Chef Rob Rainford joined us at the Cottage Life Show, March 30-April 1, 2012, in the Cottage Kitchen. While he was there, he made some excellent Fired up chicken wings and tasty Bacon-wrapped chicken chops. We caught up with him to talk grilling, cottaging, and entertaining.
Cottage Life: Since we’re from Cottage Life, we have to ask: do you cottage?
Rob Rainford: I don’t have a cottage, but I do cottage a lot with my buddies.
CL: What’s your favourite thing to cook for a large group at a cottage?
RR: For large groups, I love beef tenderloin— a full beef tenderloin just grilled totally and then sliced up, served with grilled potatoes, asparagus, just the normal summer fare. I want to enjoy myself at the party. I don’t want to be cooking all the time. Even the stuff that I did for the Cottage Life Show today, it’s so labour-intensive. I was at home killing myself to prepare for today.
CL: So you would do something you could just put on and leave?
RR: Yeah, as whole as possible. So if you’re going to do a bird, do a whole bird—you could do beer can chicken, you could do a whole bunch of things. But make sure it’s whole. When you’re at the cottage, you don’t have to be as fussy, right? It’s less formal, and I enjoy that.
CL: Say you’re at the cottage and you catch a fish. How do you grill it?
RR: I like to filet my fish. I am a chef, I do know how to do these things. So I’ll filet it, and then pan-sear it. I know that goes against my grilling principles, but whitefish is kind of difficult on a grill because it sticks. If you don’t have the grill at the right temperature, you fall into these little ruts.
CL: What are your three all-time favourite hamburger toppings?
RR: Oh, jeez, that’s a tough one. That’s like asking your favourite kid in front of them! [laughs]
CL: Well, the hamburgers aren’t here, and I won’t tell them!
RR: If I had to choose, I love grilled onions, pickles. I’m not a huge tomato fan; I don’t like the juxtaposition with cold and hot sometimes. I do like it in other circumstances. If I had to pick just three: bacon, onions, and cheddar.
CL: Great choice! Not your standard ketchup, mustard, and relish.
RR: Well, you asked me for my all-time and those are it.
CL: For a new cottage owner who’s buying their grilling tools for the cottage, what would be the one tool you’d say you couldn’t live without?
RR: Tongs. You can’t live without tongs. Knives are the most important things [in the kitchen], but I would say tongs are most important [for grilling]. Super-long tongs are best for barbecuing so that you can stay away from the heat.
CL: One thing I always struggle to grill is sausages, and we eat a lot of those at the cottage. They are harder than they look. Any tips?
RR: My number one tip is to poke them, so that they have some room for expansion. Some people slit them, but if you cut them too deep, they actually open up. You don’t want that. A couple pricks, all the way through, gives the juices an opportunity to actually spew inside the barbecue. And if you don’t want to cook them from start to finish on the barbecue, simmer them first.
Now, what I like to do is poach mine. I slice onions, put them into one of those little metal pans, pour in two beers, and I put the sausages in and put it onto the grill. Indirect heat. So they just sort of bubble, and they start adopting those flavours from the onions and the beer.
CL: What would be one dish that you wouldn’t recommend trying if you were in a more remote area?
RR: You know what, there’s nothing you can’t try. There’s absolutely nothing. You can try everything. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I mean, in a remote area, I guess you can’t just order a pizza, right? But you can always eat cereal.
CL: If you were going camping, like portaging with a canoe, what would you bring to cook?
RR: I would do my granola; I would do all the staples that are going to stay in your belly a long time incase if you run into problems out there. But believe me, I’m a city kid. If there’s no concrete, you ain’t finding me. Although, I’m going up to Muskoka in the next two weeks to do a retreat for a men’s group and [we’ll try anything]. Everything’s on the market. Nothing’s off.