MEMORIAL Day is a "surf's up" signal for Washington. It has been a long cold spring, and if ever a city was ready to move outdoors, this is it.
The fragrance of a thousand chickens grilling will follow the crowd tough enough to do the Bay Bridge boogie down the highways and across the Delmarva plain. But the stay-at-homes will put away the china, haul out the styrofoam, scrub the grill, dust off the deck chairs, light the charcoal, turn on the radio and listen to Trumbell and Core tell how many miles the traffic is backed up.
Gayle Perkins, editorial director of WRC-TV, knows which direction she'll be going. "We'll be grilling fish and corn in the back yard" of her home in Old Town Alexandria.
She and her husband, lawyer Charles Atkins, will head over to the Maine Avenue wharf or an Alexandria seafood store and pick out the fish. Not just any fish. About a 5-pound sea trout is a favorite. "This has to be A FISH," she laughed.
They will invite in another couple and serve "real southern iced tea, which means it has fresh mint in it." Buttered corn will cook in foil packets at the edge of the grill. Where there is space, Perkins will tuck in skewers of seafood kabobs: oysters and shrimp, interspersed with slices of green pepper, onion and cherry tomatoes.
"It's all very casual, people just take them off the grill when they're done," she said.
But the main attraction is that great big fish. How does she know when a 5-pound sea trout is cooked? "That's the question Charles always asks," she sighed. "It's a sixth sense. I just know."
Witty James Boren, author and lecturer, is usually criss-crossing the country with his wife, Alice, teaching people to either speak or understand the bureaucratic idiom. This Memorial Day will find him in Oklahoma with family. "I hope I'll be eating cornbread and black-eyed peas."
But holidays usually find the Borens at their summer home on the Shenandoah River in Virginia barbecuing something besides bureaucrats. Cooking out, he says, "tends to supernaturalize the gastronomic delight factors. Ingestive qualities are optimal in flavor and minimally caloric."
Their guests can enjoy the sweep of the river that flows at the edge of their front lawn. Or they may bring their swimsuits and paddle out to the edge of the current to watch the flotillas of rafts and inner tubes linked together that drift by draped with bodies enjoying a floating party. Coolers and six-packs bob alongside in cargo tubes.
Afterward, there is the Boren grape jelly chicken. "We stand around and mumble while I cook."
Laura Speakes, administrative assistant in the executive offices of the Army Times Publishing Co., used to think of Memorial Day as the date it was correct to wear white shoes in Mississippi. Now it's just another holiday when her husband will be gone. As President Reagan's deputy press secretary Larry Speakes will be in Colonial Williamsburg at the economic summit conference. Laura and their son Jeremy, 12, will be quietly fishing from a rowboat at Burke Lake.
British-born Washington caterer Jane Taylor has a smashing grilled chicken recipe. Half the fun of this recipe is the name, which is graphic, discovered because she loves reading Italian cookbooks for the wonderful and bizarre non sequiturs that crop up in recipe titles.
"There's a 'Fritto Italiano,' " she explained, which literally translated would be Fried Italian, but the recipe is actually a mixed seafood grill.
In southern Italy, the chicken recipe is called Pollo al Autostrada, which you can understand even if you don't know the Italian for turnpike. The chicken is butterflied and pounded flat. But don't let the name stop you, she said. It's a recipe that stays in her repertoire.
"Memorial Day, my dear, I will be in Paris," said John DeVisser, an executive with Martin Marietta and an excellent cook and wine expert. If he were in town, he said, he would be barbecuing on his Rockville patio, using a French grill purchased last year in Paris.
It is different from the usual American grill. The coals lie in half of the coal box separated from the other half by a metal mesh screen. The spit turns alongside, not above, the coals. The drips fall into a special pan and not into the fire. "It's wonderful."
Paris is not a bad way to avoid the Bay Bridge and he can even observe Memorial Day there. May 30 in France is called "The Day of Ashes." Although no longer a national holiday, it observes the return to France of the remains of Napoleon from St. Helena.
And Bill Trumbell and Chris Core of WMAL Radio will be neither cooking nor eating chicken. Trumbell said he will spend Memorial Day afternoon relaying Bay Bridge traffic reports from Capt. Dan Rosenson in the clouds. "It'll probably be a quarter-pounder from McDonald's," he said. "And Chris will make his usual trip to the Booeymonger and have something WASPish like a BLT on white."
When you ask about Memorial Day, you have to know to whom you are talking. There is a Yankee Memorial Day and a Confederate Memorial Day. Nine states in the south used to fry the chicken and make potato salad April 26. Three others celebrated June 3.
"Even the banks didn't close May 30 in Savannah," sniffed Georgia-raised Maggie Stephenson of Falls Church. (They do now.) An expert on both southern cooking and southern lore, she remembers April Memorial Day picnics always featured crispy fried chicken, pineapple sandwiches and homemade pimiento cheese.
"They used canned pineapple rings, and sliced the rings once again to get two thin rings. Homemade bread was spread with homemade mayonnaise and the two pineapple rings were arranged to fit the bread."
Memorial Day recipes are usually simple so the cook can have a holiday, too. Here are some of their favorites. GAYLE PERKINS' GRILLED FISH (5 or 6 servings)
Perkins uses a fish-shaped hinged grill rack which makes it easy to turn the fish without damage. Heat the rack hot enough to mark the fish when you put it in the rack. 4- or 5-pound sea trout or similar fish, gutted, scaled, but with head and tail intact Butter Seafood seasoning Pepper
Brush fish generously with melted butter inside and out. Give the fish a sprinkle of pepper and a light to moderate dusting of seafood seasoning inside and out. Place fish about 5 inches above hot coals. Turn occasionally. This usually cooks in 30 minutes or less depending on the fish and the fire. Fish is done when flesh in the thickest areas is opaque and flakes easily. POLLO AL AUTOSTRADA (4 servings)
Definitely a conversation piece, but this recipe has solid credentials. The flavor is wonderful and it cooks quickly and evenly without drying out. Get out the water gun to control the fire; the oil-soaked chicken makes a merry blaze. 2- to 3-pound broiler chicken, whole 1/3 cup lemon juice 1 tablespoon peppercorns, cracked 3 tablespoons olive oil Salt (optional)
Place chicken breast down and split along entire backbone with sharp knife. Spread open and crack breast bone from the inside. Pound the carcass as flat as possible, cracking ribs, with smooth side of a meat tenderizer or flat side of a cleaver. The idea is to flatten without tearing the flesh. Cut tendons of wings and legs without cutting through to further spread the chicken. Place chicken in large flat-bottomed dish or pan and pour over lemon juice, olive oil and peppercorns. Continue to flatten by placing weighted plate on the bird. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Sprinkle chicken with salt, if desired, before grilling. Place chicken in oiled grill rack about 5 inches above hot coals. Cook about 10 minutes until chicken turns a light brown. Turn and grill another 10 minutes, turn again and cook until a thigh tests tender with a fork. This will take about 30 minutes. Baste during cooking with marinade. Adapted from "Classic Italian Cooking" JAMES BOREN'S GRAPE JELLY GRILLED CHICKEN (8 servings)
Alice Boren says this recipe originally sauced cocktail meatballs until they discovered its virtues with chicken. There is usually leftover sauce which she uses on something else later in the week. Because of the sugar in the jelly, it is important not to put it on the raw chicken. Begin basting after the chicken has been seared. 8 to 10 chicken breast halves 12-ounce bottle chili sauce 10-ounce jar grape jelly
Heat together chili sauce and jelly, stirring until jelly melts. Place chicken halves on grill about 5 inches above coals. Sear about 10 minutes, then turn and with a pastry brush paint the sauce on the cooked chicken. Cook about 10 minutes, turn and paint sauce on second side. Continue to turn and baste, lowering the grill rack as necessary to keep the heat. The chicken should cook in about 30 minutes. MAGGIE STEPHENSON'S REAL SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN (4 servings)
Maggie Stephenson's married daughter, Lisa Gentry, made a special trip home to watch her mother fry chicken. She had the recipe, but her chicken was always soggy; her mother's was always crispy. As she watched her mother lift the lid of the pan and wipe with a paper towel, her eyes widened: "You didn't tell me about that," she said. 3-pound fryer chicken, cut up Lard or shortening Flour, salt, and pepper
Lightly salt chicken pieces, place in a plastic bag with flour and shake to lightly dust chicken with flour. Heat fat in heavy iron skillet or dutch oven that has a lid. (There should be about 2 1/2 inches of fat in the pan, most of which will be left when the chicken is cooked.) Fat should be hot enough for chicken to sizzle but not be smoking hot. Add chicken pieces, cover and cook 4 or 5 minutes. Remove lid, turn chicken, wipe condensation from inside of lid with paper towel, replace lid and cook 5 minutes more. Repeat operation of turning chicken and wiping lid every few minutes. If this isn't done, chicken won't be crisp. Chicken should be brown, crispy and tender in 25 to 30 minutes. MAGGIE STEPHENSON'S VIDALIAS AND POTATOES WITH SORREL (6 servings)
The short season of the sweet Georgia-grown Vidalia onion coincides with the Memorial Day weekend. 5 medium russet potatoes, sliced thin 1 large Vidalia or other sweet onion, sliced 1/4 cup butter 1 cup light or heavy cream 1 cup sorrel leaves, roughly shredded Pepper, freshly ground Salt (optional)
Place potato and onion slices in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat immediately, drain and distribute in a buttered shallow baking dish. In another saucepan, melt butter, add sorrel and stir until sorrel disintegrates. Very slowly, whisk in cream. Grind pepper over potatoes, add salt if desired, pour sorrel sauce over potato/onion mixture. Cover tightly with lid or foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. LAURA SPEAKES' INDIAN CORN (3 of 4 servings)
This is simple, but perfect with practically anything cooked on the grill. 1/4 cup onion, chopped 1/4 cup green pepper, chopped 1 tablespoon butter or margarine 1-pound can creamed corn 2 tablespoons pimiento, chopped 1 egg, lightly beaten Salt and pepper to taste
Saute onion and green pepper briefly in butter. Add corn, pimiento, egg and seasoning. Stir to blend and place in buttered casserole dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until set and lightly browned. MARLENE BACHER'S AUSTRIAN POTATO SALAD (8 servings)
Ozzie and Marlene Bacher of Clifton, Va., will shop for a new sailboat over the Memorial Day weekend. A favorite galley recipe is this potato salad. 4 or 5 medium new or red potatoes, boiled in skins 16-ounce can kidney beans 16-ounce can garbanzo beans 3 strips bacon, fried; reserve fat 1 large onion, chopped Parsley, large handful, chopped 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1/4 cup olive oil Salt and freshly ground pepper
Dice cooled potatoes into salad bowl. Drizzle bacon fat over potatoes and sprinkle with salt. Toss. Add beans, bacon, onion and parsley and toss again with vinegar, oil and freshly ground peper to taste.