GRILL for all Seasons

Barbecuers take their act indoors with the sizzling stove-top pan

October 06, 1999|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN FOOD EDITOR

Don't let the fall weather put a chill on your grill. With a stove-top pan, you now can turn out juicy, seared meats, fish and vegetables all year long right in your own kitchen.

No more dashing outside in the dark with a flashlight to check on dinner. No more standing on the deck with an umbrella while your meal sputters and fizzles. No more trying to coax stubborn briquettes to glow in bone-chilling temperatures.

With the twist of a knob, you can heat up a grill pan on the stove and enjoy the charred, caramelized flavors of the outdoors any time. Sure, there are all kinds of fancy, electric versions on the market, but this simple ridged pan makes grilling a cinch.

Just ask the pan's proponents, who have all the zeal of missionaries in search of converts.

"I love it, love it," says Carol Larsen of Towson, who has used a grill pan for about three years. "I like the convenience of it and the presentation of the food. It's low-fat and tasty."

One of her favorite preparations is to marinate chicken breasts in Italian dressing and toss them on the sizzling pan, where they become golden and succulent. She also uses the pan for vegetables, especially portobello mushrooms, while she cooks the rest of the meal in the oven.

Larsen, a saleswoman at Williams-Sonoma in Cross Keys, says the store sells quite a few pans. "It's a terrific extra pan," she says. "It makes a great gift. I've given many."

Grill pans are available in a variety of prices. Two popular nonstick pans by All-Clad and Calphalon often can be found at area stores for about $70. They're also offered in a cook's wares catalog, 800-915-9788, for similar prices.

Larsen says the flavor of foods prepared on a grill pan doesn't taste exactly the same as foods cooked on an outdoor grill, but "you do get the browning and flavor from the grill marks."

With a standard kitchen fan, excessive smoke usually is not a problem when using a grill pan because most dishes cook fairly quickly, many in 10 minutes or less.

Michele Urvater, author of "Monday to Friday Chicken" (Workman, 1998), compares cooking with a grill pan to grilling with a hibachi. "People are so used to their Weber and cooking over hardwood that grilling without a top tastes different," she says. "I love the flavor [the grill pan] imparts to food."

In her cookbook, Urvater includes recipes for such dishes as Indoor Grilled Chicken Breasts with Mango-Avocado Salsa and Grilled Chicken Over Red Cabbage. As a New York City apartment dweller, she says she appreciates the opportunity to grill indoors.

"I always envied my friends' access to an outdoor grill," she says in her book. "My envy subsided with the advent of the stove-top grill pan."

The pans, which have been available for a few years, usually are round or square. But it doesn't seem to matter which one you use. They both cook food the same, Urvater says.

"People get attached to their tools," she says with a laugh, explaining why some cooks may say they prefer one shape over the other.

For those who do have back yards, Urvater says the pan comes in handy "when you don't have the energy to fire up the grill," and it's also an ideal cooking implement for singles who don't want to fuss with a grill.

"Everybody likes grilled food, but there are women who are intimidated about standing over a fire," says Jamee Ruth, who has written "grillpan cookbook" (Chronicle, 1999). "I'm finding people who thought they could not cook [but] who can cook now with a grill pan."

Her recipes, such as Beef Kebabs With Asian Marinade and Orange-Soy Glazed Salmon With Haricots Verts and Red Onions, are not intimidating. Several dishes, including Cajun Shrimp and Andouilette Sausage Skewers, call for only a few ingredients.

"I'm holding your hand while you learn to cook. You can make dinner in one pan," Ruth says. "This is a real trend that's catching on. It sounds like a fad, but it works. I shock myself with it."

Grilled Steaks With Red-Wine Mushroom Sauce

Serves 4

2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed

1 cup dry red wine

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

1 teaspoon thyme

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 New York strip or strip loin steaks (about 1 3/4 pounds total), cut 3/4 - to 1-inch thick

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 scallions, coarsely chopped

3/4 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

In a shallow, nonmetallic dish large enough to hold the steaks in a single layer, combine half the garlic, the wine, soy sauce, vinegar, thyme and pepper. Place the steaks in the marinade and turn to coat completely. Cover the dish with plastic wrap. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours, turning the steaks occasionally.

Prepare the grill according to the manufacturer's instructions. Spray the grill with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic, the scallions and mushrooms, and cook until the scallions are limp and the mushrooms start to give up their liquid, 2 to 3 minutes.

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