It always makes me smile in this country when there’s the merest hint of sunshine – it’s usually accompanied by the smell of grilled meat in the air.
And rightly so, but there’s no reason not to enjoy that great aroma all year round. Something magical happens to a steak or sausage when you put it in contact with charcoal – deep, smokiness envelopes the meat. Brush with a glaze and you have something sublime.
For barbecue to be at its most flavoursome, it’s good to think ahead. Marinating meat before cooking will help tenderise it and having a simple glaze on hand to brush while grilling, adds a caramelized juicy lacquer to your meats and vegetables.
A basic marinade should include oil, an acid and some aromatic herbs and garlic. Leave for a couple of hours for an extra tender result. Brining is a clever way of getting both taste and moisture into your meat. Water, salt, sugar and aromatics are simmered and then cold poultry, meat or oily fish can be submerged. Leave for a day and the magic will have happened.
My first recipe is for cider brined chicken. You could add apple juice to the mixture instead of cider but either way you’ll get a nice appley hit from the bird. You could substitute pork chops or fillet for the chicken. If you want to brine steaks or lamb, substitute ale for the cider. The process not only tenderises the meat but avoids shrinkage as well.
To finish off I’ve included a simple recipe for a Carolina, an American state, bbq sauce. BBQ sauce from the east of this US state are heavy on the vinegar. Brush over grills for a zingy, sweet finish.
I was watching an old episode, from about five years ago, of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on TV last week and the eponymous chef, as per usual, was ridiculing the poor unfortunate chef in the establishment, for serving grilled Romaine lettuce. Gordon had never heard of this so therefore it had to be wrong!
The Italians and in turn Californians have been grilling robust lettuces like radicchio and Treviso for years to great effect – it adds a pleasant softness and scorch to crunchy leaves. Cabbage on the grill is now on nearly every trendy menu.
Grilled chicken and coleslaw is a classic and my slaw uses red cabbage which has been grilled and shredded. Corn is blanched and grilled and added for colour and sweetness. Mr Ramsay wouldn’t approve – though you never know, maybe he’s caught up with the rest of the scene!
Grilling vegetables really adds something to them. In London recently I had new season peas in the pod, grilled and then tossed in lemon juice and olive oil. You just ate the whole thing – no nonsense of shelling and they were magnificent. I do the same with broad beans but do shell them as their thick husks would be a lot harder to digest. They still have a delicious smokiness and are lovely tossed with lemon, oil, fresh mint and crumbled Greek feta cheese.
Mushrooms with their high water density work fantastically well on the grill. Brush with oil, grill until golden and toss in a garlicy parsley dressing.
Shirley Conran once famously said life was too short to stuff a mushroom, but large Portobello mushrooms are a lot easier to handle than those footery wee ones.
My recipe stuffs them with breadcrumbs, bacon,parsley and goat cheese and then they’re grilled with cheddar on top. Good on their own, fabulous with a grilled steak or chicken.