By Ruth Silverman, Managing Editor
Memorial Day was the unofficial ready-set-go for the summer barbecue season. Big parties, small parties, spur-of-the-moment get-togethers—there will be many opportunities to indulge, as Gigi Amurao pointed out in her helpful blog on avoiding temptation this summer. One way to keep the temptations to a minimum at a party is to build your menu around a main course that’s been marinated with a dry rub, rather than slathered in a sugar-laden barbecue sauce. A rub is simply a mixture of dried herbs and spices that’s “rubbed” on the meat. Marinating it—at room temperature for short periods or in the refrigerator—infuses the meat with the flavors, with longer marinade times, obviously, creating a stronger presence.
My favorite rub blend is adapted from New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme’s famous Blackened Redfish recipe, which I found in an old “The New York Times” collection. It’s great not just on fish but on anything protein. Steaks, salmon, skinless chicken breasts, lean pork chops or tenderloin all taste wonderful with this spicy mixture, and it works with a variety of cooking techniques. I was motivated to get creative because “blackening” foods involves searing the seasoned meat or fish with sizzling butter in a hot cast-iron skillet—not the most health-conscious choice. Broiling and grilling with it were the easy solutions, and last year we roasted a couple tri-tips in it when the weather turned too wet to grill. Fabulous!
So pick your protein, mix up a batch of this all-purpose N’awlins blend, and put it in a spice jar. Shake it over the meat with a light, medium, or heavy coating (don’t be afraid to use your fingers to help spread it evenly), and marinate for at least a couple of hours. Then grill to desired doneness.
I like to brush a little olive or other oil over the meat before I apply the rub, but if that’s a fat step too far for you, you can skip it. I’m no food chemist, but the fat is cooking out, not seeping in, and if it improves the flavor, outer texture, and moistness (and I’m not on a strict diet), I don’t see the harm.
Stick with diet-friendly chicken or fish, or do a mixed grill. Add some grilled veggies—red bell peppers and zucchini, plus sweet white corn (no butter necessary)—and a big green salad with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, ‘shrooms, and whatever else you like, and you’ve got a meal any temptation-wary guest can get stuffed on.
Not everything has to be diet friendly, though. Include potato salad or creamy cole slaw if you like and, of course, dessert, but don’t overlook the green salad. With a simple oil and vinegar dressing and maybe some finely chopped basil, it will cut through the heaviness of a large meal and will be more popular than you might expect.
Here’s the spice blend. One recipe will handle dinner for four, but it’s easy doubled or tripled and keeps well on the shelf. Sometimes I add a little more oregano, basil, and thyme, in even amounts.
Spicy N’awlins Rub
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons salt (optional)
Note: The salt really makes a difference, so include it if you can.
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