Now that you’ve uncovered the barbecue grill for the summer, don’t forget the basics of food safety.
It may seem obvious, but it never hurts to remember:
· Never buy food past its ‘sell-by,’ ‘use-by’ or other expiration dates;
· Refrigerate perishable food within one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and within two hours otherwise;
· Check your freezer and refrigerator’s temperatures. The freezer should be at zero degrees Fahrenheit; the fridge at 40 degrees Fahrenheit;
· Cook or freeze fresh fish, poultry and meats within two days, and wrap them securely to maintain their quality.
When you’re setting out food for the grill, consider lining up the most vulnerable items — such as meats and dairy — in the kitchen, and take them out to the grill rather than letting them sit outside, said Cristina Panagopoulos, a nutrition consultant, personal trainer and owner of CW Physique with training centers in the West Loop and Arlington Heights.
And rather than wrapping food that’s set out for cooking in aluminum foil, use wax paper, since the aluminum can leach into the food, Panagopoulos said.
Now that you’re safe, it’s time to get creative.
The alternatives to brats, brisket and burgers are many — and healthier — ranging from tofu to Branzino to skewered spiedini.
Two Chicago chefs and a nutrition specialist say the key is to season and complement a complete meal. That means a good-for-you protein, vegetables, complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, and a nourishing source of fat like avocado.
Purple Pig Chef and fourth-generation restaurateur Jimmy Bannos Jr. says his ideal of a summer feast revolves around fish, though he acknowledges it requires more finesse than throwing a steak on the grill. Success requires a basket so the fish doesn’t flake and fall through the grill.
“I usually like whole fish like snapper, Branzino or trout; the skin crisps up really nice,” he said.
Scallops with lemon slices for extra flavor also do the trick.
Another idea is to mix several kinds of fish.
“I like to take scallops or shrimp or even pieces of fish – cut up salmon or swordfish or snapper, for example — and do spiedini. Anything on a spear, Italian style,” Bannos said. “You can use three or four scallops and a piece of bay leaf and lemon slices in between.”
In fact, skewers can boast vegan chicken strips or meatless burger patties from companies such as Beyond Meat, Panagopoulos said.
For meat eaters, try grilling turkey burgers or chicken breast, seasoned with lemon, black pepper and garlic powder.
Another idea, Panagopoulos said, is to mix chopped spinach in with a burger patty and spice up turkey burgers with onion and cilantro.
To get the necessary complex carbs, try splitting a whole sweet potato and stuffing it with veggies, topped off with vegan cheese.
The key is to eat fresh food, rather than food that comes from a bag, a box, a jar or a can.
For a Greek or Italian choice, Bannos suggests lambchops.
“Marinate them in lemon-y oil. Get them super charred,” he said.
Or introduce a taste of China with tofu.
“Tofu is high in protein, and it’s beautiful for your skin,” said Kelly Cheng, who with her two siblings, run Sun Wah BBQ, at 5039 N. Broadway, in the Uptown neighborhood.
Kelly Cheng serves as the general manager; her brother Michael Cheng is the barbecue head chef, and sister Laura works as the executive chef. Their father, Eric Cheng, founded the eatery more than 30 years ago, and named it to reflect that the restaurant and Chicago had become his “new home.”
The restaurant makes its own tofu at a plant on 47th Street between Halsted Avenue and Wallace Street, largely because Eric was dissatisfied with the tofu he bought on the market.
“We know through our culture that food is medicine,” Kelly Cheng said. “It influences the overall health of your body. It’s not just eating meat and carbs. Everything should be in balance.”
Another overlooked ingredient for the grill is pickles, Kelly Cheng said. The acidity in pickles can boost intake of antioxidants, which help the body ward off diseases, according to USDA research. The restaurant makes its own pickled daikon — a white radish.
And finally, Kelly Cheng suggests washing down your grill’s masterpiece with cold herbal tea. The most popular at Sun Wah BBQ is prunella, known in Chinese medicine as clearing the liver and helping with blood pressure.
As for vegetables, Bannos suggests using a perforated sheet tray — you can buy one at any cooking store — to throw asparagus on the grill and keep it from slipping through the grates. And take care to pay attention when grilling tomatoes.
“It you throw tomatoes directly onto the grill, they’ll burst and get stuck,” he said.
Sandra Guy is a local freelance writer.
For more tips on food safety, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service site.
Sun Wah BBQ’s tofu on the grill
1 box of fresh firm tofu (about 14 ounces) or 2 bags of pre-cut “white” tofu
4 cups of water (or enough to submerge tofu)
2 tablespoons of salt
1/2 cup of your favorite spicy marinade (gokuchang is popular) or use the following for a bean paste marinade:
1/4 cup bean paste sauce (Asian grocery stores carry this)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced shallot
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine (cooking wine)
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Remove tofu from packaging and rinse under cold water.
2. Slice width-wise into slabs about ½-inch thick (should get about 8 to10 slabs depending on your cuts). Skip this step if you purchased the white tofu.
3. Mix the salt with the water until mostly dissolved and place tofu slabs into salt water.
4. Let tofu sit in salt water for about 15 minutes and then drain.
5. Let tofu air dry about 15 minutes and then cover with marinade.
6. Marinade for approximate 20 to 30 minutes.
When grilling, use either a perforated pan or a fish basket to keep the tofu from falling apart. Fresh tofu is a bit more delicate even if it’s the firm type. If you use the white tofu, skewers can be used but be gentle when putting the slabs on the skewers and turning during grilling.
SHRIMP SKEWER (courtesy of nutritionist / personal trainer Cristina Panagopoulos)
4 to 5 shrimp on a skewer
Slices of pepper
Slices of red onion
- Thread all of these onto a skewer, alternating the order. Season with cilantro, Bragg liquid aminos (an alternative to soy sauce with less sodium), fresh ginger and sesame seeds.
- Pair the skewers with grilled asparagus that is seasoned with garlic, sea salt, fresh black pepper, and fresh lemon juice.
- Add sweet potato fries (baked or grilled) seasoned with smoked paprika, garlic and sea salt.