Adam Perry Lang’s Radical Reinvention of Grilling Freaks Me Out!
The man I have called my own personal meat guru, Adam Perry Lang, has a new book out, Charred and Scruffed. It’s a revelation to me, and I don’t think the grilling community has really begun to cope with just how radical its approach is. I used some of its signature techniques on some dry-aged steaks the other day, and you can see from the picture how well they turned out. But before getting into what I did, I want to underscore why I think Adam is a genius, and why everything he says seems so completely and profoundly wrong.
As a meat cook, the essence of your art is restraint. Remember how Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon spoke about “the art of fighting without fighting?” That is how you learn to cook. A great meat cook doesn’t overseason, he doesn’t overmanipulate or patchke with the meat, he in fact is trained to do as little as possible to it. That’s why things like roast chicken, that more or less cook themselves, are in so many ways the paradigm of great meat cookery. But Adam was always aggressive, bold, and a hands-on cook. The first time I ever saw him cook, he made a pork chop, arrosezing it with foaming butter in a tilted pan. And his grilling style has grown ever more aggressive. In his new book, he calls for cooks to beat up the meat, move it constantly around, take it off and on the heat, squeeze it, put it right on the coals, and half a dozen other things far beyond what any conventional outdoor cookery, even decorated competition veterans, would suggest. He is a visionary and I love him for it. But I was frankly nervous about trying his techniques.
There were four of them that I applied to this steak. I’ll go through them one by one.
“Hot Potato” Movement. Of all of Adam’s techniques, this is the one that makes me the most nervous. By constantly turning and moving and flipping the steak, he feels that you are getting an even cook. I feel that you are keeping the meat from getting as brown as it ought to be. Moreover, with the kind of fatty dry-aged steaks that I favor, you are getting flare-ups such as you might expect to find on the surface of the sun. To be frank, I’m still not sold on this one. That said, the meat had an admirable brownness overall and and even cook throughout.
Scuffing. Adam doesn’t want a flat surface on his steaks and chops; he likes them ripped up, “scuffed,” and even in some cases cut crossways in the style of ham rinds. The idea is that by cutting up the meat you are exposing more of its surface not just to the aromatizing power of the coals, but also allowing more fat to render out (and flare up, which Adam likes as much as I do.) The scars and channels of the meat don’t just sit there: Adam bathes them with butter and garlic and herbs and other good things, constantly bathing them as he flips and flops them on the fire. I told you, this is a very elaborate system.
Tempering. This was one that frankly surprised me. Everyone in the world seems to agree that meat should be rested after cooking – except Adam Perry Lang, who cuts it up right out of the broiler, and tells his cooks to do the same. But in Charred and Scuffed, he advises “tempering” the meat by taking it off heat, letting it settle and seethe, cooling down on the board before a final sizzle at the end to give extra Maillard-reaction (aka “caramelisation”) flavor.
Board-Dressing. After the steak is all done, it gets get up and mixed with a “board dressing,” a vivid cocktail of olive oil, parsley, steak juice, garlic, and whatever else you feel like mixing into it. All the slices are coated with it, thus solving the primary challenge of all meat cookery, which is: how can you flavor the inside of the meat (which is to say, most of it), and not just the outside part. The final tangle of glistening, firm, crusty-but-not-blackened strips of steak were perfectly coated, and practically jumped onto your palate. The only downside was that I was cooking on a cool night, and the cold board dressing over-cooled the already-tempered meat, making it less than hot when I served it to my waiting mouths downstairs. But given that I was experimenting with four totally new techniques, that doesn’t seem too bad a price. Just look at that picture.