Great Grilling

Fire up your grills! The Culinary Institute’s David Kamen gives us the lowdown on how to heat things up at the family cook-out this summer, with recipes and tips for perfecting that smoky flavor.

Great Grilling


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Your backyard grill is good for more than just hot dogs and hamburgers. Here, the CIA’s David Kamen shows how to achieve smoky satisfaction by grilling up swordfish, vegetables — and even fruit 


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By Jennifer Leba


There are literally hundreds of ways to enjoy the great outdoors in the Hudson Valley this summer — and getting the grill going right in your own backyard should certainly be one of them. Chef David Kamen, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, grills “as often as I can” in the warmer weather — and he does it with good old-fashioned charcoal. So why does this expert eschew the fancy, high-tech gas grills?


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“Because I just like the flavor better. I want to have that smokiness, that slightly charred taste,” he says. Here, Chef Kamen offers up some tips — for example, how two-stage grilling can transform you into a grilling god.


“Basically, one half of the grill has to be cooler than the other half,” Kamen explains. “If you are using a charcoal grill, you want to put charcoal only on one side. If you have a gas grill, just turn on one burner. Some gas grills have the burner which controls the back and the front; if that is the case, the back burner should be on. Then, sear or mark your fish over the direct heat for a few minutes to get good color, and then let it cook nice and slow on the cooler side.”


Can all food benefit from this two-step process? “Thicker things, sturdier things like swordfish, tuna, and salmon work very well,” says Kamen. “Thicker steaks and chops, and chicken with the bone in it. Anything that is more delicate should go on direct heat the whole way.”


The smoky flavors “work really well with fatty things like pork, beef, and fatty fish,” says Kamen. “The charcoal will give you some smoke, but it can also easily be added with flavored smoke chips — whether they’re hickory, mesquite, or maple. You put them directly on the coals at the beginning of the process. If I’m going to make pork chops, I’ll lift the grate up, throw a handful of wood chips on there, and put the pork chops back on so it gets that initial blast. I sometimes do a roast on the barbecue, with that same two-stage method. I throw wood chips on the fire every 20 or 30 minutes throughout the roasting process.”


Even gas grillers can get in on the smoky sensations with a smoke box — a small steel or cast-iron box “that you fill with wood chips and put right on the grill,” says Kamen. “There are a lot on the market; it’s usually a $10 or $15 investment. But even an aluminum soda can will probably work out well, something that allows the chips to smolder.”


But all the chips in the world won’t help your food if you don’t clean your grill properly. “It’s the biggest mistake people make,” says Kamen. “I’ve seen people take off their grills and try to scrub them with a Brillo pad in the kitchen sink — it doesn’t work well. The best way to clean the grill is to let it get really, really hot and take a good stiff wire brush [to it] and then wipe it down with oil. Do it when you first start and then again when you’re done.”  >>>



Pesce Spada Siciliana

(Grilled Swordfish Sicilian-style)
Makes six servings

 ½ cup olive oil, Juice of 2 lemons, 3 Tbsp chopped capers, 3 Tbsp chopped oregano, 6 swordfish steaks (6 oz each), 3 cups Siciliana sauce (recipe follows), ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted


1. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, capers, and oregano to make a marinade. Place steaks in a shallow pan and pour marinade over them. Turn to coat evenly. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (or up to two hours).

2. Preheat gas grill to high. If using charcoal, let the fire burn down until the coals are glowing red with a light coating of white ash; spread evenly.

3. Grill swordfish for about four minutes per side, or until cooked through. Transfer to a warm platter, top with sauce and sliced almonds.


Siciliana Sauce

Makes three cups

 ¹/³ cup olive oil, 1 cup minced yellow onion, 3 Tbsp chopped capers, 6 anchovy fillets, 1 Tbsp minced garlic, 3 pints cherry tomatoes, hulled, ½ cup olives stuffed with chiles, 3 Tbsp chopped oregano, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp black pepper


1. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onions, capers, anchovy fillets, and garlic. Sauté, stirring frequently, until onions are a light golden brown (eight to 10 minutes).

2. Add the tomatoes. Continue sautéing, tossing frequently, until tomatoes are very soft (10 minutes).

3. Add olives, oregano, salt, and pepper. Sauté for another two to three minutes; keep warm until ready to serve.


Mixed Grill of Garden Vegetables

Makes eight servings

3 artichokes, ½ lemon, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, 4 tsp salt, 3 fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered, 18 baby carrots, peeled, 18 asparagus stalks, trimmed, 3 zucchini, trimmed and halved lengthwise, ½ cup olive oil, 3 Tbsp minced garlic, 1 tsp ground black pepper, 12 new potatoes, parboiled and halved, 2 red onions, quartered, 18 mushrooms, trimmed, 2 red peppers, cored and quartered, 2 yellow peppers, cored and quartered


1. Remove outer leaves from artichokes. Cut stem, leaving one inch attached. Cut artichokes in half and remove choke. Rub cut side with the lemon half.

2. Bring large pot of water to boil. Add one tablespoon of lemon juice and one teaspoon of salt. Add artichokes, simmer until tender (10 minutes). Remove and cool to room temperature.

3. Bring second pot of water to a rolling boil. Add two teaspoons of salt. Working in batches, add fennel, carrots, and asparagus. Cook each vegetable until partially tender (three to four minutes). Drain and cool slightly. Score zucchini flesh with a fork.

4. Combine olive oil, garlic, remaining salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the parboiled vegetables, zucchini, potatoes, and onion, and toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (or up to four hours).

5. Preheat a gas grill to high. If using charcoal, let the fire burn down until the coals are glowing red with a light coating of white ash. Spread evenly.

6. Place vegetables on the grill in the following order: red peppers, yellow peppers, zucchini, carrots, fennel, onions, mushrooms, potatoes, asparagus, and artichokes. Grill, turning as necessary, until vegetables begin to take on color and are cooked through, about eight to 12 minutes. They should be tender but not mushy.

7. Arrange grilled vegetables on a platter and drizzle with the remaining lemon juice.



swordfish: “This was a monster — it was
probably a good four or five minutes on either side over direct heat to get a nice charring and then we pulled it off for another five minutes to go really slow and finish off.”


banana: “Fruits want to be a little under-ripe, so that they don’t decompose too quickly on the grill. You have to be sure that the grill is very, very clean, nicely oiled, and very hot, because they cook very quickly. Bananas will soften and decompose very quickly. Pears grill very, very well; you can just toss them in a little vegetable oil or melted butter. Apples do well, peaches do nicely, pineapples are very good. You can even try berries — put them in a small saucepan that you set right on the grill. Really, you’re sautéing them, but a little smoke can get in there.”



BBQ Boot Camp

If you can’t get enough grilling, you may want to check out the CIA’s BBQ Boot Camp. These two-day, comprehensive courses include a tour of the CIA campus; a chance to dine in two of the school’s esteemed restaurants; a beautiful, four-color grilling cookbook; and a complete chef’s uniform. June 3-4, June 5-6, June 26-27, June 30-July 1, or July 30-31. Visit for more information.



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