June gloom, it’s such a downer. It happens every year and we still seem so unprepared to wait until after the 4th of July to start planning outdoor bbq’s. Sure, you might luck out and have a beautiful day on the weekend — nice enough to fire up the grill and maybe even eat outdoors. It happens, but you can’t really count on it. This year I have my back-up plan and it’s called a grill pan. You may know what I’m talking about. It’s about the size of a cast iron frying pan and it has ridges that make those grill marks on your food.
My question has always been, do those marks make food actually taste like it’s been grilled? Well, not exactly because food not cooked over fire doesn’t taste smoky. But that’s not to say I’m not in love with the new-to-me Le Creuset grill pan I recently found at Goodwill. In fact, I’m so enamored with it that I’ll probably still use it when Junuary is finally over and we can once again cook over a real fire. Maybe I’m delusional but I think those grill marks improve not only the flavor but also the texture of almost every food I’ve tried so far. Tofu in the grill pan is by far superior to fried or sauteed, especially when the marinade includes a good smoky paprika. Grilling veggies indoors was a snap without worrying about them dropping down in the grill or having to use a grilling basket.
How to Cook with a Grill Pan
First of all, I have to say that I’m new to this but in my usual fashion, I’ve gone all out and tried several things, some more successful that others. These instructions are what has worked for me.
Put the pan on medium heat and let it get good and hot. I start preheating it while I’m doing other food prep. (I have an electric stove and it works just fine, gas may probably be even better).
Let your ingredients sit out on the counter long enough to become room temperature before you start cooking.
You’ll want your ingredients to be fairly dry so if you use a marinade, blot it off with paper towels before you start cooking.
Brush the food, not the pan, with oil. Olive oil works well for me.
Once the pan is good and hot, brush one side of your food with oil and place that side down in the grill pan. I leave the temperature on medium the entire time. Let one side cook until the brown grill marks appear– usually after a couple of minutes, brush the other side with oil, then flip and cook. Try to be patient and give it time to get browned grilled marks.
If the food seems to be sticking to the pan, leave it on longer. It will pull away much more easily once it ‘s really cooked.
There seems to be lots of chatter on the internet about how to clean your grill pan obviously written by people who are much more fastidious than I am. When I brought it home from Goodwill, I ran it through the dishwasher. Since then, I’ve waited until it’s completely cool, then soaked it with warm water. I’ve also used a nylon brush.
The real test came when I tried to grill a turkey burger. I cooked it for about 5 minutes on each side, maybe a minute or two less on the second side. I used feta cheese on top but if you want to use a harder cheese, you can tent it once it’s done with foil or use a lid to melt. Mine was perfectly done and once again those grill marks really have a psychological effect that make it feel like a real picnic.
The grill pan is also a great way to prepare appetizers. We’re always reluctant to go to all the trouble to fire up the grill just for a few apps and if it’s raining, forget about it. I’ve wanted to try grilling halloumi cheese for a while and it worked beautifully. It was crispy on the outside and soft in the center. It’s quite salty which I like but for those who don’t, I’ve read that you can rinse it off with water before cooking. Just remember to blot it dry before grilling. Once our cherry tomatoes start ripening (I hope, I hope), I can imagine skewers with halloumi, tomatoes and veggies — maybe zucchini, onions, mushrooms — yum!
My only disappointment was my grill pan pizza. I grilled the crust on one side and then the other, put warm tomato sauce on top along with mozzarella cheese and finished it off in a hot oven. The crust was too thick (my fault) and the texture, once grilled, was more like a flatbread. It’d be perfect, however, for warming tortillas, naan, pita bread or making grilled cheese sandwiches. I saw online that you can buy a panini press to go with my pan so I’ll be on the look out for one at Goodwill and who knows, I might get lucky.
In the meantime, July 4th is just a little over a week away and surely by the second week of July, we’ll have real summer and lots of time to bbq outdoors. Sunshine, pleassssssseeeee!!