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A Griller Gets Grilled

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The main meal: chicken alla diavola, green salad with grilled-garlic vinaigrette, and grilled vegetables.   

Cooking: Stage One
Wearing his long leather gloves, Borgna emptied the hot charcoal from the first chimney into the grill and arranged it to form a long, narrow ridge with the top coals two to three inches from the grate, to sear the steak. Before putting the meat on, he says, “I always close the lid for five minutes to build up intense heat. Then, anything that’s there burns off and can be brushed away.” He ran the brass brush quickly over the grate, then dipped a handful of paper towels in olive oil and wiped the grate to prevent sticking. Borgna seared the flank steak for a few minutes on each side, and set it on a platter over a pair of crossed chopsticks—that allows the meat to cool on both sides and not sit in its own juices, which would make the crust soggy. He then spread the coals into an even layer to reduce the heat, and put the foil-wrapped garlic at the back of the grill and the basket of leeks and onions toward the front. He let the vegetables sit two to three minutes until the edges started to crisp, then turned the basket and closed the lid to let the vegetables cook through, about three more minutes.

Flay: Adriano’s doing a great job of managing the temperature to suit the dish he’s cooking. There really is no substitute for experience when you’re cooking over charcoal. You have to know about high and medium direct heat as well as indirect heat. People have a tendency to overcook when they grill, but Adriano did the steak perfectly.

Food continues to cook when you’ve removed it from the heat, so if you think it’s done, take it off. Touch the food—a rare steak will have a lot of give in the middle and feel like a soft pillow. It gets firmer as it cooks; when it gets too well done, it feels like a piece of wood. With chicken, you should see the juices run clear; if they don’t, put it back on the grill. It’s a good idea to let meat rest for a few minutes before you slice it; the muscles relax and the juices cool down, so you get moist, juicy meat.

The key to getting great color and caramelization on vegetables is to turn them just once. Flipping all the time breaks up the food. Adriano’s leeks look a little charred, which I like; discard the outer leaf, and the inside is tender, with a smoky flavor. It’s smart to use a basket. Everything cooks evenly, and the vegetables don’t fall through the grate. I don’t use one; I just oil the vegetables and throw them on, but I get about 15 percent attrition with my method.

Cooking: Stage Two
Borgna arranged the peaches next to the garlic and put the tomatoes in the basket, cut side down for the first four to five minutes. When those were done (about ten minutes), he brushed the grill, lifted the grate, and poured in another chimney of coals—the sausages were next, and he needed a hotter fire. After a minute or two, the sausages began to cook, and he pressed focaccia on top of them (he repeated this two or three times). “It’s a quick way to release the juices into the bread, and the less grease that drips onto the coals, the less flare-up you’ll have,” he says. After five minutes, he removed the sausages and sandwiched them between layers of bread.

The sardines went on next. Borgna closed the lid for more intense heat, and turned the fish once during their five minutes of cooking. He took the garlic and peaches off at the same time as the fish; when the garlic had cooled, he squeezed the cloves into the vinaigrette and gave the mixture a good shake. The peaches stayed in the foil until they were ready to serve.

Flay: My mouth is watering! The skewers make it so easy to handle the sausages, as opposed to turning them individually. It’s also smart to stuff the rosemary inside the sardines so the fish pick up the aromatics, and the skewers make them as easy to handle as finger food. I like Adriano’s technique of squeezing the sausage juices into the bread to maximize the flavor. Americans don’t do that sort of thing—I would have slathered the bread with oil. Wrapping the peaches was a good idea, too; it kept the integrity of the fruit, and it’s much better than putting them directly on the grate—the high sugar content tends to make them burn and stick.

Cooking: Stage Three
Borgna wanted to cook the chicken over indirect heat, so he lifted the grate one last time, added one last chimney, and then moved the coals to the sides, clearing the center. “It works like an oven,” Borgna says. “It allows you to cook the meat through without burning the skin.” He put the marinated butterflied chicken in the center of the grill, skin side down, and placed a “diavola”—a three-pound cast-iron weight—on top to keep the bird from curling (back in Orvieto, he’d use a well-washed brick, but he found the diavola in a kitchen-appliances store and figured he’d try it). He turned the chicken after about fifteen minutes, when the skin was golden, then swished some rosemary branches in olive oil and basted the chicken. Those sprigs then went under the diavola. About ten minutes later, he pushed more rosemary between the grill and the chicken; as it burned, the herby smoke infused the chicken with additional flavor.

Flay: Rosemary and lemon—a classic Tuscan combination. The diavola helps cook the chicken evenly, because after ten minutes, it becomes really hot. I like that Adriano cooked this indirectly; over the coals, it would have gone too fast, ending up with charred skin but raw inside. I might have grilled the lemons, flesh side down, and then squeezed them over the chicken for more lemon flavor.

The Final Appraisal
Flay: All in all, Adriano is a really smart cook. He was calm, comfortable, and in control at all times. The dishes arrived at the table without any drama—no flare-ups or dousing the grill with water bottles. He has a European sensibility that transports you back to Orvieto. He should write a book: A Tuscan in the City.

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