Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ahhh, there's the spice rub . . .

When grilling meats and vegetables, enormous amounts of flavor can be added through marinades and rubs. Conventional thinking says that marinades containing some acidic ingredients, like lemon juice, wine, or vinegar, can tenderize the meat. I'm not so sure. Most of the time I find strong versions of such marinades turning the outside mushy and leaving the inside as tough as ever. Rubs, on the other hand, are just dried herbs and spices rubbed into the meat before cooking.

With marinades, you usually leave the meat in the fridge for a some specified period of time to allow the flavors to penetrate the meat. Recently, I learned that you can do the same thing for rubs. Letting it sit for 30 minutes or so in the fridge after rubbing can allow the oils in the spices to better flavor the meat.

There are several commercial rubs and seasoning salts on the market. I'm not normally a big fan of most of them but, recently J&D's Down Home Enterprises sent me samples of their “Bacon Salt” to try. Their claim is that “everything should taste like bacon.” When it comes to grilling, it's hard to disagree. I like the flavor of the meat or veggies to take center stage, most of the time. A smokey bacon flavor can really enhance most grilled meats and veggies, though. I'll tell you more about my experiences cooking with Bacon Salt, next time.

Usually I'll make my own rubs and marinades. With hamburgers I mix the spices into the meat, rather than trying to coat the outside, of course. Here are a few of my favorite blends. All of them use dried herbs, which I tend to favor over fresh when it comes to grilling and convenience. I'll generally be more generous with the herbs when grilling meat, than I do with vegetables. Either way, I don't use so much that it starts to resemble "blackened" whatever.

Italian Herb Rub

Believe it or not, I find this blend works better without the oregano. Some people can't divorce Italian food from oregano, though, so I've included it as an option. This rub is great with just about anything. If you're feeling adventurous, Try lightly grilling thick slices of beefsteak or halved Roma tomatoes with this seasoning.

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed basil leaves
1 teaspoon ground marjoram
1 teaspoon ground thyme.
1 teaspoon crushed oregano leaves (optional)

Cajun Style Rub

Okay. I admit it. I mostly use the store bought variety for this. When you're in the mood to kick it up yourself, though, you might give this combination a try. I really like this with fish or chicken. I also like it over grilled corn on the cob, although my wife and kids aren't thrilled with it that way.

2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or more if you like it hotter)

Rosemary – Garlic Rub

This is a classic. I love rosemary, but I don't like the texture of the hard slivers of dried rosemary. My solution was to buy a spice grinder to grind it into powder. This works well with just about any meat or fish. My favorite use for this rub is to brush some olive oil on 1 /2 inch slices of potatoes or zucchini, then add a bit of the rub and grill until crisp tender. Very yummy.

2 teaspoons ground rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Scandinavian Rub

This is wonderful on fish and just about any grilled vegetable, especially zucchini. It seems like it would be great on pork, too, but I've not tried it that way yet.

2 teaspoons crushed dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon ground caraway
1/4 teaspoon mushroom powder (I dry and grind my own)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed

And now, with apologies to William Shakespeare,

To cook — to grill.
To grill — perchance to eat: ahhh, there’s the rub!

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