With the outdoor barbecue mothballed for the season, cooks might think the joy of food caramelized by intense heat has to wait until summer. But maybe not. A chance discovery in a Korean restaurant supply store led to my discovering the pleasures of a cast-iron griddle that comes with a heat-resistant wooden platter that allows sizzling dishes to be carried directly to the table.
In Latin restaurants, the pleasures of fajitas are well-known. Vegetables, usually onions and bell peppers, join meats, poultry and seafood on a cast-iron griddle to char and caramelize fats with as much sweetness as if they were prepared on the open flame of an outdoor barbecue. Asian chefs also place cast-iron griddles on heat-proof wooden platters so that diners can enjoy the aromas and excitement of vegetables and proteins charring right before their eyes.
The key to using a cast-iron griddle is being prepared. Like wok cooking, all the ingredients must be prepped before cooking begins. And once the ingredients are on the griddle, no distractions are allowed. To prevent burning, the vegetables and proteins must be turned constantly. A set of long-handled tongs is essential, as is a good exhaust fan over the stove to clear away any smoke.
All ingredients should be cut into bite-sized pieces, the better to cook quickly and also the better to create the greatest surface area for caramelization.
Griddles come in oval and rectangular shapes. Sizes vary from eight to 14 inches. The recipe assumes a griddle at least 11 inches in length. A smaller size would require that the sautéeing take place using batches rather than all the ingredients at once.
Before using, the griddle needs to be tempered. Wash it thoroughly with soapy water and rinse with clean water. Place on a high flame (gas or electric) until all moisture has dried. When it is cool to the touch, place a small amount of oil on a paper towel and wipe it across the surface.
Before you store your griddle, cover it in plastic.
Before using it again, clean the griddle in case any rust has collected on the cooking surface. Place it on the burner on the highest possible heat. Do not apply oil.
Ingredients for griddle dishes should be tossed in oil and seasoned in a bowl before they're placed on the hot griddle.
Cast-Iron Griddle Sauté
Two pounds deboned chicken thigh or breast meat, skin removed, washed and pat dried. Alternately, use 2 pounds shelled, deveined shrimp, washed and pat dried; 2 pounds octopus tentacles, washed and finely sliced; 2 pounds filet mignon, washed and pat dried; 2 cups firm tofu, or 2 pounds skinned, deboned duck meat
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, skin removed, finely chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, finely chopped
½-inch ginger knob, washed, peeled, finely chopped (optional)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
⅛ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 large yellow onion, peeled, stem and top removed, washed, sliced thin, longitudinally
1. Except for the shrimp, cut the chicken (or other protein choice) into bite-sized pieces, approximately ½-inch square.
2. Place chicken into a bowl, toss with ⅔ tablespoon olive oil, the garlic clove, parsley, ginger (optional) and season with sea salt, pepper and cayenne (optional). Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, toss the sliced onion with the remaining oil. Season with sea salt and pepper.
4. Using tongs, place the onions on the hot griddle. The onion will sizzle and smoke, which is why you want the exhaust fan on high otherwise your cooking will rouse your smoke alarms. Keep turning the onions until they turn light brown. The caramelization has started.
5. Add the seasoned chicken or alternative. Toss well with tongs, combining the protein with the onions. Stir and toss until all pieces are cooked evenly and acquire a light brown patina.
6. Using oven mitts, transfer the sizzling hot cast-iron griddle to the wooden platter and carry it to the table where everyone is waiting for the feast to begin.
7. Serve with pasta, rice or a steamed green like spinach, broccoli or asparagus.
Photo: Cast-iron Korean griddles on their heat-proof wooden platters at Gio Restaurant Equipment in Los Angeles. Credit: David Latt
Zester Daily contributor David Latt is a television writer/producer with a passion for food. His latest book is "10 Delicious Holiday Recipes."
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