Fourth of July cookouts bring on barbecue fatigue—a condition marked by the desire to never see another charred beef puck or desiccated hot dog again. It’s not the grill’s fault that we use it, badly, for mediocre meats. Reinvigorate the open-flame experience now, at the midsummer point, with some of the city’s finer proteins: black sea bass from Wild Edibles, Fairway’s double-cut veal rib chops, and Brandt hanger steak from Market Table. All are incredibly easy to do right, and guarantee a chorus of praise.
Black Sea Bass
[1/2 pound per person]
Though not as wonderfully fatty and rich as escolar, as meaty as swordfish, or as robust as wild salmon or arctic char, black sea bass is the perfect whole fish to cook on the grill—flaky and delicate without being bland. “The benefit of black bass is that you can sauté it with the skin on, and get it very crisp,” says Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert. “It has a firm texture, almost like sole. It’s very juicy.” And all you have to do is not get in its way. An East Coast black sea bass is $20 a pound at Wild Edibles (535 Third Ave., nr. 36th St.; 212-213-8552).
1. Rub the whole fish with olive oil, some lemon, plenty of coarse salt, and a good amount of black pepper.
2. The fish should have something inside. Wild fennel is the traditional stuffing, but nearly anything aromatic will work: fresh thyme, a handful of rosemary and oregano, some fresh ramps.
3. Cook the bass for 8 to 10 minutes on each side over even heat. (You’ll want an even bank of hot, but not blastingly hot, coals.) Be careful not to overcook: A skewer inserted in the thickest part of the fish shouldn’t meet too much resistance, and should come out warm. As soon as that’s happening, remove the fish from the grill.
4. Squeeze some lemon on the fish, and present at the table. The meat will gently pull away from the bone under the pressure of a spoon.
[3/4 pound per person]
Short of a standing rib roast or a trophy steak like Wagyu, the most expensive item in a butcher case may well be a veal rib chop. And it should be: There are no marinades needed for this meat; no chutneys, glazes, or smoking is required. Ask a butcher to cut you a double-thick veal rib chop, and specify that you want the first or second chop off the shoulder end of the rack. Fairway sells excellent veal chops for $19 a pound (2127 Broadway, nr. 74th St.; 212-595-1888).
1. Create a small two-zone fire, with a couple cups of charcoal, and let it get very hot. Rub the chops lightly with some good-quality olive oil. Sprinkle with a liberal amount of kosher salt and a bit of coarse black pepper.
2. Sear the chops for about 3 to 4 minutes on one side, then 2 on the other. You don’t want a white chop crossed with black bars; you want a light-brown tan that will later deepen to bronze.
3. Move the seared chops to the cool side of the grill, hugging the perimeter with their bones facing the radiant heat of the hot zone (the rib protects the delicate meat from the heat, and keeps it juicy). The cooking process should take no more than 7 to 9 minutes, and the chop should be about 140 degrees; it will continue to cook on the cutting board as it rests.
4. Present the chops at the table whole, and then slice perpendicular to the bone. Serve on a large platter with a light garnish of chopped parsley or chive blossoms and a little fleur de sel.
[About 1 pound per person]
The hanger is the most intensely flavorful of all steaks, owing to its placement near the cow’s kidneys, which lend it an organy richness. The Brandt farm in California produces a sweet, mellow, lushly flavored version, available at Market Table for $7 a pound (54 Carmine St., at Bedford St.; 212-255-2100).
1. Soak a couple handfuls of hickory chips in a bowl of water for at least 1 hour prior to grilling. In your grill, lay about 3 cups of coals on one side. This will be your “hot zone” for searing.
2. Lightly season the steak with coarse salt and pepper. When the coals are whitish gray and emitting a searing heat, add a handful of hickory chips, lay the steak on the grill, and do not touch for 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and sear the other side.
3. When both sides have acquired a deep mahogany crust, move the steak over to the cool side. Throw a small handful of wet chips on the fire, and cover immediately. Leave the vents half-open and go away for 20 to 25 minutes, until the meat feels slightly firm to the touch.
4. Let rest 5 minutes, then slice against the grain and serve, with a few grains of fleur de sel on each piece.