It took leaving Manhattan before Mark Bittman first got serious about grilling.
While growing up in Stuyvesant Town, the food writer would get to grill whenever he visited his cousins in Valley Stream on Long Island.
“It was like a complete treat — I found it the most thrilling thing imaginable,” recalls Bittman, 68. “I never had a situation where I could grill.”
When he left New York for the first time when he was in his early 20s, Bittman bought a grill and “never stopped,” he says.
For the latest cookbook in his bestselling “How to Cook Everything” series, Bittman turns to flame-cooked foods.
“How to Grill Everything” ($30), out this week, covers grilling basics, from essential tools to grilling all manner of foods — meat and poultry of course, as well as fish, shellfish, vegetables, sauces and even breads and desserts.
“It is something I wanted to do for a long time,” says Bittman, whose previous cookbooks in his “How to Cook Everything” series have tackled such topics as vegetarian dishes, baking and cooking fast. “It’s been on my list for years. It seemed like it was time.”
The 1,000-someodd recipes and variations are designed to be accessible, according to the author.
“This is a book with what I hope are really appealing and what I know to be really simple and really accessible recipes,” he says. “I never cooked in a professional kitchen. I’ve never been a chef. There’s no intention to impress anybody with razzle dazzle here.”
With more than 20 books to his name, the writer still does hope to surprise people with his latest title.
“I think the surprises are not in the ingredients but what you can do with the grill,” he says. “The bread and dessert chapter is quite fascinating. It’s something most people, including me, don’t think as being able to do on the grill and yet they work really, really well.”
Novice and experienced grillers alike will find something to enjoy, Bittman says, from “classic stuff” like burgers and steaks to vegetarian dishes like stuffed chilies and veggie burgers made with chickpeas to more “cultish” topics like smoking.
“People do really, really go nuts over smoking and barbecuing,” Bittman says. “I wanted to try to introduce people to that. But it’s not a barbecue book or smoking book — it’s a straightforward grilling book that includes some barbecue and smoking.”
There is also a whole section devoted to condiments, including ketchup hacks “that make the burger more interesting,” he says, like adding hot sauce, minced fresh chili or horseradish.
Over the years, Bittman — who now calls Cold Spring in Putnam County home — has gotten the chance to grill in the city, such as in Riverside Park. And while not everyone has the space for a Brinkmann Grill, which Bittman uses, and fuel like wood or charcoal, the author stresses that you don’t need much to have a grilling hobby.
“Tongs and some heatproof gloves are really the most important things,” Bittman says. “The basic equipment is really, really minimal.”
How to grill: Plantains
You can find “really, really classic stuff like burgers and steaks” in Bittman’s new cookbook, the author notes. And you can also find a little bit of everything else, like plantains. Bittman recommends using ripe plantains (“the soft yellow ones with some black spots,” he notes) since unripe ones might dry out on the grill. Pair this with pork, chicken, fish or green vegetables, he suggests.
Spicy glazed plantains
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
- 4 ripe plantains
- 2 tbsp. good-quality olive oil
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 1 tbsp. hot sauce, or more or less to taste
1. Start the coals or heat a gas grill for medium direct cooking. Make sure the grates are clean.
2. Trim away the ends of the plantains, then cut them in half lengthwise, leaving the peel intact. Whisk the oil, honey, and hot sauce together in a small bowl. Brush the cut sides of the plantains with the mixture.
3. Put the plantains on the grill directly over the fire, peel side down. Close the lid and cook until the peel starts to pull away from the plantain, 5 to 8 minutes. Carefully turn the plantains over and cook until the glazed side browns, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate, remove the peels, drizzle over the remaining glaze, and serve.
Excerpted from “How to Grill Everything” © 2018 by Mark Bittman. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
IF YOU GO
Mark Bittman is in conversation with Carla Hall on May 24 at 8 p.m. at the 92nd Street Y | 1395 Lexington Ave., 212-415-5500 | tickets $35 at 92y.org