Friday, 14 June 2013

Tis the season to burn stuff - or maybe not

Barbecuing has, until recently in my opinion, been underrated. Not the 'event' itself or the unique social situation but the fact that some fantastic and unique flavours can be derived from firing up the charcoal, marinating some meat (or peppers etc) and basically having some fun. However, Grillstock - held this year in Bristol and Manchester - and the countless competitions and events held in the US, show just how popular it is and why it can now rightly be viewed as a credible method of cooking. Lack of understanding is a UK thing. In the US in particular it is a religion, dry rub versus sauce, regions boasting their own particular varieties.

Neil Davey
I have been invited to join a team at Grillstock 2014. Team Captain is Neil Davey, journalist and one of the UK's leading BBQ experts. I recently chatted to him for The Sentinel when he outlined some basic tips and dispelled some long believed myths surrounding this traditional summer activity. Neil has travelled the world developing recipes of his own, sourcing ingredients and inspiration to share with professionals, amateur chefs and Sunday afternoon sizzlers, especially those on this side of the pond.

Talk of standard essentials can be found in the aforementioned article but Neil has many other tricks and tips that guarantee you will produce one of the finest meals you will ever cook outdoors.

"Temperature and the need to have uniformly grey/white coals with no smoke and getting everything right before you start cooking can be helped by one thing - a chimney starter. The shape holds the charcoal / briquettes in place and allows them to heat uniformly and quickly – about 20 minutes – and all you need to light one is a sheet or two of newspaper. The chimney starter also means it’s easy to pour the lit charcoal exactly where you want them in the barbecue itself, separating an area purely for keeping things warm and preventing overcooking. If you’re puzzling about the lack of smoke, that should come from wood chips –soaked in water, added to the charcoal – rather than the charcoal itself.

When you are ready to go, don't cook things straight from the fridge. Let them warm through a little – say, 20 mins as a minimum – before putting them on the grill. This helps things cook more evenly, and helps prevent that “classic” combination of burned outside and uncooked inner.

With some preparation and a little forethought the main thing I would then recommend is  - Be Creative!

Every culture cooks or has cooked over open flame / charcoal at some point in their history. While US barbecue gives classic flavours of smoke and spice, if you cook everything with the same rub / marinades, it’s going to get very boring, very quickly.

Look to Asia for influence – a small amount of yoghurt (go easy: too much and it will burn), chopped green chillies and turmeric will transform chicken or cuts like lamb neck. Take inspiration from your average kebab house. In Singapore recently I was given a sauce with fish that blew me away: it turned out to be freshly ground black pepper, a tiny sprinkle of sea salt, a handful of diced chillies and lots of fresh lime juice. It couldn’t be simpler but it will rock your world.

My current other go to ingredients for marinades and sauces are Korean pastes. Gochujang is a fantastic, dark red chilli paste with great depth and a heat that builds rather than taking the roof of your mouth off, doenjang is fermented soy paste that smells of all sorts of things (dark chocolate, freshly baked bread, beer) and gives everything that lip-smacking, deeply savoury “umami” hit. You can buy huge tubs of both for under a tenner from specialist Asian stores. You really won’t regret it."

Neil recommends his basic barbecue sauce, perfect with anything pulled from the ground (well apart from the bacon bit) or 'meaty'.

250mls apple juice 
3 tbsp dark brown sugar – ideally molasses sugar but Muscavado also works
1 tbsp each of black pepper, soy sauce, cider vinegar, tomato ketchup
Tabasco and salt (to taste)

Throw it all in a saucepan, stir, simmer until it reduces. That’s it.

"You can use this as a marinade, a pouring sauce, mix it with pulled pork, paste it on ribs for the last few minutes of grilling…  The fun though comes in how you flavour it to your own preferences. Drop a chilli (or more) into the liquid to infuse with heat. Switch out apple juice for something like peach juice (particularly good as a base for really spicy sauces) or mix with cider for a really sticky sauce. Substitute Worcestershire Sauce for the soy or use both. Increase the amount of ketchup. Add a splash of bourbon at the end to give it a smoky caramel edge. Add paprika or cayenne pepper or cumin or coriander or chilli powder to taste – or any combination of the above. Add minced garlic. Add sautéed peppers and / or onions and blend down. Add lemon juice. Throw in a shot of espresso. Add bacon for… well, because you can and because bacon rocks."

Follow Neil on Twitter @DineHard and check out his blog - The Lambshank Redemption

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