Fish fillets at Moulton Farm in Meredith.
BY ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
A sunny spring weekend is a great time to fire up the grill, whether this is the first time this year or if you're the type who grills in a parka and with a headlamp in January. In either case, there's probably room on your grill for foods that you've never tried grilling before.
Joyce Keyser, of Shepherd's Hut Market at Ramblin' Vewe Farm in Gilford, married a shepherd 19 years ago. "I've been learning to cook lamb for a long, long time," she said. Five years ago, she opened Shepherd's Hut Market and started attending farmers' markets.
"I started selling lamb right off the bat, but I never got so much call for it as I do now." Grass-fed and locally-raised, only the curious and adventurous would try her lamb at first, but now she has built a following.
Shepherd's Hut has many cuts of lamb, including kebabs and chops, which are ideal for grilling. She also has recipes and instructions on hand for the uninitiated.
When it's time for Keyser to grill some lamb, she starts the night before by adding olive oil to a spice blend that contains rosemary, mustard seeds and mint, and marinates the meat overnight. "And follow the grilling instructions very carefully," she said, because lamb shouldn't be overcooked.
Already converted to the gospel of lamb? How about duck or quail, both among the animals raised and sold at Stone Labyrinth Farm in Belmont. Glenn Crawford also has beef and pork, perennial grill partners, as well as rabbit, which could be grilled at a low temperature and indirect heat.
If Crawford had to pick one of his products to grill this weekend, though, he'd grab a quail for each of the people he'd be serving and treat it to a maple-honey brine. Tasty, and likely an unusual treat for his guests.
Is quail still too ... terrestrial? Sal Bramante, kitchen and bakery manager at Moulton Farm, suggests that seafood is a great option for grilling. The fish case at Moulton Farm has swordfish, sea bass and red snapper, all great on the grill. He didn't have a preferred preparation, because he said there are countless ways to grill fish. He suggests that customers do a Google search and pick their favorite technique.
"A lot of people don't know you can grill seafood," he said, though it's starting to change. "There's a lot of great recipes, a lot of good things out there ... People are grilling more and more and they're not afraid to try something new."
Janice Bramante, fish manager at Moulton Farm, said one of her favorite fishes to grill whole is Bronzini, a sea bass.
"I would stuff it with your favorite herbs, and put it right on the grill," she said.
Grills are great for cooking the flora as well as the fauna. Whether as a side for meat or fish, or as a meatless main course, fresh vegetables are often at home on the grill. Romaine lettuce is growing in notoriety among the grilling crowd – often featured in recipes where the head of lettuce is trimmed but leaving the stem intact, then brushed with a vinaigrette or just oil. The grilling brings out a buttery, nutty flavor of the lettuce.
Sometime in May, Moulton Farm will have its own asparagus, which is just now starting to poke through the soil surface, underneath a blanket of mulch straw. Jonathan Diola, Moulton Farm chef, said he would give the asparagus a simple treatment of olive oil, salt and pepper.
At Beans & Greens Farm, in Gilford, Martina Howe takes a similarly minimalist approach to grilled vegetables. She is open to grilling many vegetables. Grilled corn is becoming commonplace, Howe's favorite is grilled beets. Like any fresh vegetable, she said they don't need much adulteration.
"Just olive oil, that's it. I really love the flavors of vegetables, I'm not one to put a lot of flavor on everything. When they're fresh, they just taste the way they're supposed to," she said. "The less you put on, the more you taste what the vegetable actually taste like."
To dramatically change your grilling experience, consider upgrading the grill itself. Bobby Gardner, at Fireside Living on Union Avenue in Laconia, said the store has just this spring added the Saber line of infrared grills, which start at about $1,000 and function differently than conventional propane or charcoal grills.
"This is not stuff you're going to find at the big box stores," Gardner said. Standard gas grills burn below the food grates, sending hot air up to and around the food. Saber grills run on propane, but unlike most gas grills, the fuel heats a metal element that rests over the flame, and radiates the heat toward the food. Because the food and flame are separated by the metal element, there's no chance for flare-ups when fat or grease drips from the food.
Infrared grills, said Gardner, heat up faster, are more accurate, and cook without drying the food out, even when cooked to well-done. Because the flame doesn't directly heat the air in the grill, he said it's possible to control dramatically different cooking zones simultaneously.
"You can cook asparagus next to something that you're searing," he said, adding that they can do everything a conventional grill does. "You can do anything, absolutely anything, and it's going to be better," he said.
"If you're looking for something different than at the big box stores, hit the specialty stores, they've got the good stuff," he said.