A New Frontier In Grilling: Fruit, by John Willoughby and Chris Schlesinger, Aug. 3, 1994

“Not long ago, most Americans found the idea of grilling vegetables laughable. Back then, throwing an eggplant or a bell pepper on the grill and burning it black would have been considered a culinary disaster rather than a prelude to great eating. But after a decade or so of borrowing from the cooking of other cultures, Americans are happily tossing everything from mushrooms to zucchini onto the grill.

Now, the incredulous looks once reserved for grillers of vegetables are cast in the direction of those who recommend putting fruit over the grilling fire. But as with vegetables, those cooks willing to introduce fruit to flame will find that a slightly smoky char enhances its inherent sweetness and deepens its flavors.

In fact, grilling fruit is merely an extension of the widespread use of fruits in savory dishes. In tropical countries, for instance, where a profusion of fruits grow, many varieties are used as vegetables when green, as in Thailand’s green papaya salad and the deep-fried green plantain rounds of Jamaica. The myriad fruit chutneys of India and the banana stews of Africa provide other ready examples of spicy, savory uses for fruit. From these dishes, it is only a short hop to grilling.

The range of fruit that is amenable to grilling is virtually unlimited, from relative exotica like mangoes to everyday staples like apples and oranges. As a general rule, though, fruits that come from bushes and ground-hugging plants are often too delicate to stand up to grilling, while those that grow on trees have the requisite sturdiness.

It’s necessary when grilling fruit to pay some attention to the temperature of the fire: it should be medium hot. Wait until the coals have passed their peak by about 5 or 10 minutes — they will be covered with gray ash — then hold your hand about five inches above the cooking surface. If you can hold it there for three to four seconds, the fire is the correct temperature. If you can hold your hand there less than that, it is a hot fire: place the fruit around the edges of the fire, where the heat is least intense.

Preparing fruit for the grill is simplicity itself. Most fruits — bananas, peaches, plums, apples, pears and so on — can simply be halved and then pitted or cored before grilling. Larger fruits, like pineapples, and very juicy fruits, like oranges and other citrus, should be cut into thick slices. Generally, it is best to leave the skin or peel on, since it helps to keep the fruit from falling apart over the fire.

To prevent fruit from sticking to the grill, oil the pieces very lightly before placing them on the grill grid. But use a light hand; too much oil will not only interfere with the taste of the fruit, but can also cause flare-ups if it drips into the fire. These little eruptions of flame will impart an ashy taste to the food.

The grilling technique is also very simple, and very forgiving. When grilling meat or fish, for example, the cook must balance the exterior color and the interior doneness. When grilling fruit, doneness is not an issue because the purpose is not really to cook so much as to flavor. Therefore, the cooking time does not need to be exact, and it’s easily regulated by visual clues.

Flavor is indicated by color, so go for darkness, making sure to get a slight char on the fruit. When light grill marks or lightly blackened edges appear, the fruit is just about ready. Most fruits will cook to this desired state in about two to three minutes.

At this point, the sugar from the fruit will have burned slightly, adding a faint caramel flavor. Now, add another flavor dimension by brushing on a sugar-based glaze. When the sugar in the glaze melts, a new taste is added to the mix, along with the flavors of the glaze ingredients themselves. This is where it all comes together, so keep a sharp eye on the grill. Let the glaze darken just slightly, which usually takes about 30 seconds to one minute; then, remove the fruit from the fire before the sugar is burned black. The fruit can be eaten as is, or combined with other ingredients in a relish or dessert. Either way, another grilling frontier will be opened.”

-Excerpt and images courtesy of The New York Times, Times Machine, “A New Frontier In Grilling: Fruit,” by John Willoughby and Chris Schlesinger, Aug. 3, 1994

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