From the title, outlined in glowing orange and yellow on a fire-red background, you don’t quite know whether to expect another barbecue cookbook or another chile pepper cookbook.
Well, there’s some chile and a lot of barbecue in “High Heat: Grilling and Roasting Year-Round With Master Chef Waldy Malouf” (Broadway Books, $30). But this book is really about a restaurant chef’s punchy brand of home cooking -- backyard cooking, by preference. One thing that makes it stand out from barbecue books every summer is that you don’t have to own a grill (perish the thought) to enjoy it. It gives instructions for using your oven instead.
Malouf is a well-known figure on the New York restaurant scene, and his resume doesn’t exactly suggest casual barbecue. He has cooked at the Four Seasons and directed the famous Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center, winning all sorts of restaurant awards along the way.
His first book, “The Hudson River Valley Cookbook,” had many of the earmarks of a restaurant cookbook, such as labor-intensive recipes and recherche ingredients. After all, he’d made his name cooking at a place called the Hudson River Club, where he specialized in using local products from the Hudson River Valley.
But since those days, he has opened Beacon, a casual restaurant in New York with an open kitchen in which food is cooked on open wood fires. As he says in his introduction, that sort of restaurant was showing up elsewhere in the country, so it seemed to be where people’s tastes were going, and it also appealed to his own tastes.
It was a success, and he opened another Beacon in Connecticut, probably the first of several more around the East Coast. This book represents something closer to the Beacon style than that first book. It shows a classically trained chef with the true hot-rodding American attitude cooking relatively simple dishes for his family and friends -- basically using nothing but supermarket ingredients, though Malouf does mention some optional ingredients that will take a little more looking.
There are a lot of influences at work here. Malouf grew up in Florida, of Lebanese and Sicilian ancestry (he refers often to his Lebanese grandmother’s cooking, which clearly influenced his use of herbs and love of lamb). As a kid, he apprenticed to a French chef to make enough money to buy a motorcycle, took a liking to the kitchen and, after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, knocked around the Mediterranean awhile.
One constant was cooking on high direct heat. As he says in his introduction, it’s more fun to do than poaching and simmering, and he’s always liked the way it sweetens, concentrates, chars and crisps foods. To stand up to these high-profile flavors, he uses a wide range of bold accompaniments: capers, horseradish, fresh herbs, chiles, orange zest, blue cheese, balsamic vinegar. The result is a vigorous, engaging style -- a style that will probably appeal to a lot of men -- but far more sophisticated than you find in the usual barbecue book.
Of the 125 recipes in the book, 80% are cooked on the grill, at least in part. The remaining recipes, the ones that don’t call for a barbecue, tend to be baked desserts and the like, but at least they do call for the high heat of the title.
Malouf doesn’t grill just the obvious things. He grills shrimp for a spicy version of shrimp cocktail (the sauce is basically a Mexican salsa cruda with a sharp dose of horseradish; it’s good on a lot of other things, too). He uses grilled potatoes (and chiles and bell peppers) in his potato salad. He chars filet mignon a little before chopping it up to make a more flavorful sort of beef tartare. He also chars the onions in his onion soup -- which includes seven heads of roasted garlic as well.
Needless to say, he grills his pizzas, including the dessert pizzas with chocolate-flavored crusts. He grills figs. He grills pineapples. He even grills the apples that go into his apple pie.
The recipes have been adapted with the help of Malouf’s co-author, Melissa Clark. Generally speaking, they’re clearly written, though there are occasional puzzles. The recipe for chicken breasts with grainy mustard, almonds and thyme says to marinate the chicken and later to baste it with the marinade, but it hasn’t said to reserve part of marinade just for this purpose.
Do you reuse the marinade that was used for basting? I wouldn’t care to. Sure, the marinade probably gets cooked, but there could still be danger of salmonella contamination. (Maybe this was an oversight, because half the marinade liquid is quite adequate for marinating purposes, so you could reserve quite enough for basting.)
The recipes have particularly enjoyable headnotes, giving lucid explanations of the chef’s culinary thinking as well as making every one of them sound irresistible. I’m particularly thinking of that vanilla cake that you layer with peaches and blueberries roasted until they’re “just this side of preserves” so their concentrated juices can soak into it. Each slice, he says, is “streaked with the bright sunset shades of purple, pink and yellow and tasting of summer.”
Oh, man. I’ve got to try that.