To avoid moping upon my departure from London, I focused on getting excited about returning to Florida for the first time in nearly a year. To counteract all the un-conquered items on my London List that will have to wait until 2014, I made a fresh list of things I’ve missed about Southern USA culture and my own Taiwanese household.
Right up there with dental appointments and breakfast grits was grilling out. It’s not an exclusively American thing, but it’s something I didn’t get much of while crammed into the student accommodation of a drizzly city.
Grilling is massively different from going out for dinner or even having lunch at Grandma’s house; it often means spending a whole day in the sun with family, friends, and neighbours. The men brandish tongs and admire the char on their steaks; the women gossip by the pool but swoop in to the rescue when something inevitably catches aflame; kids compete for the biggest cannonball splash. Iced tea and fluorescent pool floaties are always involved. There are arguments over the last hot dog.
This time, though, I wanted to infuse a bit of England and Taiwan—two places (alongside the USA) with which I’ll forever have ties.
As soon as the London sun peeks out after Spring showers and the temperature creeps up enough to warrant wandering outside without a heavy-duty jacket, “Pimms O’Clock!” is scrawled on the chalkboard sign in front of every pub and café’s outdoor seating area. The gin-based liqueur is a staple at Wimbledon and posh garden parties, picnics and patio gatherings. It’s no wonder; a pitcher-full is very pretty indeed, packed full of fresh fruit and mint leaves. I was more than happy to lug two bottles of it across the world from Heathrow’s duty-free shop, positive that it was the perfect souvenir for my parents.
Taiwanese street food, on the other hand, is one thing from my list that I can’t quite satisfy here in Florida. Corn on the cob, however, is one common street snack that overlaps with the grill-out. A common sight at night markets and street vendors, cobs are first glazed with a sweet, spicy, savoury sauce before getting grilled to slightly-charred perfection.
While my mom watched me grill these up, she recounted how they tell the vendors, “更焦一點!”—just a little bit more burnt. The varieties of corn in Taiwan are typically a bit stodgier, so this does the ears a favour and also explains the bold sauce. Many sauce recipes include something called sa cha sauce, which is a Chinese paste consisting of shallots, garlic, chilis, brill fish, and dried shrimp. While it’s an excellent and versatile savoury condiment, I find that the sweet corn found in America really doesn’t need the headstrong umami of fermented seafood.
For high-temperature grilling, it’s important to use a fat with a high smoke point to avoid the breakdown of molecules into harmful acrolein. Taiwan traditionally uses lard, but I use canola/rapeseed oil here because of its healthy unsaturated fats and neutral, unobtrusive flavour that doesn’t get in the way of all the caramelised goodness.
- 1 part Pimm’s No. 1
- 2 parts lemonade
- 1 part ginger beer
- 1 pint strawberries, sliced
- 1 orange, sliced
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 1 peach, sliced (optional)
- ½ cucumber, sliced
- handful of mint
- ice, to serve
Wash and prep all ingredients. Combine all liquids in appropriate ratios, adjusting to personal tastes if necessary. Serve chilled, preferably at a cute summer garden party.
Taiwanese Grilled Corn
- 4 ears corn, shucked
- 2 T soy paste (or soy sauce)
- 2 t turbinado
- ½ t cayenne pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 T oil with high smoke point
- 1 T sa cha sauce (optional)
Crush your whole garlic cloves to infuse your sauce with goodness—I like using the side of a Chinese cleaver. Combine all the sauces and whisk in your oil until emulsified.
Brush the sauce onto your corn, rotating on the grill every few minutes so that each ear gets a healthy char all around.
It’s good to be home, if only for a while.