When the sun shines, it means it’s time to dust off the barbie, get out the tongs and prepare an al fresco feast.
The great British barbecue. A place where good taste goes to wither and die, cremated to a carbonised crisp and served up with a side order of rain-soaked ennui. Entirely blameless sausages are mercilessly abused, cheap chicken treated with casual contempt. And men who would usually struggle to boil an egg suddenly imagine they have the culinary prowess of a Michelin-starred master.
Which is a crying shame. As cooking over glowing coals (and not, as the cack-handed troglodytes like to believe, roaring flames) is one of the finest methods of them all, adding that wonderful, smoke-scented char to anything laid atop those red-hot bars.
Equally important, it introduces lashings of theatre and drama to the everyday lunch, meaning one’s spared the children’s usual whingeing and whining. Seriously, things they would usually never even dream of touching – from asparagus and aubergine to beef heart and mackerel – are gobbled down with greedy glee.
I’m not saying you should let the kids loose when it comes to the actual cooking. Mixing cake mixture is one thing. Flipping great hunks of seared flesh over blistering charcoal quite another. I’m all for getting them involved in the kitchen. But this is one cooking technique best left to the elders. As a charcoal purist, I relish the whole beautiful ritual. The lighting of the coals, that delectable wait (lubricated, of course, by endless cold beers – this is work, after all, and gives you a break from building yet another Lego spaceship) while the flames die down and a thin, white coating of ash tells you it’s time to cook. And the endless poking of the coals. Sure, gas is convenient, but where’s the fun in simply turning a knob? As the old adage goes, gas for ease, but charcoal for flavour.
What to cook
As to the main event, although proper sausages can be a fine thing ?(I tend to simmer them first for a few minutes in boiling water before finishing them off on the grill), a serious barbecue also cries out for butterflied legs of lamb, marinated in olive oil, paprika and thyme, then flung upon the barbie and cooked until charred and just pink. Or whole fish – especially freshly caught mackerel, with their pert flesh and gleaming iridescent skin – gently grilled.
Chicken wings, which have wallowed in a perky chilli sauce, are so much more thrilling than a bland old breast. Sweetcorn, soaked in water and kept in their husk, can sit quietly at the side while you get on with the main event.
The only other thing to remember is to rest your meat. A couple of minutes for a steak, at least 10 for a big cut of lamb. This allows it to relax, and allows those juices to permeate every last bite. For me, nothing beats the beauty of fish and flesh cooked over the coals. Plus the ever-exciting thrill of al fresco eating. The children adore it. So do I. OK, so back in Blighty, we can’t exactly guarantee clement weather. Master that barbecue, though, and the food, at least, will be gloriously sun-kissed.
Don’t be fooled by those disposable barbecues. They might look cheap ?and easy, but can barely muster the heat to light a match, let alone sear a steak.
A good pair of tongs is an essential tool, as is one of those plastic plant sprays, crucial for keeping errant flames at bay. As to your choice of grill… I’ve had a Weber Kettle for years. Nothing grand, or titanium plated, just good old-fashioned design, built to last. And that lid is no mere cosmetic accessory; it’s rather an important part of the whole process. Ingredients cook more evenly when sat underneath, and you can control the temperature, too, by opening or shutting the vent.
Recipe: BBQ butterflied leg of lamb
This is a mighty fine barbecue dish, and very easy, too. Just get your butcher to butterfly the leg of lamb. And when cooking, ensure the flames don’t roar out of control. This isn’t a Burger King advert. You want grilled, not scorched, meat. Rest for at least 10 minutes then carve into thick slices. God, just writing this recipe gets the juices flowing. It’s that good.
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp hot paprika
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp thyme, leaves finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5kg leg of lamb ?(ask butcher to butterfly)
1. Mix together the garlic, paprika, vinegar and thyme and rub into the lamb. Drizzle over the olive oil and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight (or for a minimum of two hours), turning occasionally. OK, so this isn’t a quick fix but doesn’t exactly require much work.
2. Take the lamb out of the fridge to come up to room temperature and spark up the barbie.
3. Cook the lamb for about 10 minutes on each side, or until cooked to your liking. Leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
4. Slice the lamb and serve with a green salad and crusty rolls.