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Releasing My Inner Emeril: Lagasse Grilled

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My father, for all his lack of domestic skills, was a brilliant grill-meister. On a New Jersey summer night, like the ones we begin to savor now, he would start the grill early on the back patio, Pabst Blue Ribbon in hand.

There wasn't much to prepare. This was long before the fully loaded gas contraptions designed to heat up male testosterone as much as heat up burgers and hot dogs. Those things require a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering to operate and the local fire department on call. We had a grill that looked like a black metal beach ball that had been cut in half, and a grill top that was as sturdy as my father's own hands when he tried to screw in a light bulb. But the meals he produced were so memorable I am salivating now all over my laptop and onto this web page (sorry, Arianna).

Memorable in their simplicity: steak marinated in red wine, pepper and soy sauce, Jersey corn husked down to one layer, and Jersey tomatoes on the side swimming in garlic, oregano and olive oil -- Jersey being the operative essential ingredient. Despite the Joisey jokes, it is, after all, the Garden State (http://www.aarpmagazine.org/travel/my_jersey_journey.html).

Now comes Emeril Lagasse -- one of those celebrity chefs the size of whose multimedia empire long ago exceeded the size of his girth, but not his ego -- with a book entitled "Emeril at the Grill" (http://www.emerils.com). Endlessly promoting it (including a shameless appearance on Jon & Kate Plus 8), he next stops in at the Kahala Food & Wine Classic on June 12 and 13, at the Kahala Resort & Hotel (5000 Kahala Ave., Honolulu; 800-367-2525; http://www.kahalaresort.com/fwc_emeril_lagasse.cfm). Though it's only a couple of days away, the organizers tell me there are some late-booking deals to be had on packages that include wine and cigar tastings, dinners, demos, of course the room, and more food -- all themed to the new cuisine of Emeril's hometown, New Orleans. "Bam!" He got me there -- love that gumbo and beignets.

But I never got the man-grill thing myself. What is it about standing in front of a grill that makes a man feel more of a man by spreading his legs, drink in one hand, huge tongs in the other, slathering BBQ sauce on a hunk of meat? Of course, there is something primal about it that takes him back to the days when he was slathering BBQ sauce on a sabre-toothed tiger, drink in hollowed-out skull bone in one hand, huge machete in the other.

Emeril thinks he can turn me into one of those alpha males, cockily standing in front of the grill, deftly pushing aside pretenders to my grill throne, simply by throwing guy phrases into his book like "Oh yeah, baby," and "I'm telling you, you will be the smash, the bomb, the top dawg of the neighborhood." Really? What about when that translucent piece of salmon slips through the grill and I am left desperately trying to spear it back from death by mesquite charcoal? How manly will I look then, huh, Emeril?

And anyway, why would a man's man be grilling any kind of fish when meat will clog arteries so much better and more efficiently? But, it turns out, Emeril may not be such a guy's guy after all, because there is a whole chapter on grilling fish. Fish!? And then he goes ahead and offers such sensitive advice that one wonders if Emeril himself is in touch with his feminine side. To wit:

"Scatter soaked hardwood chunks over your coals for a quick and easy way to add a smoky nuance to your grilled foods."

"Wrap fish fillets, sliced veggies, and other quick-cooking items inside foil packets with bundles of fresh herbs and throw them directly on the grill; the steam will release the herb's perfume and flavor anything contained inside the pouch."

"I love fresh citrus and always keep lemons, limes, and oranges on hand; they come in handy for spritzing up quickly grilled meats, seafoods, and vegetables, especially when followed up by a quick drizzle of extra virgin olive oil."

Here's one of the fish dishes he'll make at the Kahala this weekend, right out of his book.

Sambal Shrimp

2 cups sambal oelek (ground fresh chili paste)
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1⁄2 cup olive oil
1⁄4 cup minced garlic
1⁄4 cup minced fresh ginger
1⁄4 cup mirin
2 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc nam)
2 tablespoons dark Asian sesame oil
3 pounds large shrimp (about 30 shrimp), peeled and deveined, head and tail segments intact
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint

1. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients except the shrimp, cilantro, and mint. Whisk well to
combine. Allow the marinade to sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

2. Place the shrimp in a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag, and add all but 1 ⁄2 cup of the marinade to the bag. Allow the shrimp to marinate at room temperature for 1 hour.

3. Preheat a grill to medium-high and oil the grill.

4. Place the shrimp on the grill and cook until they are just cooked through, 2 to 21 ⁄2 minutes per side.
Transfer the cooked shrimp to a large bowl. Add the reserved 1 ⁄2 cup marinade, the cilantro, and the mint, and toss well to combine. Transfer the shrimp to a large serving bowl or platter, and serve immediately.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Oh yeah, Emeril! See you in Honolulu! Aloha and Mahalo!

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