(This story first appeared on Tastebook, where I'm doing an occasional cooking column. Check 'em out.)
It’s the kind of hot in New Orleans right now that wilts the soul.
We’re talking mid-to-upper 90s, with a heat index in the mid-100s. Come dusk, the temperature starts to slip downward, and it becomes the grilling hour.
I had almost forgotten, until recently, the magic of cooking outdoors. Sure, there was the occasional camping foray, but over the last 20 years I’ve lived in big cities. Residing in apartments with minimal or, most often, no outdoor space.
Then, a month or so ago when the thermometer in Louisiana started to climb with enthusiasm, I bought a Weber kettle grill. After one cooking session, the skies cracked open and I became a fervent convert to hot-weather grilling.
We have grilled amberjack and flash-grilled Oaxacan pork cutlets. We have charred okra and smoked a chicken. Perhaps the brightest revelation has been the Japanese dipping sauce ponzu.
You have likely had ponzu in a Japanese restaurant. It’s often served with fried items, where it’s lively mix of soy sauce, citrus and the silky sweetness of mirin (rice wine) slacks the richness of anything fried while foregrounding the essence of the fried ingredient itself.
Back in my backyard, I’ve employed ponzu to complement a range of grilled vegetables. Eggplant; onions; corn: Any mid-summer would shine with a side of ponzu. But I think I like it most with summer squash.
You want to slice your squash into thinnish planks lengthwise. Lay them on the grill. No fat or oil; no salt. Let the first side char slightly, then flip. You’ll begin to see the pieces turn translucent. That’s how you know the squash have completed their lap on the grate.
Dust them with salt and slick them with oil. You could use toasted sesame oil to echo the Japanese-ness of the ponzu. You could also employ extra-virgin olive oil.
It’s your meal, your grill, your summer.
Ponzu (Soy-and-Citrus Sauce)
- 1½ tablespoons dry sake
- 2 teaspoons mirin (or honey)
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons citrus juice (use whatever you have handy: orange, lemon, lime)
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
In a small saucepan, bring the sake and mirin to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for about a minute and remove from the heat.
In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, citrus juice, water, vinegar and sake mixture. Taste. If you want it a little sweeter, add a touch of mirin. If you want it saltier, add some soy sauce. If you want it zippier, add more citrus juice. Serve with whatever grilled things you so desire.