I’m Really Excited About My Broiler
Is this a Chinese thing? I appreciate chilled dishes like hiyashi chuka on their own merits (and in fact I seem to have penned a recipe for one variation), but no matter how hot it gets, I still basically want to eat hot food.
What I don’t want is to cook the hot food. This summer I finally invested in a 20-cup rice cooker (note that when I say “invested,” what I really mean is that in an act of great profligacy, I finally upgraded my rice cooker from a 19-dollar model to one that cost twice that) with a built-in steamer tray, which is a great way to get the hot meals I still crave without substantially raising the temperature inside my apartment. But the real innovation in my cooking this season has been my discovery of the broiler.
You laugh, but I think a lot of people don’t understand or exploit their broiler. I suspect a lot of people think the drawer under the oven is extra storage for their Pyrex, or a plate warmer for dinner parties, or even a decorative panel that does nothing at all. Am I crazy? I grew up in an ovenless Chinese household, so maybe I’m crazy. In any case, the broiler is new to me, and I think it’s just fantastic. Obviously it’s going to pump some amount of heat into the kitchen, but it does it so much more efficiently than the oven’s main chamber would, heating up in a matter of minutes.
Since I’m so excited about it, I thought I’d share a few ways that I’ve been using it:
1. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Normally I only bake or roast with skin-on chicken thighs so I can develop some crunch, but the intense, almost direct heat of the broiler helps me get good char on the surface of even these denuded pieces. I toss the thighs in a mixture of soy sauce and honey and broil about 5 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, I reduce the soy-honey mixture in a saucepan until it’s getting sticky. Then I turn the thighs over one last time, brush with the glaze, possibly sprinkle with sesame seeds, and broil for a final 5 minutes, which gets everything beautifully sticky and crusty. Serve vaguely “Chinese-style” by cutting into manageable slices, piling them on a platter and topping with Maldon salt and finely topped scallion greens. A non-Asian alternative is to coat the chicken with fresh lime juice and Spanish smoked paprika, glazing with a mixture of honey and more lime juice.
2. Pork tenderloin. I am not ordinarily a big fan of pork tenderloin, which is indisputably tender, but tender in a way that can remind me of cottony shrimp cocktail. (A little resistance in your meat is not a terrible thing.) But I have come around to it, marinated in a mixture of grainy Dijon mustard and maple syrup, and broiled for 8 or 9 minutes on each side. You have probably noticed by now that a sugary theme runs through my broiling, and it’s because I think it would be a pity to miss out on the caramelizing potential of all that focused heat.
3. Miscellaneous robatayaki, Japanese skewers. Theoretically you should do these over a hibachi, and I’ve tried to replicate that with a grill pan, but with that method, the sweet Japanese glaze (tare) inevitably burns. Not so in the broiler! You can spear tsukune balls (or even kefte kebabs, why not?) and asparagus sections (bacon-wrapped or not) and have the most toothsome, sticky skewers to serve with cold soba tossed in sesame sauce or ponzu.
4. Roasting peppers. Yes, I have been idiotically doing this in an oven for far too long. Waste of time and gas.
The best part is the total lack of clean-up: lining the pan with foil eliminates any need for washing. I’m sure there are many more fabulous things one can do with one’s broiler, and if you are moved to share yours, please do send me an email.