Cooking with a grill pan

My wonderful girlfriend recently gave me a Calphalon nonstick grill pan — I assume so that I could cook her romantic dinners. When I used it to cook steak and chicken, it smoked a great deal; do I need to season it somehow? And when grilling, should I use the highest heat setting all the time? I welcome your suggestions on how to use this grill pan to cook nice meals and keep my girlfriend happy.

Sounds to me like your girlfriend is a thoughtful, lean and a savvy gourmet. Be glad she didn’t present you with a food processor, a deep-fat fryer or a mandoline (gourmet slicer). She’s thoughtful, because she gave you an easy-to-use kitchen tool; lean, because a non-stick grill pan offers a great way to grill without fat and fumes; and savvy, because it’s the hottest gadget for cooking chef-quality food in your home kitchen.

Grilled food is so popular on restaurant menus today — deep fried foods have gone the way of the dinosaurs. And nothing says “grilling” more than grill marks. The attractive grill marks on food cooked with a grill pan are tremendously appealing. Clean, straight and parallel grill marks are a sign of authenticity. In fact, I think the marks made by a grill pan are more obvious than those made by a barbecue grill.

Grill pans are more versatile than barbecue grills. They can be used to cook foods indoors, with all the results of an outdoor cookery. We need to relinquish the hopes of feeling like macho cavemen standing boldly over an open fire and burning wild game just harvested from the forest. In one respect, grill pans are healthier than barbecue grills. They give you the perception of grilled foods without exposure to the potentially harmful combination of fumes from an open flame and dripping fat.

Resist the urge to crank-up the burner to high heat when cooking with a grill pan. If you pre-heat the pan for five minutes over medium heat before cooking, you can avoid the smoke and splattering of a red-hot a stovetop. And the resulting food will be perfectly cooked and marked. The most you need to do is brush the meat or vegetable lightly with canola oil or an extra-light olive oil. I prefer to grill dry and add the flavor on the plate.

More often than not, I serve pan-grilled foods with a fresh salsa or relish. It enriches the dish with colorful texture along with explosive flavors. Create a dynamite salsa for grilled foods by combining chunky jar salsa with chopped fresh vegetables or fruit. Grilled shrimp take well to cucumber-mango with fresh dill. A standard salsa cruda with fresh garlic excites a simply grilled boneless chicken breast. Scallions, red pepper and pineapple work for giant sea scallops. I top-off small medallions of pork tenderloin with chopped plum tomatoes, papaya, chives and cilantro.

Another reason to avoid prolonged high temperatures when pre-heating and cooking with the grill pan is because it can make the non-stick cooking surface deteriorate. The pan might warp over time. I like to clean my pan while it is still warm — not hot — just after cooking. Use a nylon brush to scrub between the cooking ridges. If the pan is cast iron, use hot water and little, if any, soap.

What you have in your mind?