Take a trip down to Georgia, ask around about Southern fine dining, and it won’t be long before you hear the name Hugh Acheson. The chef operates four restaurants, plus a coffee shop, in Athens, Atlanta and Savannah, where he’s been pushing the boundaries of what qualifies as “Southern cuisine” for nearly two decades. His willingness to experiment and his training in French techniques come through on his menus as well as in his cookbooks, A New Turn in the South and Pick a Pickle. His newest book, The Chef and the Slow Cooker, hits bookshelves in October.
We turned to the innovative Acheson for a fresh take on the traditional Independence Day cookout, and he came through with his signature flair and international scope in these recipes for Grilled Tri-Tip Steak with Yogurt-Tahini Sauce and a Mediterranean Fattoush Salad. We picked 14 easy-drinking red wines from California, France and Italy rated 90 points or higher to pair with this festive Fourth of July feast.
Acheson says this recipe’s success starts with selecting a good cut. “Tri-tip is a portion of the lower sirloin of the cow and is a beautiful piece of steak that never gets the attention it deserves,” he says. “You can get really high-quality tri-tip at a fairly reasonable price.” Working over a grill in Georgia in the middle of summer is no mean feat, so the chef turns to a restorative side dish that originated in Lebanon and Syria: Fattoush salad is a mixture of toasted or fried pita with fresh vegetables and herbs including cucumber, sweet bell pepper and parsley. A creamy yogurt-tahini serves as a sauce for the steak. Together, the combination of flavors provide an ideal cooling complement on a hot summer day.
A gas grill is perfectly fine for this recipe, but Acheson is partial to charcoal. “Make sure to burn the coals down really well, until they are ash-colored,” he advises. Good-quality natural charcoal is the way to go; it’s a bit pricier, but burns well and is chemical-free.
Use a meat thermometer to determine when the steak is done to your liking. Acheson takes the cut off the grill at 120° F for medium-rare. Keep in mind that the meat will continue to cook and the internal temperature can increase up to 5° after it’s removed.
“Salt is your friend,” Acheson adds. “Season at the beginning and season after carving.” He also stresses letting the meat rest in a loose tent of aluminum foil for roughly 10 minutes after grilling.
The fattoush salad adds a bright counterpoint of crisp, crunchy vegetables and pita chips seasoned with cumin, sumac, shallot and chives.
Wine director Steve Grubbs oversees the wine list at two of Acheson’s restaurants, Five & Ten and Empire State South. For the pairing, he recommends looking for a red with soft tannins that give the wine that “casual drinkability that matches the easy, backyard feel of the dish.” He suggests trying Argiolas winery, from Sardinia. “Their Perdera bottling is mostly a local grape called Monica that has a fair bit of red fruit and wild savoriness,” he says. “For a more elevated pairing, see if you can find the red bottling by Chateau Musar in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan, it drinks like a St.-Estèphe with some ancient and mysterious pedigree.” Who could argue with that?
For the Grilled Tri-Tip Steak:
- 1 1/2 pounds tri-tip steak, trimmed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
To make the Grilled Tri-Tip Steak:
1. If frozen, thaw the tri-tip overnight in the refrigerator. While the grill is warming up, season the tri-tip with salt and olive oil. Set aside.
2. When the grill reaches around 450° F, place the seasoned steak on the grill and let it cook for about 3 minutes. Turn it 90 degrees for cross-hatched grill marks, and cook 3 more minutes. Flip the steak and repeat. Steak is medium-rare when internal temperature reaches 120° F.
3. Place steak on a platter, lightly tented with foil, and allow meat to rest for 10 minutes (If not serving immediately, steak may be placed back on the grill to reheat.) Place the meat on a cutting board and slice against the grain to desired thickness (Acheson recommends thin slices). Season and serve with the yogurt-tahini sauce and fattoush salad. Serves 6.
For the Yogurt-Tahini Sauce:
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons chives, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
To make the Yogurt-Tahini Sauce:
1. Combine ingredients in a medium-size mixing bowl. Whisk until well-combined and serve as a sauce for the tri-tip.
For the Pita Crisps (to be integrated into the Fattoush Salad):
- 2 pieces pita bread
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt to taste
To make the Pita Crisps:
1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
2. Separate and tear pita bread into small, bite-sized pieces. In a mixing bowl, toss pita bread with olive oil and a pinch of salt.
3. Spread out pieces of pita on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.
For the Fattoush Salad:
- 1 cucumber, peeled and diced (half-inch cubes)
- 1 teaspoon, plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup radishes, sliced
- 1 sweet bell pepper, seeded, diced (quarter-inch cubes)
- 1 poblano chile, seeded, diced (quarter-inch cubes)
- 3/4 pound of cherry or plum tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 cup mint leaves, torn
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- 3 shallots, minced
- 2 tablespoon chives, finely minced
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
To make the Fattoush Salad:
1. While the pita crisps are cooking, place cucumber in a medium-size mixing bowl. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt. Add radish, bell pepper, chile, tomatoes and mint. In a separate bowl, mix garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, red-wine vinegar, cumin, turmeric, sumac, shallots and chives, and pour into the first bowl. Add salt to taste (generally no more than 1/2 teaspoon).
2. With a spoon, gently toss the salad until well-dressed. Season with ground pepper to taste. The fattoush salad can be made up to 1 hour in advance of eating. When ready to serve, add pita crisps and gently toss until well-mixed.
Note: This list showcases outstanding red wines from recent Wine Spectator tastings. For more selections rated in the past year, see WineSpectator.com's Wine Ratings Search.
FRANK FAMILY Petite Sirah Napa Valley 2013
Juicy, with generous blackberry and plum flavors that crescendo into a harmonious mix of vanilla, espresso, cinnamon and cigar box notes. Aromatic and intense on the finish, with firm tannins in the background. Drink now through 2026. 1,000 cases made.
NEYERS Left Bank Red Napa Valley 2014
This puts zesty raspberry and wild berry notes at the forefront for immediate appeal and then keeps the foot on the pedal, with flavors gaining velocity and picking up tannic muscle. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Drink now through 2028. 1,500 cases made.
CAROL SHELTON Karma Reserve Sonoma County 2014
Dark and brooding, with black cherry and bittersweet chocolate aromas and plump flavors of orange zest, black licorice and smoky cracked pepper. Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane and Viognier. Drink now through 2027. 1,513 cases made.
CHATEAU D’AIGUILHE Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux 2014
This has an ample core of lively plum, blackberry and anise notes that is silky in feel, but has heft and persistence. The finish pulls in a singed apple wood note, but the purity of fruit wins out easily overall. Drink now through 2024. 3,000 cases imported.
GREEN & RED Zinfandel Napa Valley Chiles Mill Vineyard 2014
Precise and well-built, with briary dark berry aromas and a lively core of acidity and tannins framed by notes of black cherry, licorice and peppered herb. Drink now through 2024. 1,274 cases made.
TERRA VALENTINE Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2014
Pure and rich, with density, a firm tannic backbone and tiers of blackberry, wild berry, currant and black licorice flavors. This veers toward the dry side, but ends with cedary oak grip and a kick of fruit. Drink now through 2028. 2,880 cases made.
VIVERA Etna Martinella 2012
This harmonious, medium-bodied red layers fine-grained tannins with a rich note of smoky mineral and flavors of pureed cherry, grilled herb and star anise. Vibrant, presenting a firm, focused finish. Drink now through 2022. 100 cases imported.
CANTINE DI ORGOSOLO Cannonau di Sardegna Urùlu 2013
This harmonious red layers fine-grained tannins with a subtle notes of dried cherry and smoky mineral, accented by an aromatic notes of dried marjoram, ground anise and espresso that linger on the lightly juicy finish. Drink now through 2021. 350 cases imported.
CHATEAU DI RETOUT Haut-Médoc 2014
Delightfully ripe, with an inviting core of plum and blackberry preserves, picking up an anise edge on the finish. A solid alder spine runs throughout, adding length and definition. Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot. Drink now through 2020. 2,600 cases imported.
CHATEAU LAROQUE St.-Emilion 2014
This sports a brambly streak amid the bright raspberry and boysenberry compote flavors. Fresh star anise and black tea details enhance the finish. Approachable now, but there's no rush. Drink now through 2026. 11,250 cases made.
PASSOPISCIARO Etna Passorosso 2014
Mouthwatering and medium-bodied, with expressive plum, pomegranate, spice box and dried marjoram flavors. There's grip here, but the tannins are plush and well-knit. A subtle streak of smoke lingers on the finish. Drink now through 2021. 1,150 cases imported.
PLANETA Nerello Mascalese Sicilia Eruzione 1614 2014
A well-meshed, medium-bodied red, with chewy tannins and savory hints of bay leaf and tarry smoke playing off the spiced plum, crushed raspberry and orange zest notes. Offers a lasting, minerally finish. Drink now through 2024. 500 cases imported.
RUTHERFORD HILL Barrel Select Napa Valley 2013
Supple and elegantly complex, with red currant and rose petal aromas and well-structured flavors of plum, mocha and orange zest. Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Drink now through 2026. 4,016 cases made.
SAN SIMEON Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Estate Reserve 2013
Refreshing and vibrant, this is marked by juicy plum, blackberry and wild berry flavors, with a soft touch of light oak, herb and cedar. For all the flavor complexity, this also wins points for balance and finesse. Drink now through 2024. 3,000 cases made.