On Saturday, I cooked dinner for my mother’s 75th birthday. The menu included grilled shrimp on sugarcane (chao tom), a southern Vietnamese classic that my mom hadn’t had for decades. I’d steamed off the shrimp so they were already cooked on the sugarcane sticks (a great eco-friendly skewer that you can chew on!). But I had a little problem with the last-minute grilling.
I typically grill chao tom on my gas grill at home. However, my parents do not have an outdoor grill, though they have an whole 4-burner stove in the patio for deep-frying and cooking stinky food! How to get the charred, slight smokiness that makes the grilled shrimp in sugarcane sing? My solution was to buy a cheap cake cooling rack at a Chinatown restaurant supply/houseware shop (on Hill street in downtown, Los Angeles). There's a smaller version available at Japanese markets, I believe, but the cooling rack comes in various sizes and is inexpensive. I bought a double rack so it would extend over two burners and be good for indirect heat. The cost was a whopping $3.99.
How did the rack do? It heated up a bit too much at the beginning and the metal warped and glowed red. Once you figure out how to tame the flame, the rack functions just great. I wouldn’t recommend grilling fatty meat on this kind of makeshift indoor grill, but it works for anything that won’t drip juices and fat directly on the flame and flare the fire. It’s convenient in that the ‘grill’ takes virtually no time to heat up, you can reuse the portable rack, and the fragrance of the cooking chao tom was heavenly. Try it out next time you’re in a bind or just want an easy, cheap, fast way to grill indoors.
Have any indoor grilling tips? Don't keep them to yourself! Do share.