April 23rd, 2011
It’s been unseasonably hot in England lately – the farmer tells me all his crops are a month ahead of the normal growing season. With an Easter heatwave of 25º and 26º C, I was delighted when Alzie suggested a barbecue.
I went to see the butcher – his Cumberland style sausages are the best barbecue sausages I’ve ever had and he always does a good deal on steak – this week he had some very nice rump at £15 for 3 lb.
My personal favourite for barbecuing is charcoal– it imparts a smokiness to the meat that you just don’t get from gas. Buy lump wood charcoal if you can get it, it burns better than briquettes. I’m sure I still have a 5 year old pyromaniac inside me, I always delight in stacking up the charcoal an setting light to it. The charcoal is ready to cook on, when it turns white. Take care when cooking meat, if you get a lot of flame from burning fat, move the meat around and/or spray the charcoal with a little water – the idea is not to cremate your dinner. If you marinate your meat in sugary sauces, they will burn and create a lot of flames – it can be a good idea to add the sauces towards the end of the cooking time to prevent this. If you have good meat to start with, there’s less reason to marinate it – you don’t need to tenderise something that’s tender and all the flavouring needed is a little salt and pepper. You can impart a little extra smokiness and flavour by burning some rosemary sprigs on the coals.
I lived in Atlanta for a couple of years and discovered a world of difference in American barbecue sauce, something that’s hard to find in London. Personally I think they use a lot of corn syrup, which is less sickly than the sugar that goes into English brands, it seems to do a better job of enhancing the savoury meat flavour. I particularly like Stubb’s and Hunt’s sauces.
When cooking steak, make sure the barbecue is hot and cook for a couple of minutes only on each side. Sausages will be ready when golden brown all over. A tip I learnt in America, for a rack of ribs, is that you put them in a large saucepan of water, then heat it up until the ribs change colour, before barbecuing – otherwise the ribs will need hours of very gentle cooking before they become tender. All the champions of the best barbecue competitions in America, cook their ribs all night on charcoal at a very low heat.
I don’t think I’ve ever been the same, since I read some astonishing food articles by Jeffrey Steingarten (The Man Who Ate Everything), in American Vogue circa 1994 – one, in particualr, was on judging the annual Tennessee barbecue competition and another was on deep frying a whole turkey.
Don’t forget to stay healthy – eat some salad and a well mixed Pimm’s will keep you cool.