stores, or at www. lodgemfg.com). It produced the best grill marks and conducted heat most evenly."

The article in Cooking Light said, however, that the editors also liked a 12-inch stainless steel model by KitchenAid that was priced at $89.95.

The things to look for when choosing a grill pan, the article said, are high ridges (`if the ridges are too low, you might as well be using a regular skillet') and low sides (`low sides make flipping burgers and removing food with a spatula much easier').

The magazine also noted that a square or oblong pan will hold more food than a round pan and that a lidless pan is a good choice, because there's no reason to lock in moisture when grilling.

Gina Steer, author of "Modern Grill Pan Cooking" (discounted to $8.98 at Powell's Books for Cooks in Portland), recommends spraying the grill pan with cooking oil as the first step whenever you start to grill. She says it helps prevent the food from burning and the meat from tearing.

Other grill pan cookbook titles include "Indoor Grilling" ($12.95, Time-Life Books), "Grill Pan Cookbook" ($16.95, Chronicle Books), "Grill Pan Cooking" ($12.95, Peters & Small) and "The Best Grill Pan Cookbook Ever" ($16.95, HarperCollins).

Obviously, cooking times will vary depending on the type of pan used, the amount of heat that's applied, and the thickness and density of the food being cooked.

However, eight minutes total cooking time is a good rule of thumb for a steak such as a New York strip that's cut 3/4 -inch thick, that's being cooked on medium-high heat and that's being served medium-rare, Ellis said.

"If you like it a little rarer, you might want to pull it off a minute earlier," he said. "For medium to medium-well, another two to four minutes. I always figure that eight minutes is going to be the proper cooking time for a steak like that," Ellis said. "And, believe it or not, a salmon steak takes about the same time."

Home cooks can use a thermometer to determine a steak's degree of doneness, but professional chefs usually judge doneness by touch.

To demonstrate, West says to take your relaxed hand and, using a finger of your other hand, poke the fleshy area between thumb and forefinger. It's soft, like steak that's raw or rare. Next, West says, spread your thumb and fingers apart and poke the fleshy spot. It's firm, the way a steak feels when it's approaching well done.

Ellis and West agree that vegetables need to be brushed or sprayed lightly with oil before they are grilled.

"Don't dredge the vegetables in fat or oil," West said, "because you're just going to end up with too much fat. It will get into the bottom of the pan. It will smoke up and everything is going to get covered with a very distasteful carbon."

"My favorite vegetables," Ellis said, "are zucchini, green beans, asparagus, eggplant, tomatoes. Those can all be grilled by tossing them with some oil and then salt and pepper, and grilling them from the raw state. And, sometimes, when we want to do a little more preparation, we'll parcook some potatoes or other root vegetables.

"Sometimes we even slice up some butternut squash," he said, explaining that the squash needs to be pre-cooked before it's grilled. "Basically, you steam them or boil them and then finish them on the grill so they achieve that caramelized effect."

Pan-Grilled Smoked Pork Chops With Two-Mustard Cream

This is an example of the foods prepared with a grill pan at Mike West's Three Square Restaurant & Bar.

1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1/4 cup whole grain mustard

1/4 cup red wine

1/2 cup whipping cream

2 smoked pork loin chops, each 10 ounces (West smokes his own, but you can buy smoked chops at Long's Meat Market.)

Get your grill pan good and hot. Start your sauce by combining garlic, the two mustards and wine in a sauce pan. Bring them to a boil, stirring as needed to prevent burning. Boil for 1 minute. Add heavy cream and turn down to simmer.

Place chops in heated grill pan and cook 2 minutes. Turn the chop a quarter turn (90 degrees) and cook 2 more minutes. Turn chop over and repeat the grill-marking process on the second side. Total cooking time will be 8 minutes.

Serve with the mustard sauce. (At Three Square, wilted spinach and mashed potatoes are the other accompaniments.)

Note: You can substitute a thick slice of ham for the smoked chop in this recipe, West says. Serves 2.

Features reporter Jim Boyd can be reached by phone at 338-2363 and by e-mail at jboyd@guardnet.com.

CAPTION(S):

A grill pan is designed to not only leave crosshatch marks on steaks, vegetables or fish, but to produce the tasty flavor that only grilling can achieve.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:A grill pan makes ordinary steaks look like those served in posh restaurants; Food
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Feb 27, 2002
Words:1735
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