THERE'S A LOT more to Asian-style grilling than sprinkling a little soy sauce on your sirloin. All Oriental cuisines have well-developed traditions and techniques for cooking over an open fire, most of which adapt gracefully to American charcoal methods. Substituting the exotic flavors and aromas of an Asian marinade for bottled barbecue sauce can turn a conventional back-yard cookout into picnic with panache.
There are no difficult tricks to Asian grilling. Simply prepare your fire as usual and grill carefully, leaving the meat juicy and not overcooked. Oriental barbecue should be gently cooked, never charred and blackened. Frequent basting helps hold in the natural juices and intensifies flavors while producing a tender, crusty surface.
Bastes and marinades are not synonomous, though they can sometimes be used interchangeably. Marinades are mixtures of oil, acid (wine, lemon juice or vinegar) and seasonings in which foods are steeped. The marinade will penetrate the outer layers of the meat, flavoring it. If left soaking long enough, at least several hours, the acid in the marinade will tenderize tougher cuts of meat. Marinades are most effectively used as tenderizers on meats cut across the grain in small strips or cubes to expose the maximum surface area to the acid. Optimally, salt and soy sauce should not be added to a marinade until just before grilling time. They draw out natural juices, resulting in a dryer, less flavorful piece of meat.
Bastes are mixtures not unlike marinades but with a different purpose. They are used basically to add flavors and to seal in juices. Bastes are usually used on tender cuts of meat as well as fish, poultry and seafood, and are brushed on just before and during grilling. Sweeteners such as honey, sugar, hoisin sauce or molasses are often added to bastes because they caramelize when put on the fire and give the meat a beautiful color and crust.
Either a marinade or a baste can be successfully applied to meat before freezing for later use. For example, when flank steaks are on sale, buy several, trim and slice them, mix the slices with the following Korean bulgogi marinade and freeze them to be thawed and skewered just before grilling. The juices and marinade left after thawing can be reduced and used to baste the meat during grilling. Be sure not to add the soy sauce before freezing. Wait until the meat has partially thawed and then mix it in before skewering.
The following baste and marinade recipes are favorites in their respective countries. They are versatile: Try using prawns in the Malaysian satay sauce or sea scallops in place of prawns in the Indonesian sate. The Korean bulgogi marinade is excellent when used on a butterflied leg of lamb and the Japanese yakatori marinade is excellent with bluefish fillets as well as boned and skewered breast of duckling. Chinese barbecue marinade/baste can turn ordinary chicken legs or wings into exotic treats.
A quick and colorful stir-fry of the season's freshest vegetables and a cold rice or pasta salad nicely complement any of the following recipes. Exotic ingredients are available in Asian food markets. JAPANESE CHICKEN YAKATORI (8 servings)
Yakatori basting sauce can be made and kept in the refrigerator indefinitely to use for last-minute grilling. It goes well on meat, fish or poultry. For the basting sauce: 1 1/4 cups sake (Japanese rice wine) 3/4 cup mirin (sweetened Japanese rice wine) 1/4 cup rock sugar or granulated sugar 2 cups dark soy sauce 1/4 cup tamari sauce For the skewers: 4 whole chicken breasts, skinned and boned 1 pound chicken livers, washed, trimmed and patted dry 2 bunches scallions, white part only, cut in 1-inch lengths
Combine the sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 1/2 hour. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature before basting.
Meanwhile, halve the chicken breasts and cut each half into four equal strips and thread on skewers.
Separate the chicken livers into lobes and thread them on skewers, putting a piece of scallion between each two pieces of liver. Brush all the filled skewers generously with the basting sauce and grill over glowing coals. Baste and turn frequently during cooking. KOREAN BEEF BULGOGI (6 to 8 servings) 3 pounds flank steak, trimmed 1/2 minced red pepper, optional, for garnish For the marinade: 1/3 cup sake (Japanese rice wine) 1/3 cup salad oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons ginger root, finely grated 1 tablespoon sugar 1 tablespoon black pepper, freshly ground 1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted and crushed 1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped 2/3 cup soy sauce, added just before skewering the meat
For ease in slicing, partially freeze the meat and then slice it across the grain in 1/8-inch slices. Cut with the knife held at a deep diagonal so the slices will be about 3/4 inch wide.
Combine the marinade ingredients, except the soy sauce, and toss gently with the meat strips. Allow to steep 1/2 hour. Add the soy sauce and thread the meat on skewers. Grill very quickly over a hot fire, turning and basting only once with any remaining marinade. Serve at once or at room temperature, sprinkled with the red peppers.
Note: Alternately, leave the flank steaks whole and score them on both sides in a diamond pattern. Rub the marinade into the meat thoroughly and grill. To serve, slice in diagonal slices across the grain. INDONESIAN PRAWN SATE (6 servings) For the marinade: 1 1/2 cups thick coconut milk 2 teaspoons sambal olek or minced fresh red chilies 1/2 cup lemon juice 2 tablespoons fish sauce 2 teaspoons sugar Zest of 3 lemons 4 cloves garlic, finely minced 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt 1 tablespoon salad oil Cilantro leaves for garnish For the prawns: 2 pounds jumbo prawns, shelled but with the tails left on
Combine all the sauce ingredients and marinate the prawns 1 hour. Arrange prawns in a grilling basket in a single layer and brush generously with sauce. Grill over a hot fire, taking care not to burn the tails. Turn and baste frequently until barely done. Remove the prawns from the basket and arrange on a platter. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with remaining sauce that has been reheated. CHINESE BARBECUE PORK (6 servings) For the marinade: 1/4 cup hoisin sauce 2 teaspoons garlic, finely minced 1 tablespoon ginger root, finely minced 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoon rice wine 1 teaspoon oyster sauce 1 teaspoon salt For the pork 2 pounds pork butt, trimmed of excess fat
Combine marinade ingredients. Cut pork in chunks 1-by-2-by-4 inches and steep in the sauce 1 hour. Grill pork over white-hot coals, turning and basting often with the sauce until done but still very juicy. Slice the grilled meat thinly on the diagonal just before serving and serve with any remaining sauce, reheated. MALAYSIAN FISH SATAY (6 servings)
Monkfish and swordfish are both ideal for this dish because they hold their shape when skewered and have enough character to stand up to the assertive flavors of the sauce. For the sauce: 1 large onion 2 cloves garlic 1 tablespoon ginger root, chopped Zest from 3 limes 1/4 cup vegetable oil 2 to 3 teaspoons sambal olek or minced fresh chilies 3/4 cup coconut milk 1/4 cup lime juice 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar 2 ma grood leaves (substitute zest of 1 lime) For the fish: 2 pounds monkfish or swordfish, trimmed and cut in 1-inch cubes
Pure'e the onion, garlic, ginger and lime zest together. Rub 1/3 of this mixture onto the fish pieces and allow to marinate for 1/2 hour.
Heat oil in a wok and fry remaining 2/3 of the mixture 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes.
Skewer the fish and grill over hot coals, turning and basting often. Serve with remaining sauce, reheated.