On the surface, grilling appears to be a no-brainer. Toss a hamburger or steak on a hot grill, turn down the heat after searing, and flip every so often until done. And for the more adventurous or detail-oriented, there’s marinades, sauces, and rubs that you can add to the repertoire. But this isn’t the case with Asian grilling which is rooted in economy and necessity. While Western backyard BBQers love to grill thick steaks, big juicy burgers, chops, and slabs of meat, Asians cut food in smaller pieces and craft patties mixed with a melange of spices. Cooking is done faster requiring less fuel which means that foods tend to be cooked through rather than rare or medium rare.
What makes Asian grilling truly different from Western methods is the exquisite interplay of flavors. Since meat and other proteins are expensive, Asian dishes in general center on starch and vegetables instead of meat, so grilled portions are smaller…often thin slices or chunks threaded onto skewers. Marinades and wet rubs based on naturally brewed soy or fish sauces boost the dish’s overall umami ( savoriness) giving the modest meat portions a bigger flavor presence. Here are some distinctly different grilling techniques from Asian countries around the world…some of which I’d like to personally try on my own grill in the coming weeks:
Yakitori (grilled chicken) – small pieces of chicken that often include skin, gizzards, hearts, or livers threaded on bamboo skewers. The skewers themselves are prepped by dipping them into a mixture of soy sauce, tamari, sake, and sugar and then grilled over charcoal.
Shio-yaki (salt grilling) – a popular way to prepare fish, particularly richer fish like mackerel. The fish is salted liberally before
grilling or broiling and served with grated daikon and a squeeze of lemon to cut the oiliness.
Yakiniku (grilled meat) – bite-size pieces of meat & vegetables cooked over charcoal, gas, or electric and served with dipping sauces called tare. Tare typically consists of soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, garlic, and sesame.
Yam makeua issaan (grilled eggplant salad) – long Asian eggplant grilled with garlic and fresh chillies, mashed in a mortar, and seasoned with cilantro, lime juice, mint, fish sauce, and sesame seeds.
Gai yang, ping gai (grilled chicken w/ hot & sweet dipping sauce) – a street-food specialty made with butterflied chicken breasts and legs marinated in cilantro root, black pepper & garlic, served with a dipping sauce of vinegar, sugar, garlic and pepper flakes.
Sate – chunks of chicken,goat, mutton, beef, pork, or fish threaded onto bamboo skewers and then grilled & served w/ various spicy
sauces. Meats are sometimes marinated with tumeric producing a yellow hue.
Nem nuong (ground pork patties) – a mixture of ground pork, sugar, fish sauce, and salt & pepper. After grilling, they’re rolled into softened rice paper wrappers with herbs & peanuts, and served with fish sauce for dipping.
Banh mi (grilled pork sandwich) – pork marinated in fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and shallots. Pork is then grilled, then layered on French bread with pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, a few dashes of soy sauce, and then spread with a thin layer of mayonnaise, butter, or pate.
Bulgogi (fire beef) – Flanken-style (cut across the bones) ribs are marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, chillies, and garlic. The grilled meat is served wrapped in lettuce leaves with rice, spicy condiments like fermented soybean paste (toenjang), and hot red pepper paste (gochujang).
photos courtesy of yongfook.com, thekitchn.com, ifood.tv (respectively)