Alfred Beltran is a Tucson native, so he knows what's in store for him over the next few months - hot days, then some hotter ones.
But the executive chef at Harvest Restaurant knows how to beat the heat in the kitchen.
"Come summertime, I do a lot of salads," says Beltran, who is 27 and was named executive chef just a few months ago.
"I like good produce, good Willcox potatoes. I like to do a lot of raw foods; you can adapt those into entrees."
Sometimes, when it's hot and he's at home - where his wife insists he do the cooking - he fires up the grill.
"I definitely enjoy the grill a lot more than sauté," says Beltran.
So, wood or gas?
"Nowadays, so many people live in an apartment and they need to use a gas grill," he says. "But you adapt better flavor from woods. I like apple or hickory chips, which give Southern flavors."
And he's got a few tips for the griller:
• Preheat the grill for up to a half hour before putting your food on it.
• Shoot for a slow cooking time. "It results in more tender and juicy meat," he says.
Whatever he cooks, he wants it to be "clean eating" - fresh, local as much as possible, and definitely not processed.
It's an attitude toward food that isn't surprising - he learned his skill at Miraval Resort & Spa, where he started working when he was just 16.
"At first, I just wanted a job," recalls Beltran about those early days at the Tucson-area health resort.
"But after three years, I started developing a passion for different styles of food."
He learned his trade at Miraval, but his style of clean eating is lifelong.
"That's how I was brought up," he says.
"I'm most interested in health-conscious, spa cuisine. Everything I do is based on healthier, all-natural, back to basics."
He can get all that, along with the added bonus of nuanced flavor, when he grills.
"You can get bold flavors from the grill," he says. "You can develop a different profile of flavors, from savory to bold, that contrast well with a fresh fruit or vegetable."
Cumin Grilled Chicken with Four-Chile Salsa
• 6 large (8- to 10-ounce) all-natural chicken breasts, skin on or off
• 2 tablespoons cumin
• 2 tablespoons chile powder
• 1 1/2 tablespoon coriander
• 1 1/2 tablespoon paprika
• 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
• Juice of 1 small lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
• 1/4 cup olive oil
Place all dry seasonings and salt in a mixing bowl large enough to hold the chicken. Add oil and lemon juice and whisk until any lumps have broken down.
With a spoon, taste for salt content, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt until desired salt level is reached.
Add chicken to bowl and gently toss with hands or a utensil.
Allow chicken to rest and absorb flavor for a minimum of 15 minutes but no longer than 2 hours. (This is the perfect time to make the salsa - but be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling anything ready to eat.)
Place chicken pieces on the grill, skin-side down. Cover and cook 10 to 15 minutes, flip the chicken over and cook another 10-15 minutes. If the heat is too high, set chicken to the side and turn down the grill. After 20 minutes total time, check the temperature of the chicken. Chicken should be browned, crusty and cooked through (165° internal temperature or juices run clear when pierced with a fork). The better the browning and caramelization, the more moist the chicken will stay. Remove cooked pieces to a serving platter, cover with foil to keep warm.
Top the chicken with salsa and serve with a favorite side dish or grilled vegetables and ice-cold beer.
Makes: About 3 cups
• 2-3 large fresh tomatoes (from 1 to 1 1/2 pounds), stems removed, diced
• 1 jalapeño chile pepper (stems, ribs and seeds removed), finely diced
• 1 serrano chile pepper (stems, ribs and seeds removed), finely diced
• 1 fresno chile pepper (stems, ribs and seeds removed), finely diced
• 1 chile guero (yellow) (stems, ribs and seeds removed), finely diced
• 1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
• Juice of one lime
• 2 teaspoons fresh, finely chopped garlic
• 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Optional: 2 teaspoons oregano; seeds from chiles for added heat
Place all ingredients in a bowl and gently toss. If salsa becomes too spicy, add 1 or 2 tomatoes. Avoid touching your face or eyes after handling chiles - use gloves to prepare this dish if they're available. Let salsa sit for about 1 hour to allow flavors to combine.
Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to five days.
Recipes by Alfred Beltran, executive chef, Harvest Restaurant.
Forget the fork
Every time you pierce your steak or other beef, you are losing juices. Use tongs to turn it, and this easy finger test to figure out if it's done:
2. For rare meat, press the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb and feel the fleshy area below the thumb. It should feel squishy. If your meat feels the same, it's rare.
3. Bring the tip of your ring finger and thumb together. The fleshy area will feel less squishy, but not hard. That's medium.
4. Press the tip of your pinky and your thumb together and feel the fleshy area below the thumb. It should be firm; that's what well-done feels like.
• Get the grill hot. Very hot. When it's heated properly, your food is seared the minute it touches the grill, keeps the inside moist, and prevents sticking. A rule of thumb: 400-450 for high, 350-400 for medium-high, 300-350 for medium and 250-300 for low heat.
• Choose your fuel carefully. Additive-free lump charcoal is the healthiest - standard briquettes may contain sawdust, coal dust, sodium nitrate, borax and other additives.
• Nix the lighter fluid. It's just not good for you. An aluminum chimney starter can heat your charcoal in about 20 minutes, and the cost - generally less than $15 - makes it an inexpensive, smart alternative.
• Clean that grill. A wire grill brush used when the grill is hot keeps the rack free of charred debris.
• Oil up. Food, especially lean food, can stick. Soak a paper towel in vegetable oil and use your tongs to oil the grill rack.
• Marinate. Marinating adds flavor but, more important, it can prevent carcinogenic HCAs (heterocyclic amines). The Institute for Cancer Research says marinating can reduce the formation of HCAs by as much as 99 percent.
• Give heat a hand. Figure out the temp of the grill this way: put your open palm about 5 inches above the rack - if you have to move your hand in two seconds, the fire is high; in five seconds, it's medium; and if you can hold your hand there for 10 seconds, low.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4128.