Monday is the start of National Barbecue Week and with the good weather set to continue there’s no better time to indulge in some al fresco cooking.
There’s nothing like rich meat grilling on smoke infused coals to stimulate all the senses.
Over the years I’ve alternated between gas and real coal grills but have finally decided to hang my hat firmly in the real charcoal ring. Last week I did a cookery demonstration at Hillmount Garden Centre, in the Castlereagh Hills overlooking Belfast, showcasing Weber barbecues.
These are the Ferraris of the grill world – sleek, dynamic and with flavour perfect heat distribution.
Gas barbecues have the advantage of providing instant heat but you don’t get the satisfaction of lighting a fire and getting a real feel for the flames and their capability.
Despite our unpredictable weather, more of us are choosing to cook outside all year round.
You don’t need a fancy gazebo – put up the umbrella and embrace this exhilarating way of adding excitement to your food.
A simple steak becomes sublime when grilled outside over charcoal and wood, as do sausages and burgers. But I like to mix it up a bit when grilling.
James and Linda Christie breed quails at their farm on the Ballinteer Road in Macosquin, outside Coleraine. Up until just a few years ago if you wanted quail you had to look to France for sourcing but now, thanks to their entrepreneurship, we have this fine delicacy on our doorstep.
They’re perfect marinated, spatchcocked (where they’re split down the back bone) and take only a few minutes to cook through. My recipe this week calls for these birds to be infused in a spiced yoghurt mix.
The yoghurt helps tenderise and keep the meat moist. One of the Weber accessories I used last week, at Hillmount, was a pizza stone – it fits into the middle of the grill and cooks breads perfectly.
I’ve included a recipe for Naan bread – flour, yoghurt and water mixed together, left for an hour and then shaped and grilled.
It tastes a million miles away from the plastic suffocated variety you can buy and costs a fraction of the price.
They can also be cooked directly on the grill. Perfect with the quail and a drop of fiery harissa tops the whole thing off.
Peppers are grilled, peeled and combined with spices and lemon – delicious!
Neck of lamb is the traditional cut used for Irish Stew but lamb neck fillets are becoming increasingly popular to grill. They’re a lot cheaper than chops but equally tasty. They’re best marinated – my recipe uses Korean influences – honey, soy, ginger, rice wine and garlic. The longer you leave it the better - but 24 hours is good. The slight amount of fat on the meat caramelizes with the honey in the marinade to give a smoky, sweet coating. The accompanying sauce uses slightly smoked ginger whizzed with other aromatics – onion, garlic, scallions. You’ll need to ask your butcher in advance for neck fillets but they’re available regularly at the Meat Merchant in Moira.
The world is your oyster when cooking on the barbecue and most foods are improved when placed on open coals. Get together outside and have a go.
As the American chef Anthony Bourdain said: “Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.”