Well, screw that!
The sun's still hot and my grill still works, so I'm going to keep on cookin'.
However, in the spirit of the holiday, I plan to labor as little as possible. (How else will the beer get drunk?) So I'm planning a pretty simple, straightforward menu that'll keep the friends and the missus happy, but won't keep me tied to the grill all afternoon.
By this time of the summer, the burgers and dogs have rolled across the grill, and chicken seems -- at least to me -- at bit done. That's why I'm thinking lemon grilled Cornish hens with a spicy grilled corn, onion and tomato salad.
It's an easy and pretty light menu. However, because everyone gets their own half bird, the dish is visually and physically satisfying. (The trick is that hens don't have that much meat, so even your most modest eaters won't be overwhelmed by the half bird.) The grilled corn salad is a sweet-heat compliment that works well with any kind of bird, but especially grilled hens dripping with tangy, sweet lemon juice.
I'll also serve this with soft taco shells, brushed with olive oil and warmed on the grill because they’re good.
If this dish takes you more than an hour start to finish (45 minutes if you have a gas grill) then something's gone wrong. Remember, the idea of Labor Day is to keep the labor to a minimum.
With that in mind, go forth and do little.
Lemon Grilled Cornish hens with Grilled Corn Salad
(Makes 4 servings)
2 Meyer lemons (or regular lemons) halved
4 ears of corn with the husks on
2 sweet yellow onions cut into thick disks
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 package of soft flour taco shells (three shells per person)
7 tbs. of olive oil
2 tsp. of crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
If you have a gas grill, begin by prepping the hens. If you have a charcoal grill, get the coals started and then work on the birds. Make sure you build your fire in the middle of the grill. You'll need the sides to be cooler so the birds' skin browns without burning and the vegetables cook properly.
When the grill is ready (coals are ashed over and very hot or gas grill has been warming for 5 minutes and set to medium heat), splay the birds out over the hottest part of the grill skin-side up. Place the corn ears, still in their husks, on the sides of the grill. Do the same with the onion slices, lemons and jalapeño.
Cover the grill and cook for 4 minutes. Open the grill, flip the birds so they're skin-side down and cook for another 2 minutes uncovered. Now move the birds to a cooler part of the grill, close the lid and cook for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, flip the onions and begin warming the taco shells. Toss as many on the hottest part of the grill as will fit, brushing them with a table spoon of olive oil and seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper. Warm each side for a minute or two per side, making sure they don't burn.
By the time you're done with that, the birds will be rested and the onions will be ready.
To make the salad, remove the husks from the corn and using a sharp knife cut the kernels off. Dice the onions and combine in a bowl with the corn, tomatoes and diced jalapeño (seeded for less heat, unseeded for more). Add the crushed red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss it all with the final two table spoons of olive oil.