Summer entertaining should be no sweat. And for Labor Day, the season's last holiday, many backyard hosts are looking for a menu that will impress the guests without taxing the cook.
George Hirsch can help you make that happen. The Long Island chef, best known for his public television show, "Living it Up," is all about fuss-free recipes and easy entertaining. "If I can do it, you can do it" is what Hirsch likes to say.
Hirsch's show aired from 1994 to 2011, and he brought to it an impressive resume: After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1980, he launched a career ranging from opening Kings Park's fusion restaurant American Bistro in 1989 to running the culinary arts program at New York Institute of Technology in Central Islip from 1983 to 1992. In every position his goal has been to strip away superfluous flourishes and focus on the basics. Recently, Hirsch presided over a late-summer barbecue for six, one that can easily be recreated for what might be your last grilling party of the season.
Among his lessons:
Keep the grill covered: Food will cook faster and more evenly, Hirsch says, "and it will be infused with a great smoky flavor."
Leave the meat alone: Whether they're beef or tuna, throw steaks on a hot, clean grill and "don't be a hasty flipper." Wait four to five minutes before even thinking about flipping. And let them rest five minutes before cutting or serving.
Grill with fresh herbs: Hirsch tops his steaks with sprigs of rosemary while they grill, and also tosses herbs directly onto the coals for rosemary-scented smoke.
Throw something new on the fire: Hirsch grills the potatoes for his potato salad, the corn for the corn slaw. "It adds an extra dimension of smokiness," he says.
The Noyack home Hirsch shares with TV producer Trish Bennett is tailor-made for entertaining. The kitchen is roomy and filled with light. Outside are three decks and a pool -- with five grills scattered about. He stuck to one gas grill for this party, which makes the most of Long Island's late-summer bounty and, most importantly, gets as much done in advance as possible. Thus the side dishes -- corn slaw and potato salad -- required only last-minute finishing; the peach pie was out of the oven long before guests arrived. Grilling the tuna and steak was all that had to be done at the last minute.
FRESH TUNA TACOS WITH JOHNNYCAKES
Johnnycakes, made from cornmeal, are traditional New England flatbreads that stand in here for corn tortillas -- and you could certainly substitute tortillas. Hirsch serves the accompaniments -- caramelized onions, chopped olives and tomatoes, wedges of lime -- separately so that guests can customize their own tacos.
2 large onions
For the johnnycakes:
1 cup corn meal
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
13/4 cups milk
For the tuna:
8 (3- to 4-ounce) tuna steaks, at least 11/2 inch thick
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme and/or oregano leaves
1 teaspoon black pepper
Chopped Kalamata olives
1. Caramelize the onions: Slice onions and place with a few tablespoons olive oil and a big pinch of salt in a large saute pan. Cover pan and cook over medium-low heat until they sweat out most of their moisture. When they are limp and translucent, uncover pan, turn heat to medium and, stirring constantly, cook off water that has accumulated. When water has evaporated, reduce heat and, stirring frequently, cook until they turn a mahogany brown. Reserve.
2. Johnnycakes: Preheat a griddle over medium heat (or set electric griddle to 340 to 360 degrees). In a bowl, combine corn meal, sugar, salt and milk and mix thoroughly. Film griddle with oil and test heat by adding a few drops of batter: it should sizzle.
3. Use a large spoon to drop batter onto griddle; cakes should be about 3 inches in diameter. Cook until edges turn lacy and brown, 3 to 4 minutes, then cook on other side for 2 to 3 minutes. Oil griddle if it gets dry. Makes about 12 johnnycakes.
4. Tuna: Rub tuna steaks with herbs and drizzle with olive oil. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
5. Preheat grill to high. When it's hot, brush each tuna steak with more oil, place on grill and sear for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove from grill and, when ready to serve, slice each steak 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick.
6. To serve, arrange sliced tuna on one platter, johnnycakes on another. Pass bowls of caramelized onions, olives, tomatoes and lime wedges.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
GRILLED POTATO-HORSERADISH SALAD
2 pounds small red potatoes
For the dressing:
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons country-style Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, squeezed of excess moisture
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 sweet onion, diced small
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons juice from bread-and-butter pickles (or 1 teaspoon sugar dissolved in 1 teaspoon cider vinegar)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1. The day before you plan to serve, grill potatoes in an ovenproof pan over medium heat until cooked through and lightly charred, about 20 to 25 minutes, or roast in oven at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. Cool and refrigerate overnight.
2. On the day you plan to serve, combine lemon juice, mustard, horseradish, hot sauce, onion, salt, pepper and pickle juice, stirring with a whisk. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Cut cold potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Combine with dressing and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Just before serving, add fresh dill and toss. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
SAVORY CORN SLAW
Grilled corn adds a sweet note to this coleslaw.
For the slaw:
1 small head (2 to 3 pounds) green cabbage
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 large carrot
6 ears grilled or roasted corn
3 scallions, chopped
1 small sweet onion, chopped
For the dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or thyme (or both)
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 to 6 tablespoons fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1. Thinly shred cabbage and peppers and grate carrot (by hand or in a food processor). With a sharp knife, cut kernels off corn cobs. Combine vegetables in a large bowl with chopped scallions and onion.
2. Combine oil, paprika, herbs, vinegar, orange juice, honey, soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Toss with vegetables and refrigerate for at least two hours. Toss with cilantro just before serving. Makes 6 servings.
Hirsch's signature rub will enhance virtually any meat. Here it's used to great effect on strip steaks.
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon powdered garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar ("sugar in the raw")
4 (14- to 16-ounce) boneless New York strip steaks, cut 1-inch thick
2 cloves of fresh garlic, thinly sliced
Black pepper, to taste
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, cut into 4 pieces
1. Combine spices, herbs, pepper and sugar. Rub all over steaks and refrigerate for one hour to overnight.
2. Remove rubbed steaks from refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Drizzle each with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic, pepper and salt.
3. Preheat grill to high. When it's hot, place steaks on grill and top each one with a piece of rosemary. After 2 minutes lift the steaks, using tongs or steak spatula, and rotate them 45 degrees to make crosshatch marks. After 2 to 3 minutes, remove but do not discard rosemary, turn the steaks over and move them to the cooler edges of the grill, or lower the heat to medium. Replace rosemary sprigs, and continue cooking until the meat is done. (An instant-read thermometer will read 125 for rare, 130 for medium-rare, 140 for medium.) Avoid turning the steaks over several times.
4. Allow steaks to rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary and olive oil before serving. Makes 4 to 8 servings.
GEORGE'S FAVORITE PIE CRUST
It's important that the butter and milk be cold; this will keep the pastry flaky. If it's warm in your kitchen, refrigerate the flour for an hour as well. Chilling the dough before rolling it out will allow it to relax, gain elasticity and result in a lighter pastry.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter, chilled
1/2 cup cold milk (approximately)
1. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Cut the chilled butter into the dry mixture using a pastry cutter or by pinching it into the mixture with your hands. The mixture should have fat lumps no larger than the size of raisins.
2. Pour in the chilled milk slowly, stirring gently with a fork until most of the flour is no longer dry. You should be able to gently press the dough into a ball. The humidity level and moisture content of the flour will affect how much liquid it will absorb. Mix the dough as little as possible: you don't want to cream the lumps of butter into the flour. A crust without lumps of butter will be dense, not flaky.
3. Form dough into a rough ball, then cut into 2 unequal portions, about one-third (for the bottom crust) and two-thirds (for the top). Pat them into balls, flattening them slightly, and wrap them in plastic wrap. The dough needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Overnight is preferred.
GEORGE HIRSCH'S ROSÉ PEACH PIE
Cake (or bread) crumbs sprinkled on the bottom of the unbaked pie shell (recipe above) absorb excess moisture.
3/4 bottle dry rosé wine
1/4 cup sugar
10 medium fresh ripe peaches
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 recipe George's favorite pie crust (see below)
1/2 cup cake crumbs (from pound cake or plain yellow cake) or fresh bread crumbs (made from crustless white bread)
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water)
1. The night before, make rosé syrup: Pour rosé wine into a small saucepan with sugar. Simmer and reduce to about 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Chill. Halve 8 of the peaches and cut into 1-inch slices. (There's no need to peel them.) Pour rosé reduction over sliced peaches and marinate overnight covered in refrigerator.
2. The next day, drain the rosé syrup and reserve. (It makes a great cocktail with sparkling white wine and some sparkling water.)
3. Halve the remaining 2 peaches, cut into 1-inch slices and add to drained, marinated peaches. Combine with flour and brown sugar and toss until well combined.
4. Roll out two-thirds of pie dough and place in the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. Sprinkle cake crumbs over dough. Fill pan with peaches, mounded slightly. Roll out remaining pie dough and drape over peaches. Seal and crimp edges and brush top crust with egg wash. Refrigerate pie for an hour before baking.
5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place pie pan directly on oven rack, placing a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any juices. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees. Continue baking for 30 minutes until pastry is golden, the pastry begins to pull away from the pie pan and the edge of the crust sounds hollow when tapped with a finger. Makes 8 servings.
MAGICAL ROOT BEER FLOATS
Root beer floats are a beloved childhood treat. Here Hirsch ups the ante by using artisanal root beer (Miss Lady) and ice cream (Joe & Liza's) made in Sag Harbor.
6 ounces root beer
1 small scoop vanilla ice cream
Fill a tall glass three-quarters full with root beer. Top with ice cream and wait 30 seconds watching the magic foaming off the float. Add a straw, sip and enjoy. Makes 1 float.