Backyard kitchen

Henri turns off the oven and grills his meat outside

Although Henri has donned aprons in some of the finest kitchens around the world, it’s only been in the last decade that he’s ventured outside to cook—since he moved to California, where outdoor grilling, he has observed, seems to be a virtual requirement for chefs both amateur and master.

And Henri has definitely caught the grill bug. In addition to coaxing wonderful flavors from a wide range of foods, cooking outside helps keep the house from heating up on these hideously hot summer evenings. Steaks, chicken and fish—as well as vegetables—are all easy to cook to succulent perfection on a gas or charcoal grill, as long as you keep in mind Henri’s First Culinary Commandment: Thou shalt not overcook. Or: It’s better to take the food off the grill too soon than too late—you can always throw it back on and cook it a bit longer.

A current favorite—and an absolutely divine summer meal—is grilled country-style ribs with mixed vegetables, the latter to which I’ve become shamelessly addicted thanks to my square little grill-top wok-type pan that I picked up years ago at Collier Hardware. With its angled sides, you can toss the vegetables as they cook without losing them to the grill itself or to the fire below.

Henri’s famous grilled country-style pork ribs:

Note: Despite how they’re labeled, “country-style ribs”—or, sometimes, “boneless pork ribs”—they aren’t actually ribs at all. Usually, they’re pork-shoulder slabs, about 2 inches wide, 2 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches long. But they’re much meatier than true ribs, and less expensive, and, cooked right, they’re absolutely delicious.

Place ribs in a sealable container (or plastic bag) and cover with a mixture of equal parts apple juice and balsamic vinegar and half as much Worcestershire sauce. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove ribs from marinade and rub with a premixed spice rub for pork or mix one up yourself (try equal parts ground black pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, brown sugar and dry mustard). Wrap meat in foil, two or three slabs to a package, and grill slowly on a low fire (on my Weber, I use two of three burners, on low). Keep the cover on the grill pried open about an inch with an old garlic press, and try to sustain a temperature of 250. Cook until meat pulls apart when you poke it with a fork (check from time to time by peeling back foil)—at least two hours, depending on how consistent you can keep the temperature. Remove from grill, and let stand in foil while you cook the vegetables.

Henri’s famous grilled mixed-vegetable medley:

Gather a wide range of fresh vegetables. I like to use two or three bell peppers (in various colors for a festive presentation), an Anaheim or other more spicy pepper, summer squash, zucchini, a couple of onions (at least one red), broccoli crowns, Swiss chard or spinach. Other possibilities: green beans, snap peas, eggplant, carrots.

Cut veggies into bite-sized pieces and place in large bowl. Toss with fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, oregano, basil) and about one-half cup of olive oil. Grill in wok or pan over moderately high heat, while continuing to toss occasionally. You can also add more oil, soy sauce, stir-fry sauce or salad dressing while you cook, but be careful that it doesn’t drip through onto the flames and flare up into the veggies. Cooking time: about 15 minutes.

When the veggies are done, transfer back to bowl and toss again with a bit more olive oil. Add salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste. Remove pork slabs from foil and serve veggies and ribs together with a good pinot noir, syrah, or even a riesling.