Hooray, summer has arrived!
Cooking in the summer can be hot! I do mean hot, in my kitchen during these days of 28 degrees and above it has been a sauna, reaching over 36C at times. Cooking on a BBQ also has its challenges.
It has been a busy time with BBQs and I love them for the simplicity of the cooking but the whole process can make the event very special. The first BBQ of the summer was in the middle of June. The weather had been kind but on the day there was thirty minutes of heavy rain! I was under the cover of a gazebo but the force of the rain was creating a fine mist, plus the amount of water coming off the roof created an inch deep puddle under my feet! The typically British stoicism kicked in and the cooking continued. I finally finished cooking for 65 people and the party continued well into the night!
In the last six weeks I have had the pleasure of cooking for six events and the biggest challenge is not what you are going to cook on the BBQ but what you are going to put with the meats. Traditional dishes such as coleslaw are always a favourite but I like to add something different, a different element to a BBQ just to make it more interesting. So where do you start?
Before getting into the meats etc it is nice to offer something cooked on the BBQ as a starter or nibble. This can be something as simple as prawns cooked in a pan with oil and plenty of garlic. It may be messy but it is the epitome of finger food and a great way to get the party going – it also brings the sea closer to us here in Oxfordshire! Other starters include grilling a few small Portobello mushrooms on the BBQ and serving on half a bun with some fried onions and a little Dijon mustard spread on the bun. Just lightly oil the mushroom place stalk side down on the BBQ and cook for 2 minutes, turn and do the same for 2 minutes. Pre-slice some onions and have an oiled pan on the BBQ so that you can keep a regular supply of onions available to accompany the meat etc.
As for the meats – I find that a selection of beef, lamb, chicken and the staples of a BBQ, sausages and burgers do the job. For those who are vegetarian etc I look for simple dishes that can be pre-cooked and finished on the BBQ, such as stuffed peppers, stuffed mushrooms (the large Portobello’s are great for that) and vegetable kebabs. Fish is good too – again a whole trout is a BBQ favourite and you can generally use sea bream or bass as an alternative. Use a fish cage to manage the fish on the BBQ – so much easier! Fish kebabs using cod, halibut and monk fish are also a fab BBQ meal. Marinade the fish in something like lemon and honey or a base of pureed mango and pineapple with some red chilli and coriander. Keep back some of the fruit to make a salsa to go with the fish when cooked. If you want to cook a piece of fish such as salmon, halibut etc I would use a metal tray covered with foil over the heat of the BBQ – the heat of the BBQ can quickly over cook the fish so you do need to watch it carefully. If you are doing kebabs – get metal skewers as you will find the wooden ones burn away, plus the metal conducts some heat into the items on the skewer.
Now for the meat, your local butcher should have a selection of flavours and these are great for the BBQ – I typically pre-cook a large number of sausages before a BBQ as it easier and quicker to cook all of the BBQ food this way. I would recommend you pre-cook chicken if you are going to BBQ it. I like to marinade it overnight with a lemon and honey mix or a Chinese style mix made with soy sauce, hoisin, fish sauce, rice wine, five spice and sugar. The meat tenderises and with the pre- cooking takes on the flavours of the marinade. Finishing them on the BBQ results in the great flavour combination of the marinade and the smokiness of the BBQ, fabulous!
When cooking steaks, either lamb or beef, I look for a simple cut of meat and not too thick. With beef steaks such as sirloin, rump and so on I feel are best cooked in a pan – they require more careful cooking rather than being exposed to the open fire. A minute steak is a great option as it cooks quickly and can be left for a shorter time to relax and then served. The steak is great with a salad or in a crusty baguette with some onions. With the lamb steak there will be a lot of fat on the meat so you have to watch the heat on the BBQ. You want to lose the fat but you don’t want to burn the meat to a carbon fibre level! The lamb should be no more than ½ inch thick and approx. 150 grams in weight. If you are serving other meat and fish from the BBQ allow 3-4 pieces per person.
Salads – what to make!
The traditional salad leaves with tomatoes and cucumber is great, simple and refreshing. I like to spice it up a little with some classics such as coleslaw but salads such as spinach and strawberries or Asian salad with a chilli dressing. Adding a sophisticated salad or two adds a new dimension to the BBQ. Starting with the traditional salads let’s make a coleslaw. For this get a small white cabbage and a small red cabbage, carrots (500g) and a couple of onions. Slice the onions into a bowl, peel and grate the carrots into the bowl. Cut the cabbages in half and use one half of each by cutting out the stalk and then cut ¼ inch or less slices and add to the bowl. Using a good mayonnaise dollop it into the dish until you get the wetness you want. Don’t make it too dry. You can vary this by adding peanuts, or chopped apple and some herbs such as chives. You can also tweak the flavour with a teaspoon or two of lemon juice.
Potato salad is great with BBQ food. Using good small potatoes such as Charlottes or Anya’s, boil until they are cooked, you will need to keep an eye on the texture as an over cooked potato will feel soggy and not taste nice. You want a firm potato. Rinse and leave in cold water till cooled down. Remove and drain. Cut into slices and put in a bowl. When ready add dollops of the aforementioned mayo and add some chopped chives and season. Delicious!
What about spicing up the salad? A simple green salad is fab but making something that has unusual ingredients or a different style will make the BBQ memorable. I have been making Tabouleh, a bulgar wheat based dish which has its roots in the Mediterranean and North Africa. It is simple and a great dish for BBQs. Put the quantity of bulgar wheat required in a bowl (50g for 2 people) and cover with boiling water. Leave for 20-30 minutes. In that time prepare some spring onions cut into small slices, use 2-3 medium sized tomatoes, cut in half and remove the seeds and dice the flesh roughly. Using half a cucumber dice it and when the wheat is ready rinse through with cold water and leave to drain. Then mix all ingredients in a bowl and season. Add olive oil and lemon juice, taste and add more of each until you are happy. Then keep in fridge ready for using. I enjoy a plate of Tabouleh for lunch in these hot days. Refreshing and tasty!
What about using Strawberries, plenty around and great with cream but with some fresh young spinach leaves and a tangy dressing they make a great fresh salad. Rinse and drain the spinach leaves. Hull and quarter the strawberries. Get some pancetta or bacon lardons, fry until brown and crisp. Drain the oil and leave to cool. Now make the dressing which is an equal amount of oil (olive or rapeseed etc) to cider vinegar. Add a good pinch of paprika and a spoon of sugar, salt and a teaspoon of sesame seeds and poppy seeds. Mix and taste, adding more of any ingredient you need to. Chill in the fridge for an hour. When ready to put the salad together put the spinach, strawberries and some flaked almonds in a bowl, mix and add the dressing as much as needed. Crunchy, sweet and tangy.
I love making an Asian salad which adds a real twist to a BBQ. Using blanched sliced carrots, mange tout, diced cucumber, chopped water chestnuts, diced spring onions, sliced Chinese cabbage put all of the cooled ingredients in a bowl. Make the dressing with chopped chillies, chopped fresh ginger and garlic and a spoon or two of sugar. Mix Sesame oil, Saff oil and rice wine vinegar with a teaspoon of English mustard powder. Mix the ingredients in the oil mix and chill. That’s the dressing made. You could vary the vinegar with some raspberry vinegar to create another dimension to the salad. When ready to serve put all of the ingredients in a bowl and pour the dressing over.
What about desserts I hear you ask. Well keep it simple. I am sure you will have similar recipe, I love putting bananas on the BBQ. Take a square of foil, butter it and remove the banana from the skin and place on the foil. Cover with a sprinkle of cinnamon, teaspoon of brandy and lemon juice, top with a knob of butter. Wrap the two ends of the foil together and make as many as you need. Put on the BBQ rack or in the glowing embers. Leave for 10-15 minutes, depending on the heat. Serve by opening the foil and draining the softened banana and the hot juice into a bowl, serve with cream! What could be a more simple, fabulous and delicious way to round off a BBQ.
I hope that this look at the BBQ will inspire you to look at the BBQ differently. Please contact me if you have any questions.
Recipes are available on www.thelatechef.com, or my blog www.thelatechef.wordpress.com and www.pick.com . Please send me any questions you may have to me: firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about the Wallingford Food Festival go to: www.wallingfordfoodfestival.co.uk .