What: Tuna, skirt steak, and vegetables grilled over vine cuttings (sarments de vignes).
Um, what? In France, S’s family always uses vine cuttings as fuel for their grill. Every year, growers cut off the new grape vine shoots, leaving behind the trunk which will grow new shoots the next year. In southern France, you can’t walk two feet without tripping over vine cuttings. Here it’s a little more difficult. There are vineyards around, of course, but it’s just not in the culture to collect the cuttings. When S worked at a vineyard in the Finger Lakes, NY, he would wander the fields after work. He never did find a good source on Long Island, so he was determined to make it work here. Through some professional connections, S made arrangements with a Virginia winery and we drove out back in March-ish. The winemaker was super nice and drove us out to the fields where they had huge piles of cuttings, organized by varietal! S was like a kid in a candy shop. We picked cabernet sauvignon and packed the hatchback. When we got home we cut them up into bundles (which are pictured at the top of Les Ardoises).
Why: S says that vine cuttings add a special flavor to the food, and most noteably leaves the food free of smokey charcoal flavors and aromas. Except for the driving 2 hours to collect them, it’s a pretty environmentally friendly cooking method. We use something that would’ve otherwise been burned in the field, and since we pour the cooled ash into the garden, there’s no waste, either.
Result: Yeah, it’s pretty darned good! The tuna steaks were perfect… excellent char marks on the outside, very pink on the inside, and absolutely no smokiness. A very clean grilled taste, if that makes any sense.
Complications: The only problem I have with vine cuttings is the raging inferno when you start the fire. In college, S would use his mini-grill on the sidewalk under a low-hanging tree. I had to hide out inside, I was so nervous. I’m better now (although I do sit with a hose turned on next to me). After the inferno dies down, there’s a very short window when the cuttings are hot, so that’s something to keep in mind.