It doesn’t take much to take flavours up a notch and to bring variety to the summer grill.
With a nod to the clean and uncluttered cooking style the Tuscans favour when it comes to grilling, barbecued meats and fish can taste pretty good with little other than salt, pepper and olive oil, though even these can be varied to include different textured and flavoured salts, a choice of peppers and mild or gutsy flavoured or infused oils.
But some days you want a bit more zing, pep and fire. Rubbing meat or fish with spices and seasonings introduces bags of flavour and helps tenderise meat. The base is often salt, as it helps the rub penetrate the meat. Spices are more pungent if lightly toasted before crushing or grinding. Dried herbs also add flavour, but don’t bother with soft herbs like chives, parsley, basil and chervil as they are not potent enough. Sicilian or Greek oregano (not NZ-grown oregano which resembles grass-clippings when dried), rosemary, thyme, marjoram, spearmint (sold as dried mint) and crumbled bay and kaffir lime leaves, all retain potency; rub them first through the palms of your hands to release their fragrant oils. Sugar helps caramelise the outside of meat and a small amount is a good addition to a rub, but too much will cause the meat to burn. Most dry rubs will keep for a short period, although like all spices, especially once ground, they will lose fragrance over time.
Wet rubs are not good keepers and are usually whipped up just before using, although meat may be marinated in them (refrigerated) for up to 24 hours. These can be made like a dry rub then turned into a paste with the addition of an acid such as wine, vinegar, verjuice, lemon juice or tamarind juice, or liquid sweeteners such as pomegranate syrup, honey and molasses, or flavourings such as soy sauce, tomato ketchup and mustard. Lemon and lime zest, fresh and dried herbs, garlic and shallots can also be added. It is often best to cook meats over moderate heat then to increase the heat at the end of cooking to caramelise the outside as most of these ingredients will burn if the heat is too high early on in cooking.