As the days grow shorter and the temperature drops, Americans pack up their barbecue grills for winter. But grilling is still a fine cold-weather cooking method.
Especially when you do it indoors.
This truth was brought home to me during a visit to the North Stonington, Conn., home of Randall's Ordinary, a country inn that specializes in hearthside cookery.
The innkeeper, Bill Foakes, recently served a dinner of squash soup simmered in a cast-iron caldron, corn bread cooked in a spider (a cast-iron skillet with legs), goose roasted in a beehive oven built into the side of the fireplace, and a cobbler baked in a Dutch oven - all cooked in the hearth.
Grilling in the fireplace is easy. You'll want to use hardwood, like oak or hickory, or fruit wood, like cherry or apple. Grapevine trunks and trimmings are among the world's most sought-after fuels for grilling. Mesquite, preferred in Texas and Hawaii, burns hot and smoky but has a tendency to crackle and send sparks through your cooking area.
You should not use a soft wood, like pine or spruce. The resins in these woods would give food a tarry taste, and the woods are prone to flare-ups.
To set up your fireplace for grilling, move the andirons to one side (or remove them). Clear a space for the grill. You can buy fireplace grills - gridirons with legs that hold the grate 3 to 4 inches above the floor of the fireplace. But a simple, reliable, fireplace grill can be rigged up with nothing more than a couple of bricks and a grate from your barbecue grill. Place a row of bricks on each side and set the grill on top.
Build a blazing fire on one side of the fireplace. (Start it with paper and kindling, not chemical fire starters.) Let the logs burn PTC down to glowing coals. Have the grill on the other side. (Oil the grate before using.) When you're ready to cook, simply shovel a 1-inch layer of embers under the grill.
To control the heat in a fireplace grill, I like to bank the embers thickly on one side of the grill and spread them out thinly on the other. You can control the cooking temperature by moving the meat back and forth from hot side to cooler side. Or, you could simply rake away some of the embers.
So just because the mercury plunges, you don't have to give up on grilling.
Hearth-Grilled Cider-Marinated Pork Chops
4 (1-inch thick) loin pork chops
11/2 cups fresh apple cider
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 strips lemon zest
4 fresh sage leaves, crushed or 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 apple (preferably McIntosh), cored and finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sesame oil or melted butter
Trim any excess fat off pork chops and make cut in rounded part of each chop. (This keeps chop from curling during grilling.) Arrange chops in baking dish just large enough to hold them.
Combine cider, honey, soy sauce, lemon juice and zest, sage, apple, scallions, garlic and ginger in mixing bowl, and stir until honey is dissolved. Pour marinade over pork and marinate, covered, for at least 2 hours (preferably 6 to 8 hours) in refrigerator, turning chops once or twice.
Build a fire in your fireplace and set up grill as described above. Heat should be high. Drain chops and blot dry. Strain marinade into saucepan and boil until thick and syrupy, 5 to 8 minutes. Whisk in butter and correct seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Brush chops on both sides with sesame oil or melted butter and grill until cooked to taste, 4 to 6 minutes per side for medium.
Transfer pork to plates or platter and spoon cider glaze on top.
Pub Date: 12/27/98