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Grilling the gourmet way
Make the most of the warmer weather and, let’s hope, an Indian summer by cooking and eating alfresco. The art of barbecuing should be a simple affair but our tastes are increasingly sophisticated and crave the latest trend. Throwing a burger or sausage on the grill no longer hits the spot today as we are bombarded by tips from a carousel of celebrity chefs and culinary TV shows. So here’s a seasonal revision on choosing and buying barbecues and accessories plus recipe hints to ensure you stay ahead of the grilling game.
Picking the perfect barbecue
Don’t forget that the lure of the barbecue in the summer season is to prolong the number of hours outdoors and vary and enjoy the cooking experience. So look for a model that suits your needs and simplifies the process.
Gas barbecues are increasingly popular for their year-round use and convenience. They may be heresy for the traditionalist, but they are quick to fire up and simple to use. Standard models have a grill with the number of burners determining how many people you can cook for. A two-burner model should cater for four to six but if you regularly feed a crowd, consider buying one with three or four. Most come with a hood which transforms the grill into an oven, useful for slower cooking and roasting larger joints of meats. A warming rack is a useful addition. A griddle or sizzling hot plate is multi-functional, enabling you to stir fry, sear and cook leaner cuts of meat. Plus there’s no risk of losing a precious skewered morsel. Gas bottles are either propane or butane and can be found at most petrol stations.
Charcoal barbecues provide an authentic smoky taste, are cheaper to buy and generally take up less space. But they are slow to start up and messier to use. Models range from freestanding grills or half barrels to kettle styles with hoods. The barrel style is great for large numbers, while the kettle design fits nicely into a landscaped deck or terrace. DIY stores are often the first port of call, but it’s worth shopping around to compare prices and features. The ultimate outdoor cooking machine is the Big Green Egg, an American model that also functions as a smoker. Its distinctive green ceramic shape derives from a traditional Japanese clay cooking pot known as kamado. It comes in five sizes.
Portable barbecues are obviously smaller than freestanding models. They are ideal for travelling, impromptu picnics and holidays. Portable gas versions are more flexible as they work with smaller disposable gas canisters.
Electric grills are ideal if you are short of outdoor space. They come with artificial briquettes which can be removed for indoor use. There are models for outdoors and table tops. The flavour of charcoal may be missing but they are great for grilling a steak.
Choosing charcoal and other bits and bobs
Lump charcoal or briquettes can be bought from most DIY stores, as well as supermarkets in the summer. Coconut shell charcoal is more expensive but preferred by aficionados for its prolonged slow heat and subtle flavour. It is also environmentally friendly, although if you’re flash grilling a steak, charcoal is best for the requisite blast of heat. Add the flavour of the Deep South with bourbon wood chips or use fresh herbs from the garden. Recommended tools are flame-proof mitts, long-handled tongs, basting brush, roasting fork, wire brush for cleaning grill, a spatula if you have a griddle and metal skewers for kebabs, with flat rather than round shafts. Grilling baskets are useful for delicate food and fish.
When lighting charcoal, lighter fluid needs time to burn off or it gives food an unpleasant flavour. Firelighters or lighted twisted paper are preferred alternatives. Avoid the risk of flare-ups by trimming unnecessary fat and draining marinade off meat.
Avoid the quick gratification of supermarket-prepared barbecue offerings and buy meat from your local butcher or market. Making up a marinade or spicy rub at home provides instant flavour, whether prepared 20 minutes or 24 hours in advance. Home-made burgers are also worth the effort. Minced lamb makes tasty kofte, kebabs or juicy burgers, while turkey and chicken will please the health-conscious. Don’t spare seasoning and herbs if you attempt the latter. Burgers can be made well in advance and chilled so they don’t disintegrate while cooking. Get creative with toppings, from fresh salsas and relishes to herb mayo and crunchy crudités.
If you’re cooking for friends or family, consider a theme such as Asian, Middle Eastern or fish and seafood, which can extend to sides and starters. Begin with a homemade cocktail and keep dessert simple with a few choice cheeses and fresh fruit. The latter can be foil wrapped and roasted on the dying embers before being served with ice-cream.
Seasonal ingredients for August can all be adapted for outdoor cooking: marrows, courgette, aubergines, scallops, sea bass, sweetcorn, apricot, cherry, blackberry, apples and blackberries.
Belgian barbecue king Peter De Clercq (2003 world barbecue champion) has a recipe for every ingredient and occasion. Here’s one from his book Le Grand livre du BBQ/Bestel BBG Bijbel by Racine that is a favourite with the Bulletin editorial team.
Breughel Chicken on beer can
1kg organic or free range chicken
Meat marinade (keeps for a long time; can be adapted): 500ml olive oil, 250ml basil oil, 250ml rice oil, 20g dried basil, 20g coriander seeds, 20g whole black pepper, 20g dried rosemary, 6 chillies, 10 coarsely chopped garlic cloves, 4 dried thyme sprigs, 4 bay leaves
Large can of Scotch Gordon ale (or another preferred tipple)
Smother the chicken in marinade and rub in spices and herbs. Drink one mouthful of the beer before making a couple of incisions in the can (optional). Place the chicken on the can (so that it adopts a kind of sitting position) and cook for around one hour on high heat in the barbecue with hood closed.
Serve with rice or French fries, salad or De Clercq’s salsa verde:
100g green olives
½ bunch each flat parsley, mint, celery leaves
3 anchovy fillets
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
100ml olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chop finely all the salsa ingredients, add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil and season to taste.
For a contemporary take on barbecuing look no further than Asian flavours. Korean cuisine is still largely unknown in Belgium, so wow your guests with a dip into its colourful cuisine. Here’s a recipe from Australia’s Gourmet Traveller magazine by US Momofuku empire chef David Chang.
Korean-style barbecued steak ssäm with ginger and spring onion sauce
300ml apple juice
100ml light soya sauce
50ml lemon juice
3 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
4cm piece of fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
2tsp sesame oil
6 flank or skirt steaks (bavette), approx 200g each
Grapeseed oil for drizzling
Steamed rice and round lettuce
Ginger and spring onion sauce
2tbsp roasted sesame seeds
1 garlic clove
6 spring onions, thinly sliced
60ml grapeseed oil
1tbsp rice vinegar
1tbsp finely grated ginger
100gm doenjang (Korean-style bean paste available from Asian grocers)
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
2 spring onions, coarsely chopped
2tbsp rice wine
2tsp sesame oil
2tsp caster sugar
Process or blend apple juice, soy sauce, lemon juice, spring onion, garlic, ginger and sesame oil until smooth. Transfer to non-aluminium container. Add steaks to marinade and leave overnight, turning at least once.
Make sauce by pounding sesame seeds, garlic and 1tsp of sea salt to paste in a mortar. Transfer to bowl and add spring onion, oil, vinegar, ginger and a pinch of sugar. Stir and refrigerate. For ssämjang, process ingredients to smooth paste and refrigerate until required.
Preheat barbecue to high heat. Remove steaks from marinade, drizzle with a little oil and barbecue turning occasionally until charred on the outside and cooked medium-rare inside (6-8 minutes).
Leave to rest for 10 minutes before thinly slicing and serving with sauce, ssämjang, rice and lettuce leaves for wrapping.
Further reading: Sarah Crew's excellent piece from Brussels Unlimited on garden furniture, BBQ equipment and general tips on outdoor entertaining.