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Dish 

Wednesday, Jul 10 1996
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Gentlemen, Light Your Grills
As hot summer weather forces people from their kitchens to their outdoor barbecues ("Spare the Air" days or no), Reed Hearon's new cookbook, The Mexican Grill (timely published this month by Chronicle Books, $19.95 in an attractive paperback edition), may help.

Hearon's Mexican restaurant, Cafe Marimba, has given a new spin to Mexican food, cutting back the fat and emphasizing the cuisine's aboriginal and Mediterranean roots. The Mexican Grill continues this renaissance: It stresses both simplicity of cooking method (virtually every recipe begins with "Light the grill," and that means a wood fire, preferably laid with mesquite charcoal) and the ancient Mexican seasoning techniques of recado and salsa.

Everyone knows about salsa; it's surpassed ketchup as the most popular condiment in America. It's what you dip your chips in. But in Hearon's interpretations of Mexican cooking, salsas are "vibrant counterpoints" that "contrast with the foods they accompany, rather than taste like them."

Many of the recipes use some combination of (pan-roasted) tomatoes or tomatillos, but there's also a recipe for avocado salsa, papaya-mango salsa (good with grilled fish), and grilled-pineapple salsa (also good with fish).

The less well-known seasoning technique, the recado ("complement"), is a paste or rub applied to meat, fish, poultry, or vegetables before they go on the grill. One of the main ones is achiote, a Yucatecan concoction of citrus juices, garlic, onion, Mexican oregano, chilies, and allspice. In the Yucatan it's commonly used on suckling pig, but Hearon uses it on, among other things, squid steaks, whole crab, and chicken.

One of the best-sounding recipes in the book (as yet untested by Dish) is scallops grilled on the half-shell. Hearon dusts the mollusks with garlic rub, puts a dab of butter in each shell, and sets them on the grill for three minutes, until the liquid evaporates and the insides of the shells start to turn brown. Apart from being easy, you end up with a gorgeous presentation.

Because simplicity is central to good Mexican cooking, Hearon's recipes are not complicated and, except in the case of some of the salsas and recados, do not call for exotic ingredients. For those items, consult the listings in the back of the book. Or call Marimba Products at 347-0111.

That old Weber kettle in the back yard is just fine, too. Hearon tested all the recipes on a kettle-style grill, though he does recommend a cast-iron grate for better heat retention and performance. Gas grills, he says, sacrifice flavor for convenience.

And don't forget the tortillas. They go with everything.
By Paul Reidinger

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Paul Reidinger

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