A Mixed Matter

 A humble mixed grill of chicken, chorizo and andouille.  

A humble mixed grill of chicken, chorizo and andouille.  

    At first glance, a mixed grill might seem a lavish meal—a performance feast intended to impress guests with the bounty (and the bill) from your butcher.  But most regional and cultural examples I can think of are really exercises in economy.  To feed six adults with lamb chops, for example, would require a minimum of 36 of the expensive little morsels.  But if a dozen chops are grilled alongside some pork sausages, skirt steak and chicken, the impression of a medieval banquet can be had for the cost of a backyard barbecue.  This is of course the formula behind those Brazilian steakhouses that have popped up on every corner, where the gaucho wielding the roasted fillet is awfully scarce compared to the guy with the chicken thighs.  

    The chosen cuts may vary enormously, but the components of a mixed grill should follow the same logical distribution.  At the top of the heap is the pricey cut.  Strip steak, filet, duck breast, lamb chops—these are the tender articles that need brief and expert handling over flame.  Next is some less expensive, less tender but still flavorful meat.  Skirt steak is good here, or any number of pork cuts.  This category is more forgiving of over- or under-grilling as long as the seasoning is correct.  Sausages should make an appearance next; I like when the sausage is made from the same meat as one of the other components.  Offal—lamb kidneys, calf’s liver, beef heart, gizzards, sweetbreads—contributes the final, and deepest note to a mixed grill.  Some advance preparation is almost always necessary; grilling offal is really about introducing the final layer of flavor and marking the outside with color.  Morcilla, or some other type of blood sausage, is a favorite although this really covers two categories.

    Accompaniments matter.  Something fresh is required: chopped parsley, fresh arugula, shredded cabbage—just make sure whatever you choose isn’t drenched with dressing.  Many South and Central American versions of the mixed grill are served with fried potatoes or fried bread; there’s nothing wrong with this tradition, but between all the rich-fattiness of the meat I prefer plain toasted or grilled bread.  Roasted potatoes are a near-second.  Something acidic should also make an appearance.  This might be combined with the fresh category in the form of an acidic dressing, but might just as well be nothing more than lemon wedges or malt vinegar.

    Finally, this is wine food at its best.  The breadth of grilled flavors is much more than what might be available from even a very good steakhouse, and the complexity of meat and non-meat components cries out for a versatile and equally broad wine.  The problem, of course, is no single wine is going to navigate so disparate a plate without conflict.  My solution is the most obvious one: serve several red, white and pink wines.  Beer too.

    Of course there is one snag to this brilliant scheme of perceived value: the knowledgeable glutton (KG).  This is the character who stalks the premium gaucho at the local  churrascuria and, once cornered, makes certain to reclaim every penny of  his/her $49.99.  The KG will, at a glance, know precisely which cut on your platter is the big money component.  My only advice is to avoid inviting this person.  If he/she must be in attendance, serve plenty of salted nuts and olives prior to your mixed grill, and make certain to do the serving (rationing) yourself.