By Elisa Ludwig
For most people, the image of summer leisure is sitting around a grill, casually turning out food for a crowd while sipping on a beer. In reality, however, unless it’s prepackaged burgers and hot dogs you’re serving, leaving everything until the last minute is a recipe for a stressful party. Even the preferred cooking method of the most unconcerned weekend chefs, demands some forethought and preparation.
That’s why we always recommend making grill recipes that can be prepped and marinated at least a couple hours and up to a day ahead. You can get your main course situated while you spend the rest of the time setting up, concocting beverages and pulling together some side dishes. (Be warned, however: marinating too long can ruin the texture of your protein, and it’s better to cut meat thinly to tenderize rather than to rely on the acid in the marinade to break it down. Marinade should be used primarily for flavor.)
One of our favorite recipes for summer entertaining is Steve’s Thai Thighs. As with so many of his most memorable creations, he draws from a Southeast Asian flavor palate: ginger, garlic, chiles, lemongrass and fish sauce. Set the thighs—which have better flavor than breasts and are also much more economical—in this mixture and let them soak in all of its tangy, briny, spicy goodness. The day of the event, whip up a side dish or two and Steve’s minted Asian Cucumber Salsa, which makes a cool counterpoint to the spicy chicken. By the time your guests arrive, you can definitely relax, grab a cocktail and turn out dinner like it’s no big thing.
Unless, of course, your guests show up unannounced. In which case, it’s burgers and hot dogs all the way.
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 birds eye chiles or 1 jalapeno, seeded, ribbed and diced
1/3 cup lime juice
1 stalk lemongrass
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
¼ cup vegetable oil
salt and pepper
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
leaves from 5-6 cilantro sprigs
1 lime, cut into 6 or 8 wedges for garnish
1. Cut the root tip and dry end of the lemongrass stalk, leaving a length of about 8-10 inches. Peel away the outer leaves, leaving the tender core. Finely chop.
2. Combine lemongrass with ginger, garlic, chiles, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, salt and pepper and mix well. Add chicken. Toss well and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.
3. Just before grilling, add oil to marinade. Preheat grill to medium-high. Remove chicken from marinade, and allow marinade to drain off, but don’t wipe it dry. Place chicken on grill, smooth side up, and grill until nicely charred, about 4 minutes. Turn and grill other side, about 4-5 minutes. Serve whole or thinly sliced, either hot or at room temperature. Serve with lime wedges and a sprinkling of cilantro.
Asian Cucumber Salsa
Makes 1 cup
1½ cups peeled, seeded and cubed cucumber (about ¼ inch cubes)
¼ cup chopped scallion, white and green parts
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
½ teaspoon chili garlic sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1. In a medium bowl, combine cucumber, scallion, garlic and mint.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, vinegar, chili garlic sauce and fish sauce until sugar is dissolved. Pour dressing over cucumbers and toss to mix evenly. Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes before serving.