Portland is known for many things, from its rainy days (an average of 154) to its stellar microbreweries to the Allergy Pride Parade—well, if Portlandia has anything to do with it. But grilling? It isn’t one of them. After all, misty days make lighting a fire a bit challenging. That didn’t stop Ox Restaurant‘s chef-owners Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton from opening up a South American-inspired grilling haven, which garnered them a James Beard Award finalist nomination for Best Chefs in the Pacific Northwest.
The Argentinian-focused restaurant inspired the husband-and-wife team to recently publish a cookbook, Around the Fire: Recipes for Inspired Grilling and Seasonal Feasting from Ox Restaurant. In it, they break down how to grill their sophisticated global dishes in an approachable step-by-step way.
Clean Plates fired up a conversation with the Dentons and asked them about why we all seem to love grilled foods, what their favorite thing to grill is, and what recipes their July 4th menu might feature.
Clean Plates: What is it about grilled foods that lights people’s fire, so to speak?
Greg and Gabrielle: Besides the fact that it is such a primal concept, I think it brings great memories to the surface for a lot of people: The smell of smoke, the eating of great foods, the activity of family gathering around a fire, and the stories that are shared.
C.P.: What’s your favorite pro tip for nervous grillers?
G & G: The best tip for a nervous griller is to create your heat source on one side of the grill and keep the other side of the grill less hot. That way, if your food starts to char too quickly or the flame flares up directly underneath your food, you can move it to the cooler area until the flare-up dies down.
C.P.: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever grilled?
G & G: The craziest thing would be a full side of a halibut. Halibuts can get big and that half of fish weighed in at 20 pounds! It came out great and it became an awesome discussion piece while I was cooking it.
C.P.: Why is grilling a good cooking method for those of us trying to eat healthfully?
G & G: Grilling is great for healthy eating because you don’t need much to make grilled food taste good. The simple combination of salt, black pepper, the smoke from the grill, and a drizzle of good olive oil can really create incredibly satisfying flavors.
C.P.: What is your favorite thing to grill at home?
G & G: It may sound boring, but we always love to grill spatchcock chicken at home! We really like taking our time and cooking the chicken slightly off the heat so that it doesn’t get too charred on the outside before the inside is cooked. We love the recipe for it in our cookbook Around the Fire.
C.P.: You call Ox a “South American style grill with a Portland-esque respect for local ingredients and eating by the season.” Why has it achieved such success?
G & G: I think there are many reasons why we have achieved such success. I think we filled a niche that Portlanders desired. We push ourselves and our incredible employees to honor every guest that chooses to dine at Ox. I also think our combinations of flavors are familiar but at the same time surprising to people who eat here.
To celebrate July 4th weekend, we asked the chefs for a few of their favorite recipes to make. Here are two great entrees to add to your repertoire this weekend or any day of the week.