Sam the Cooking Guy, author of "Just Grill This"
Related Story: Fire Up The Grill This Summer
ST. JOHN: There's a good chance many of you are either firing up the grill right now or thinking about what you plan to do when you fire it up later. We have in studio a favorite San Diego-based kitchen icon, Sam the cooking guy! Sam Zion is the author of three cookbooks, and hero of TV and web casts. Thank you so much for joining us.
ZIEN: My pleasure.
ST. JOHN: Tell us, I was looking at your cookbook, you've written three, and one of them is called Just Grill This, which is the most appropriate for today. Why is it do you think Americans love grilling so much?
ZIEN: The basic of all basic ways to cook. Fire and a stick and you're away at the races.
[ LAUGHTER ]
ZIEN: It's really the first way that we started cooking, the campfire thing, the cave men, that whole idea. But it's one of the areas that holds more fear for most Americans than anything else.
MAUREEN ST. JOHN: It's true. As a woman, I have to say I'm a little intimidated by the grill. Are women getting more confident?
ZIEN: Absolutely. The whole cooking thing has blown up in the last few years. Though there are plenty of men that feel even though they'd never cook anything inside the house, they're obligated to cook outside.
ST. JOHN: Huh.
ZIEN: And I be most of them are ruining everything they do want
ST. JOHN: Oh, no!
ZIEN: Before I started cooking professionally, anything I did on the grill I ruined. And it was pretty much a dirty little secret with my wife and I. I would go outside and ruin something and bring it in, and we'd eat it in silence, never discussing how badly I burned it up or whatever.
ST. JOHN: Let's start with the pitfalls. That's the biggest and how can you avoid it?
ZIEN: Here's the thing. I think people are scared of heat in general. Heat will burn you. It will ruin food. But when it comes to outside grilling, you really do benefit from more heat. Heat is going to help you cook a steak the right way, outside and in. But it really is going to do it -- if you do it in a shorter period of time, more heat, less time, you'll get it where you want on the outside without overdoing it on the inside. And that's really one of the biggest problems. People complain to me that their steaks are often gray inside and that's not what they like. I think they're going by what it looks like cooked on the grill. And I think we could all recognize a properly cooked steak, at least from the outside. And there's two ways to get it there. One is a little bit of time and lots of heat. Or a little bit of heat and a little of time. If you go the little heat, a lot of time right to, get it looking right on the outside, it will be fullo cooked all the way through on the inside and well done, and anybody listening should know, don't lose your steaks well done.
ST. JOHN: Okay, you'll lose that juiciness.
ST. JOHN: So the key is don't be afraid.
ZIEN: Don't be afraid. The quote I've written in the beginning of this book cooking is like riding a bike, the more you do it the better you get.
ST. JOHN: Is a therm meter help helpful?
ZIEN: A thermometer is going to be helpful. In the beginning days, grab at a thermometer, adjust it to where you want it cooked. If I take it off, put it on a plate, it will rise in temperature a couple of degrees.
ST. JOHN: That's a key.
ZIEN: An instant-read thermometer is very good. But in particular, if you're cooking meat, never cook a steak cold. Don't take it out of the fridge and put it on the grill. You won't get it outside and inside where you want. Let it rest out of the fridge, at least a half hour. Unless you have a wife like mine who will promptly put it back in the fridge because she's scared that it will turn into botulism somehow on the counter. And it won't. A good half hour on the counter. Then when you cook it, you have a fighting chance for getting it closer to where you want it to be.
ST. JOHN: And do you want to leave it before you finish cooking it
ZIEN: You have to let it rest. Unlike chicken that you move it around a little bit, it has more 2359 in it and grease, and it'll flare up, and you want to find a cooler spot on the grill. Steak, put it down, leave it down maybe 3-4 minutes a side, flip it over, same on the other side, take it over, cover it loosely with foil and let it rest a good solid ten minutes. And it's not going to cool down. It'll still be delicious. But what will happen, it will give the steak an opportunity for the juices to reabsorb back to where you want them to be.
ST. JOHN: So you have to keep your guests at bay for a few minutes.
>> Yes, and I use that time to cook things that don't need a lot of time, whether it's some bread being warmed or vegetables, that kind of thing, perfect time for that stuff.
ST. JOHN: Now, what about someone who is looking for a way to impress their guests simply? Without any complicated extra sources or side dishes.
ZIEN: Well, by making side dishes or making anything, let's say you get invited to somebody's home today, and there's still time. I'm sure there's still people out there listening that have to show up at somebody's house, they have been told to bring something. Don't default to the standard pasta salad. That's just so done! Don't do that again.
[ LAUGHTER ]
ZIEN: A couple things that I like to do. Very simple. I buy raw shrimp at the supermarket and secures, and a little store-bought pesto. It's very simple. Skewer the shrimp, long ways.
ST. JOHN: A lot of good pictures in this book, I have to tell you. It's really fun to read and look at it.
ZIEN: Thank you, thank you. So you skewer the shrimp, spoon? Pesto on all sides of it, and you throw it on the grill, and that's it. And shrimp will not take very long on the grill. Three minutes. Done.
ST. JOHN: That sounds like a real easy one. If you're due in an hour, you could do that.
>> Exactly. If you count the stick, it's three ingredients, if you don't, it's 2! The other thing that's really simple going to somebody's house today, I buy those mini-frozen meatballs, they're about an inch in diameter, and let them difrost if you have time. If not, open the bag and dump them on a grill. You could brush them with -- I use a lot sesame oil to, you know, kick up the flavor a little bit. You don't have to. Just get them on the grill, they'll defrost on the grill, they'll get brown and crispy, and people forget, the color that the grill gives, the marks on a steak, the marks on chicken, that's where a lot of the flavor comes from. And you want that.
ST. JOHN: Don't be afraid of char.
ZIEN: Don't be afraid to leave it. But imagine if you had two identical steaks, and you could cook them to the same temperature inside, but one you did in the microwave, I know it would be gross, and one on the grill. The one on the grill is going to have 18,000 times more flavor because of the marks, the smoke, that kind of thing.
ST. JOHN: Okay, we're talking with Sam the cooking guy, whose book, just grill this, is full of wonderful recipes for grills. Some of your sauces were great. There's a horse radish cream. I love horse radish, but sometimes I think it's a little bitter.
>> It can be. But it's simple for me, a little sour cream, a little prepared horse radish, which is different from horse radish sauce which is already made for you. I suppose you could just go buy it, but I like to keep the pieces out because I use them differently. I put a little olive oil in, it makes it creamier for me, and then fresh ground pepper, and that's it. If you want to chop up some parsley, make it prettier, you're welcome to do that. But almost any steak that you take off the grill will benefit from that, a little bit of the horse rad in, the creaminess of the sour cream. It's also delicious.
ST. JOHN: You make it sound so easy
ZIEN: It is!
ST. JOHN: And with the pictures it looks easy too. Of another one was mint yogurt cream sauce.
ZIEN: Oh, gosh! Think about that. Really, Greek yogurt, which is the yogurt to buy these days. It's thicker, and it's going to stand up here in a sauce. Mint, just a handful of mint, chopped up fine, mixed in with some fresh lime juice. Almost on anything! You could go to the store right now, buy those things, buy some ground lamb, and I don't think people do the ground lamb thing as often as they have.
ST. JOHN: You can grill that okay?
ZIEN: Absolutely! I like to make little sausage shapes. There's probably some middle eastern term for that. I don't know what it is. But I'll take red onion and mint, salt, pepper, mix it in with the lamb, shape them into these tubes, put them on the grill. And just let them cook like you would a Hamburger! Roll them around, when they come off, put them inside of a warm pita with that sauce we've just made, some fresh chopped tomatoes, and you're going to be very happy eating that. People complain about lamb being expensive, and it is. The ground lamb is not. It's all the flavor without the lamb price.
ST. JOHN: This is independence day, after all. So a little investment!
ZIEN: Of course, of course.
ST. JOHN: How about fish? I was listening to Terry Gross this week talking about how it can end up looking look cat food on the grill if you aren't careful.
ZIEN: Once again, it's about time. We go to sushi bars, we eat raw fish. We're happy to eat raw fish. Then you go home and you put a sea bass on your grill and you ruin it. You don't need to do that. It's very simple. Hot grill, nice piece of fish, get a piece that's thicker, can stand up better, your grill needs to be pre-oiled once it's hot.
ST. JOHN: You spray it?
ZIEN: I use the cans of spray! It's just simple. I know there's a school of thought that says take a towel, roll it up, douse it in oil, grab the tongs and back and forth. Please! I want to eat now! I get mad when I hear people say cook until it's really flaky. You want a little bit of flaky, but if it's realize flaky, you've just basically made tune it out of a can. And you don't want that when you're cooking fish on a grill or in a saute pan in your house. It dries it out. It's the same concept as a steak. You're not going to put a thermometer in, but you're going to watch it. When it starts to change in color, flip it. You're going to be fine.
ST. JOHN: Especially if you've got if nice and hot.
ZIEN: Exactly. If you're not comfortable cooking a steak, if you're not comfortable cooking fish, do this. The next time you see either of those proteins at the supermarket, buy two or 3†pieces. Come home and experiment. Heat up the grill, oil it, put the fish or steak on, now start to watch. Get a sense of when it needs to turn, get a sense of how done it is on the inside. If that means taking a knife and making a cut in the side of a steak, that's perfectly acceptable. You don't want to do that all the time because you're going to lose juices. If you can master pushing on your hand, you can go to any website, buy the book and I give you directions for how to know, push on the fat pad on your thumb, how to approximate how well done a steak is that way. That's fine. Just get out there and start to cook and don't be afraid.
ST. JOHN: Is there anything that cannot be grilled?
ZIEN: Eggs, a grilled egg on a frill, a lot difficult. It's going to slip through. But piece Aperfect example. I like to go to the trader Joe's and the whole foods of the world and buy the pizza dough already made. It only lasts for a couple days, so buy it that way, take it home, leave it out of the fridge for a half an hour, let the glutens inside relax. A little olive oil on a pan, put the dough down and spread it out. You've got oil on both sides, take it on a medium-hot grill like you're putting a sheet on a bed, and lay the pizza dough out on the grill. And it's going to be five, six minutes. When it gets those beautiful strips on the bottom, flip it, and now you can put anything you want on the top or just brush it with a little garlic oil that you've made yourself, and scatter a little Monterey jack cheese on top for a really good, thick, doughy bred to serve with the ribs that you're going to make or the steak or the salad. Anything.
ST. JOHN: Now, what if you don't have a grill?
ZIEN: There's plenty of people who don't have the outside space. That's completely acceptable. Just go buy a grill pan. And you'll be glad you did. Not just so that you can approximate what's going on outside with the beautiful stripes and stuff, but a grill pan in the dead of winter when you wouldn't go outside anyways makes everything look so much better.
ST. JOHN: Feels like summer again!
ZIEN: Exactly. But a grilled cheese made in a pan with those raised -- what do you call that?
ST. JOHN: Framework?
ZIEN: Edges, yeah. The raised bits, a grilled cheese made on that with those striped lines in it, not just looks good, but all those striped lines add to the crispy bites that you want to take all the way through.
ST. JOHN: I love your theory about cleaning the grill. A lot of people hate doing that.
ZIEN: Here's the deal. Before you cook on a grill, you have to get it superhot. After you've cooked on it, you have to burn off all the stuff you've left on there. So you have a choice. What I used to do is take my steak off, crank the grill on hot, close the lid, forget about it, I'd go back the next morning, there'd be no gas in the tank. What I do now, I take the food off, shut the lid, turn it off. Next time I go out to grill, turn it on high, close the lid, leave it for ten minutes. You're going to burn off all of the junk left over from the time before and heat the grill to the point where it's ready for you to go put anything you want on it.
ST. JOHN: I think that's just a great suggestion. Well, we've come to the end of our time. Thank you so much for joining us.
ZIEN: You're welcome. My pleasure.