Bonus Audio: Why Grill Fruit?
It’s another sweltering sultry east coast August. The good news: local melons are just coming into the farmers market. We’re definitely grilling some. But they have their challenges.
D: The local cantaloupes are incredible this year! I haven’t hit a bad one yet. I usually just eat them raw, but I’m thinking of tossing some ground coriander and brown sugar on a few slices and searing them over a hot fire.
A: Awesome. Palm sugar would be even better. Either way, the spice rub would help solve the problem with grilling fruit. Most fruit is so high in moisture and low in fiber that it collapses before it browns. You either have to grill it long enough to evaporate the moisture, or put something on the surface that browns quickly so that the fruit never gets a chance to heat through.
D: Yeah, like peaches with honey butter, one of my favorites.
A: Two things are happening there: the fat from the butter is acting as a moisture barrier and the sugar in the honey is caramelizing on the surface of the fruit. That’s probably the most effective thing you can do to get really wet fruits to brown.
D: Glazes also let fruits brown before they have a chance to cook through and get too soft. Without a glaze, ripe fruits like peaches, apricots, and plums just turn to mush on the grill. You want these fruits to be ripe, but if they’re too soft they collapse over the hot fire.
A. All you really want to do for ripe fruit is develop some good grill marks on the surface.
D. Exactly. You can also put a rub on the surface to absorb juices and add flavor—like the coriander and sugar on the cantaloupe. Fruit can also handle savory rubs. We usually think of fruit in sweet recipes, but fruit pairs great with grilled meat. Think pork and applesauce. Or beef and oranges. You can spice a peach with cumin or chile peppers...
A: ...or a curry rub. A little habanero chile is great on peaches, too.
D: It helps to think of fruit like a vegetable. Think about what you’re pairing it with: grilled herbed pears with turkey; grilled apricots with salmon; grilled grapes and gorgonzola with beef…. Have you ever stuck fruit right in the coals?
A: Yeah, we’ve done that with mango, where we char the skin and peel it like a grilled pepper. Or you could do it with a banana, anything with a protecting peel. Are there fruits you can’t grill? Berries would be difficult.
D: Watermelon seems like it would never work on a grill. The fruit is 92% water, which makes it seems like it would just steam instead of grill. But you can glaze a thick slice of watermelon, sear it quickly over high heat then move it over low heat to let the slices dry out. It takes about 20 minutes. They shrink a little and the flavor gets more concentrated. The texture changes, too. It gets denser and meatier, and it looks sort of like a grilled tuna steak.
A: Mmmm. One of the great things about raw watermelon is that it’s thirst quenching. But that’s also what waters down the flavor. If you cook the fruit like you described, some of that water evaporates, and the flavor skyrockets, smacking your taste buds around - pretty incredible.
Grilled Watermelon Steak with Pink Peppercorn Rub
Makes 4 servings
1 crosswise center-cut slice of a large watermelon, about 1 1/2-inches thick
1/2 cup vodka
1/4 cup water
The finely grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Pinch of kosher salt + 1/4 teaspoon
2 tablespoons pink peppercorns, crushed
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey
Remove the green and white rind from the watermelon then cut crosswise into quarters to make 4 wedge-shaped steaks.
Combine the vodka, water, lemon zest, lemon juice, butter, and mint in a large zipper-lock bag. Add a pinch of salt and the watermelon steaks. Press out the air, seal and let stand at warm room temperature (at least 72ºF) for 1 to 2 hours.
Light a grill for indirect medium heat, about 350ºF (page 000).
Combine the crushed pink peppercorns, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Remove the watermelon from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels; reserve the marinade. Scatter the rub all over the steaks and pat into surface.
Brush the grill grate and coat with oil. Grill the watermelon directly over the heat until nicely grill-marked, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Move the watermelon away from the heat, close the lid, and cook until very tender and slightly shrunken, 30 to 40 minutes.
Boil the marinade in a small saucepan until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 10 minutes. Stir in the honey and drizzle over the steaks.