- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I know a few people who are grill-crazy enough that they’ll go outdoors in the middle of a snowstorm, or hold up an umbrella in the pouring rain, to cook on an outdoor grill. That’s how much they love the flavor and texture that intense heat and fragrant smoke give food.

Most of us, though, prefer to stay warm and dry - especially now that countertop grills make it so quick and easy to get a grilled effect.

Also sometimes called contact grills or referred to in connection with the boxing champion whose name and likeness have gained even more widespread fame through that cooking connection, countertop grills are inexpensive electric appliances that come in a range of shapes and sizes. They seem to be in so many home kitchens today, where they’re prized for their convenience and speed, as well as their potential health benefits.

Whatever you put in one of these simple contraptions cooks twice as fast as it would in a frying pan, because heat penetrates the food directly from both sides once you close the lid. Many recipes require only a little oil or fat, since the cooking surfaces are nonstick; and some of the fat that’s in the food actually drains away during cooking, too.

Speed makes countertop grills ideal for weeknight suppers. For the best results, start with food that’s a relatively even thickness, so it cooks evenly; and use enough seasonings in the right combination to ensure flavorful results. My recipe here, for example, starts with boneless chicken breast halves, which are flavored by slipping under the skin thin slices of garlic that have first been blanched in boiling water to eliminate their harshness. (Remove the crispy skin before eating, if you like.) Amazingly, you can even start with chicken breasts straight from the freezer, if necessary, adding a few extra minutes to the cooking time.

Beyond the usual poultry, steaks, burgers and seafood fillets, it’s easy to get even more creative. Try cooking vegetables like sliced zucchini or eggplant, for example. Or toss raw asparagus spears with some olive oil, minced garlic and salt before cooking them for a few minutes inside the countertop grill. You’ll never want to boil asparagus again.

On weekend mornings, I also like to use my countertop grill to make French toast. Start with your favorite recipe (I add a little vanilla extract and a pinch of nutmeg to the sweetened mixture of beaten egg and milk in which the bread soaks). Then, only lightly coat both sides of the nonstick cooking surface with butter, for a touch of its flavor rather than to prevent sticking.

When you stop to think that you’d probably never even consider making French toast out on the patio, you’ll be even happier than ever about your indoor countertop grill.

COUNTERTOP GRILLED CHICKEN BREASTS WITH GARLIC AND PARSLEY

Serves 4

4 chicken breast halves, bones removed, skin left on

12 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup (125 ml) chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium lemons, juiced

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Meanwhile, ease a finger between the skin and meat and on each chicken breast half to create a pocket inside without separating the skin completely.

Preheat a countertop grill.

While the grill is heating, add the garlic cloves to the boiling water. Boil for 1 minute. Drain well and rinse under cold running water. With a small, sharp knife, cut each garlic clove lengthwise into paper-thin slices. Put the slices in a small bowl and toss with the parsley, salt and pepper. Carefully stuff half the garlic mixture under the skin of each chicken breast half. Lightly salt both sides of each breast half.

Place the chicken breasts skin side up in the countertop grill. Close the lid and cook until the skin is deep golden brown and the meat is cooked through, about 12 minutes, testing for doneness by piercing the meat with a skewer and checking to see if the juices run clear.

While the chicken is cooking, melt the butter in a small saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic-parsley mixture and saute until the garlic starts to turn golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the lemon juice and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to dissolve the pan deposits. Taste the sauce and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Keep the sauce warm.

When the chicken breasts are done, transfer them to heated serving plates. Spoon the sauce over and around each breast, or pass it separately for people to help themselves.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays on the Food Network. Also, his latest cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy,” is now available in bookstores. Write Wolfgang Puck in care of Tribune Media Services Inc., 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207.)

© 2006 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.


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