Tadashi Ono wrote the book on the Japanese grill.
"I like to play with fire," the chef says with a little laugh. "It's very primitive."
Some grilling styles are not as primitive as others. The Japanese approach leans less heavily on big hunks of seared protein than its American backyard BBQ brethren. Instead, the emphasis is on using subtle heat to enhance--not overwhelm--vegetables on the grill.
For the third installment of "Take Back the Grill"--our monthlong focus on meatless grilling--we stopped by his kitchen, the recently opened Maison O in NYC's Nolita, for a quick primer on cooking over coals the Japanese way.
Transform your Weber into a yakitori joint. Just add bricks.
Bricks on the grill hold skewers at just the right height for yakitori-style shishito peppers, shiitake or small tomatoes alternated with negi (Japanese mega-scallions). Yes, this also works for chicken skin and pork belly, but we're talking vegetables, people. Focus.
Pro (Ono) tip: Double-skewer irregularly shaped veggies like shishito peppers to keep them from flipping over.
Never be foiled by small vegetables again.
Worried about fussy little vegetables falling through the grill gates? Wrap 'em in foil, and stop worrying.
Recipe: No recipe required. Take a handful of enoki mushrooms or whatever you've got on hand, add a dash of sake, a little ponzu and, for spice, shichimi togarashi pepper. Wrap them all up in foil and leave somewhere out of your way on the grill until everything else has finished cooking.
Pro (Ono) tip: "It's not really grilling, more like steaming--but it's really easy and gives vegetables a good flavor."
ABS: Always Be Spritzing.
Fill a spray bottle with sake and spritz your veggies before and while they're on the fire. The sake helps your spices stick to slippery vegetable skins, lends a mysterious, nuanced flavor and gives some color as the vegetables cook.
Pro (Ono) tip: "The sake keeps things from burning too quickly. Junmai is a good choice and not too expensive."