I managed to miss the most brutal part of the British winter this year thanks to an extended stint of filming in Australia. Down under, summer was in fact coming to an end and crisp autumn air was arriving, but we still managed to enjoy our fair share of barbies from the brilliant roof terrace of our Collingwood location. Under the pressures of filming and keeping that barbecue at the prefect temperature for several passes of a recipe, I feel confident that all this Aussie outdoor cooking has set me up with some vital skills for making this summer’s cooking a little bit more exciting.
I’m a total convert to this cooking method, and while it might take a little more effort than turning the oven on, the results are well worth the 20-30 minute lighting time. Plus it gives you the perfect excuse to spend a bit of time outside, glass of wine in hand and having a natter with friends.
The flavour imparted by the charcoal grilling effect can’t be beaten. I have recently been experimenting with cooking pizza on my Weber kettle barbecue (check out my recipe in the Evening Standard this week), and the scorched crust is better than anything that I can achieve without the access to a wood-fired oven. Make the dough ahead, lay out the toppings and you can create a little outdoor pizza party where everyone tucks in and assembles their own.
Don’t be afraid to burn your food either. While a fatty piece of lamb can flare up and incinerate in no time at all, there are a number of things that work surprisingly well with the kiss of the direct flame. One of my favourite recipes from Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook uses this technique with leeks, based on the classic Catalonian way of eating first of the season’s calçots (young green onions), where they char them, peel off the outer leaves and serve them with romesco sauce.
On a barbeque you can place the leeks with their tough outer leaves directly on the embers (wait for them to be red hot and white) and turn every minute until they are blackened all the way around. Serve them with the sauce, peel off the really dark leaves and you will be left with a sweet and smoky inner core. This also works extremely well with corn on the cob. If you soak the husks and the corn for at least an hour and then pat dry and place on the embers, you’ll get a delicious smoky effect. Peel the husk away, slather with salted butter and a sprinkling of sweet smoked paprika and there’s summer on a plate.
Don’t be lazy when it comes to marinading. Giving the flavours of your food a little more time to sit in seasonings will not only tenderise meats in particular, but the flesh itself will absorb the flavours much better. Wet or dry rubs work equally well. You can baste with a glaze as you cook (try my BBQ glaze sauce column from the Evening Standard), or slather in a spiced rub mixture which in turn forms a delicious crust (try my spice rub in Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook).
So it’s time to pull the lid off the barbie, stock up on some charcoal and get your grill on. Here’s to that scorcher of a summer!
Here’s a couple of links to get you in the mood for the BBQ season:
I love the design of the trusty Weber kettle barbecue.
I dream of visiting one of the great grill restaurants of the world in Spain.
A great (and geeky) guide to grilling.