Grill It Cold

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor

For two weeks, we’ve got top chefs sharing their little-known tricks for backyard cooking. 

Photo credit: © StockFood / DeSanto, Thom

Just because you’re serving a chilled shrimp cocktail doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from a little fire. “For certain salsas in Mexico, you grill the tomatoes and then purée them,” says Matthew Lightner, chef at Atera in New York City. “This is kind of the same concept. It adds depth and aroma.”

Grill the shrimp with the shells on—“it will give you that touch of char and smokiness but it will still taste fresh and clean”—after marinating them for 10 minutes in a mixture of lemon juice, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Good olive oil. “The oil mixes with the drippings and creates this beautiful perfume” when they hit the coals, says Lightner.

Your heat should be pretty high. “You want that flavor, but you don’t want the meat to be overcooked and dry,” says Lightner. “So, it’s direct and quick.” A minute on each side, he says, depending on the size of your shrimp.

When you’re finished, chill them in the refrigerator for at least an hour. When you’re ready to serve, peel the shrimp and hit them with a little more olive oil and some lemon zest, chopped tarragon, flaky salt, and finely chopped garlic. “Just a touch,” says Lightner, “for the bit of bite.” Serve them with traditional cocktail sauce and you’ve got a combination of “robust grilled flavor with that tangy, spicy sauce.“

Lightner treats fish the same way. “Like for a tuna salad, I’ll slice them into steaks and marinate them in olive oil and salt, as well—no citrus,” he says. He gets the temperature way up on the grill, covers the charcoal with aromatics such as cedar or cherry twigs to get “a heavy smoke and perfume,” and sears the fish for a few minutes on each side. “Depending on what I want to put in the salad, I might grill the vegetables that go into it, too—slightly charred leeks would be nice.” Then chop the fish and vegetables, mix them with mayonnaise, diced pickles, and chopped hard-boiled eggs and dollop the mixture onto good rye bread.

As you can tell from Lightner’s see-how-he-feels approach, playing around with the grill—for hot or cold preparations—can produce very satisfying results.