Braised, basted, glazed, smoked, roasted, grilled—you may associate these words with large slabs of sizzling meat, but I visualize mounds of breakfast potatoes and eggs, cherry-filled scones, beets, garlic, and practically any other fruit or vegetable you can imagine. I also use these techniques when preserving food; they are the essence of making that bag of frozen corn or jar of raspberry syrup Twice as Tasty.
Grilling is one of the best techniques in my preserving repertoire. It’s easy, it’s low tech, and it takes you outdoors on a sweltering summer day or even a snow-bound midwinter one. Although grilling means extra effort initially, it can save minutes to hours on canning day or when throwing together a busy work night dinner—in other words, it saves time when it matters most.
I grew up with a hibachi and then a gas grill that was regularly fired up for steak, chicken, and fish. It wasn’t until I was gifted—as a vegetarian—a copy of Williams-Sonoma’s Complete Grilling Book that I became passionate about the grill. This gorgeous coffee table–worthy book, sadly out of print but still available from used-book sellers, had the obligatory sections on meats but also introduced me to grilling corn and asparagus, nectarines and oranges, and even polenta and pizza. I lived in San Francisco at the time. I set up a $20 tabletop grill with a Coleman canister on the tiny concrete patio, bought local fresh produce, and somehow found time in a 60-hour work week to put the cookbook through its paces, with stellar results every meal.
Now that I live in Montana, time, outdoor grilling space, and homegrown produce are more easily found. Long summer evenings that cool quickly in the mountains make a grill-based meal tempting after the busiest day. And now that I’m a pescatarian, we fire off not only all the amazing produce mentioned earlier but also fish tacos and other seafood dishes. Our latest discovery has been smoking, which we’ve been applying with raging success to cheese, nuts, and—after tasting the Veggie Ruben at Three Forks Grille—beets.
This list may make you think we threw down for fancy equipment, but our setup is about as minimal as you can get. We pull off all of these treats, including the smoked goodies and racks of veggies that go into the water bath or freezer, on a battered, twice handed-down charcoal Weber kettle grill. So you can stop making “I can’t afford a grill” your excuse: pick up a cheap, used, or even abused model and join us on this food adventure.
Twice as Tasty
We stumbled onto grilling as part of processing when making pasta sauce and salsa. After spending one of the hottest days of summer in a friend’s kitchen roasting tomatoes in the oven and then cooking down giant pots of sauce for hours before turning the room into a sauna with the water bath, I knew there had to be a better way. Even worse, we were pouring gallons of roasted tomato juice down the kitchen drain to cut down on our reduction time.
It didn’t take long to find solutions to the two-fold challenge. First, why not grill those tomatoes outdoors? Second, why not use that excess juice? We’re not regular juicers, but Grilled Tomato Bloody Marys? Yes, please.
From there, it was easy to start grilling the racks of peppers, garlic, and onions destined for pasta sauce and salsa. And one taste of grilled onions inspired the solution to a wood-heated house that caused dried onions to rot quickly in winter: grill and then freeze.
By now, a good portion of what goes into our freezer and on our canning shelves has spent time on the grill. I’ll be sharing some of those ideas and recipes with you over the next couple of months. Grilled corn is on the schedule for next week, along with a stock that uses the leftover cobs. I’ll also write about grilling eggplant and onions for two of my favorite dips summer or winter: Baba Ghanouj and Onion Lover’s Dip. Sometimes fresh is best, and your grilled veggies will be gobbled up off of Shish Kabab skewers or tortilla chips dipped in Corn, Bean, and Pepper Salsa. But I make a convincing case for stashing away as many grilled tomatoes and tomatillos as your—and your friends’—freezer can hold: Grilled Tomato Chipotle Salsa and Grilled Tomatillo Salsa are made Twice as Tasty in Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary Mix and Grilled Tomatillo Margaritas.
Until next week, here are a few thoughts on why you should and how to prepare to grill for the future:
- Acquire a grill: If you don’t have one already, a grill is an excellent addition to your cooking arsenal that doesn’t need to squeeze into your kitchen. We prefer an old charcoal kettle because (1) it was free and (2) it’s easy to use for smoking.
- Save (or find) some freezer space: Our chest freezer is only 5.5 cubic feet, so I do my best to empty it before harvest gets into full swing. This is partially to make room for the ensuing winter stash, but it also serves as a temporary home for tomatoes, tomatillos, and their companions. We grill as these ripen and then freeze them until we have enough for to fill a water bath with jars of salsa. In recent years, I’ve turned to friends with an empty freezer for those few weeks when I need precanning room.
- Take time to save time: Yes, grilling is an additional step in many cases. But if the glorious flavor it adds isn’t enough, consider this: Onions and peppers can be frozen without blanching, but they then need to be defrosted and cooked. By grilling and then freezing on trays, you can open a bag, pull out a hunk of produce, toss it frozen into the pot or pan, and cook just long enough for it to defrost and blend in.
- Don’t sweat it: The time savings are even greater when water-bath canning: Grill your tomatoes, drain off the juice, and freeze the solids until you have the 10 or so cups you need for a kettle of salsa. On canning day, dump the tomato solids—and all your other grilled veggies—into a stockpot and heat just until the mix simmers and the flavors are blended instead of the hours normally needed to reduce the brew. Freeze that juice too; you’re already three-quarters of the way to a Twice as Tasty recipe.
- Enjoy your grill time: Grilled foods taste so good that you’ll want to eat right from the grate. We often plan storage grilling sessions so that we can include dinner on the same fire, either sneaking a few morsels from the batch destined for the recipe or making room on the side for Portobellos or another main. In recipes, I try to list grilled weights, as well as fresh. That way, if you’ve filled a rack with one type of produce, you can siphon off what you want to use straight away and apply the rest toward the recipe.