We all struggle to add flavor and intrigue to lean meats, such as chicken breasts and pork tenderloin. The grill helps. Heck, the grill adds interest to almost everything we cook. Season the food highly, and dinner doldrums disappear.
To get crispy edges, moist interiors and super-fast cooking, I slice lean meats thinly before tossing in a zesty sauce or marinade. Then the sauced slices get threaded onto thin skewers. Set over hot coals, the meat cooks in about 5 minutes. The result will remind you of those mouthwatering, crispy, spit-roasted meats served in gyros and tacos.
This “slice, season and skewer” technique can be applied to almost any kind of lean, tender meat, such as pork tenderloin, leg of lamb, flank steak, and chicken thighs or breasts. I use olive oil, fresh oregano and crushed garlic with lamb slices, then tuck the grilled meat into toasted pita with cucumber-yogurt sauce. Chicken thighs brushed with red curry paste taste great wrapped in warm naan breads.
For a speedy barbecued pork sandwich, I use pork tenderloin. For a more traditional tasting sandwich, slather the meat slices before grilling with your favorite barbecue sauce – just watch the heat as the sugars in some sauces tend to burn easily.
This summer, I’m changing it up a bit and making an Asian-inspired barbecue pork sandwich, using two of my favorite standby condiments: refrigerated lemongrass puree, and Asian black bean garlic sauce. The result won’t taste like the American South, but rather red-cooked Chinese dishes or perhaps those seared meats from a Korean tableside grill restaurant.
Transform the crispy-edged pork into sandwiches and wraps, or use it to top rice bowls and enliven ramen soup and tossed salads. Serve the grilled meat tucked inside a toasted pretzel or brioche bun with a few leaves of tender baby arugula or kale. Or, pile the slices onto warm jasmine rice or over rice noodles for a perfect warm weather salad.
No time to grill? Cook the skewered meat under a broiler about 6 inches from the heat source. Watch closely to prevent burning. Slice, season, skewer, and repeat all summer.
Crispy Asian Grilled Pork
Double the recipe for the marinade, and cook two pork tenderloins at once. Bamboo skewers are sold in the utensil aisle of most large supermarkets. Thin metal skewers also work well. This recipe also works with boneless skinless chicken thighs; cook 2 minutes longer.
1 large pork tenderloin, trimmed (about 1 1/4 pounds)
8 to 10 thin bamboo skewers, about 12 inches long
2 tablespoons each: vegetable oil, refrigerated lemongrass puree, black bean garlic sauce (or oyster sauce)
1 tablespoon each: light brown sugar, fish sauce (or soy sauce)
2 small shallots, minced or crushed in garlic press
2 teaspoons dark Asian sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
Chopped green onions and cilantro
Pat the pork dry and place it in a dish in the freezer just long enough to firm it up a bit, about 30 minutes. Soak skewers in a shallow dish of water to cover for 30 minutes or more.
Prepare a charcoal grill, and let coals burn until they are covered with gray ash. Or, heat a gas grill until hot.
Mix oil, lemongrass puree, black bean sauce, brown sugar, fish sauce, shallots, sesame oil and pepper flakes in a large bowl.
Use a very sharp knife to cut the pork crosswise into very thin slices. Add the slices to the sauce. Mix well. Let pork marinate at room temperature about 20 minutes (or refrigerate up to 1 hour.)
For each kebab, use 2 skewers set side by side and thread meat onto them, so the meat is secure. Do not crowd the slices too much. Repeat to make 4 or 5 kebabs.
Set kebabs on the hot grill, about 4 inches from the heat source. Grill, covered, without turning, 3 minutes. Carefully flip each kebab, and grill the other side until meat is golden and edges are crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
To serve, slide the pork slices off the skewers onto a warm serving platter. Sprinkle with chopped onions and cilantro. Serve while hot.
Per serving (for 4 servings): 218 calories, 9 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 97 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 31 g protein, 126 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Yield: 3 to 4 servings.
Crispy Barbecue Pork Buns
1 recipe crispy Asian grilled pork
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Sriracha or other red chile hot sauce
4 pretzel buns or brioche rolls, split in half
Thinly sliced tomato
Mixed baby kale, baby romaine lettuce or arugula
Make pork as directed. Mix mayonnaise and hot sauce a in small bowl. Toast the cut sides of the buns.
Spread insides of the toasted buns with the mayo mixture. Place a tomato slice on the bottom bun. Pile on slices of barbecue pork. Top with baby kale leaves. Put the top bun in place. Enjoy while hot.
Per serving: 571 calories, 24 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 103 mg cholesterol, 48 g carbohydrates, 6 g sugar, 37 g protein, 681 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
Yield: 4 servings
Crispy Barbecue Pork and Peanut Salad
4 ounces dried 1/4-inch wide rice noodles (skinnier noodles are fine too)
2 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce
1/2 seedless cucumber, spiralized or finely julienned
4 to 6 small fresh mint and basil leaves, torn
1 recipe crispy Asian barbecue pork
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, optional
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives or green onion tops
Chopped fresh cilantro
Spicy soy dressing, see recipe
Soak noodles in a bowl of very hot water until al dente, about 20 minutes. Drain well, then put onto a platter. Top with lettuce, cucumber, mint and basil leaves.
Use a fork to unthread the cooked pork directly over the noodle mixture. Sprinkle with peanuts, chives and sesame seeds. Scatter cilantro over it all. Pass the dressing to drizzle on to taste.
Spicy soy dressing: Mix 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons each: Sriracha hot sauce and rice vinegar, and 2 teaspoons dark Asian sesame oil in a small bowl. Stir in 1 thinly sliced green onion.
Per serving: 350 calories, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 97 mg cholesterol, 29 g carbohydrates, 3 g sugar, 33 g protein, 738 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Yield: 4 servings.