Grilling "Au Pif"

Sometimes recipes and meals just come together from what you have on hand. The French call that cooking "au pif." 

I was out to prove that you can also grill that way.  So, I looked in my garden, and the heirloom Pencil Pod yellow wax beans

(grown from seed from Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa) were ready to harvest.

I foraged in my backyard, and picked up lots of seasoned pin oak twigs (any hardwood like oak, fruit woods, hickory, maple, or even dried domestic or wild grapevines would also work).

I peeked in my garage, and there was plenty of charcoal.

And when I checked my refrigerator, I had chopped pancetta, a bunch of green onions, and--whoa!--a wild-caught salmon fillet with the skin still on one side.

So, the entree came together as

Oak-Roasted Salmon with Stir-Grilled Pencil Pod Beans, Pancetta, and Scallions

And it was delicious! A glass of crisp white wine or a mellow pinot noir, and life is good. No heavy sauces, just the honest flavors of wood smoke and caramelization.

Here is what I did.  

Oak Roasted Salmon

Salmon grilled this way is no muss, no fuss, all-delicious. You don't have to turn the salmon and it holds together beautifully because the skin is still on, but crispy after grilling. You can also do this, however, with a skinless fillet--just make sure you brush the underside well with olive oil, too.  The salmon takes on a smoky flavor but is crispy in parts as well. 

1 wild-caught salmon fillet, skin on one side, trimmed to fit on your grill
Olive oil for brushing
Salt and pepper

1. Prepare an indirect fire in your grill, with the heat on one side and no heat on the other. I used a small Weber kettle grill, but you could do the same on a gas grill. The salmon needs to cook next to but not over the heat.

I started the charcoal in a charcoal chimney

2. When the coals have ashed over, add hardwood twigs, pieces, or chunks to the coals.

3. When you see the first wisp of smoke, place the salmon on the indirect or no-heat side, the skin side of the salmon on the grill grates. 

Close the lid of the grill and roast for 35 to 45 minutes or until the salmon turns opaque, is milky on the top, and begins to flake when tested with a fork in the thickest part.

While you're waiting for the salmon to finish, you can prep the beans.

Stir-Grilled Pencil Pod Beans, Pancetta, and Scallions

The traditional recipe for yellow wax beans usually involves the sweet/sour German method of cooking bacon and onion together, then adding vinegar, then tossing with teh cooked beans.  This updated recipe just mixes that up a little bit. You can double this recipe, if you like.  The beans will take about 5 minutes longer to cook.

2 cups yellow wax or green beans, tops trimmed
1 bunch scallions  cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped pancetta
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar

1.  When the salmon is done, remove it to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm. Add more wood and charcoal to the fire, if necessary.

2. Place the beans, scallions, and pancetta in a grill wok, which is a metal grill gadget that has holes punched in the surface to the good grill flavors come through without ingredients spilling out. You can find grill woks at hardware and big box stores.

3. When you see the first wisp of smoke, place the grill wok on the direct heat side. Close the lid of the grill and grill for 3 minutes. Toss the ingredients with two long-handled wooden spoons or two long-handled grill paddles. Close the lid and keep grilling and tossing the ingredients 

until the beans are crisp-tender and a little charry, about 15 to 20 minutes total.  Transfer the beans to a serving dish, season with salt and pepper, and pass the balsamic vinegar at the table so guests can sprinkle a little on their stir-grilled beans.

For more stir-grilling recipes and ideas, check out

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