Last week I was cooking in Borough Market in London on an instant barbecue – the ones you can buy for a couple of pounds.
Someone in the audience asked me did I get much chance to cook outside in Northern Ireland with our unreliable weather?
The truth is if we only cooked outside when the weather was good, we’d rarely do it at all. I recently moved back to a traditional coal grill from gas. Granted it is more hassle but the food has a sultry, smoky taste and umbrellas were invented for a reason. The market itself has all the cooking aromas of food from around the world but my nose was drawn to someone cooking tomatoes straight onto hot coals – no grill at all. They were delicious – charred, sweet, smoky and fruity all at once and then served on grilled bread. In America I’ve seen chefs put things in an old sieve and press it into the coals.
That way you don’t get any coal on the food but all of the flavour impact. I tried it with sweet strawberries and it works a treat – slightly caramelised and hot – perfect over really cold ice cream. It’s also perfect with shelled peas or broadbeans and they’re lovely served with some chilled, crumbled feta cheese, a squeeze of lemon and a slick of oil. Fish is an ideal ingredient to cook outside. It benefits from direct heat and also saves any reek from streaming through your house. I once made lobster bisque at home. Roasted shells, aromatics and wine simmered for hours. In the end it was easier to move house than get the smell out. There’s only so much Febreze a kitchen can take. When cooking fish on the barbecue, don’t imprison it in foil. You might as well cook it in the oven than go to the bother of lighting the barbecue. Oily fish is perfect – mackerel fillets, brushed with a little oil and salt will cook in about two minutes. A squirt of lemon is all the adornment you need.
Herring season is upon us and these silver darlings are a joy cooked over coal. My first recipe is for herring grilled and served with bacon and potatoes. All the main ingredients are grilled giving a smoky edge to a time honoured classic combination.
They’re not around for a long time so cherish them while they’re here. Back in the 80s I developed a liking for scallops while cooking in the Ramore restaurant in Portrush.
An Australian guy, called Saul, used to dive for them and deliver stone weights of them in nets. As I was bottom of the pecking order, it was my job to shuck them.
They were so fresh you could see them move slightly. In all the years since I’ve never experienced them as fresh. Strict licensing laws on fishing and an inclination for dredging them has made this a dim and distant food memory.
Scallops are still a favourite though and their sweetness is heightened when cooked on a hot grill. In my other recipe I’m pairing them with grilled cucumber, a lime dressing and gomashio. This is a Japanese seasoning where nori seaweed and sesame seeds are toasted, ground and mixed with a touch of salt.
Nori is the black coating you’d find around sushi. It is widely available around our coastlines and is more commonly known as sloke here. I’ve given it a Northern Irish spin by using dulse instead. If you don’t like dulse, just leave it out. Gomashio is great in this recipe but also works with any grilled fish or even beef and lamb. It’s also a good way of cutting down on the salt when seasoning.