PLAYING WITH FIRE
Put down the sausages and step away from the burgers – food writer and chef, Ed Smith from rocketandsquash.com explains how charring, burning and appreciating the power of the live flame will ignite flavours and leave you bursting with new recipe ideas when it comes to all-year round barbecuing.
Plus see Ed and our bloggers in action at our barbecue event here.
What are the benefits of barbecuing?
The barbecue is a brilliant cooking tool, which you can use to do many of the things you can do on a hob or in an oven, but also plenty of things that you can’t. You can cook – or specifically burn – things in a way that would be impossible inside, without smoking your house out and setting off the fire alarms. And the flavours you get from grilling, charring and burning are, of course, always memorable and moreish.
What are your favourite food choices to barbecue?
Can I say a class of foods? Because ‘vegetables’, is probably my answer to this. Of course forgiving, succulent meats are excellent — like chicken thigh, pork and lamb chops and belly. But you can do so much with vegetables on a barbecue. They really benefit from cooking over hot coals or on gas outside. Things like butternut squash and sweet potatoes, onions, leeks, fennel and beetroot, corn — cooking them on a barbecue can result in new ways of eating things that we probably take for granted. Charred vegetables might look useless but they are actually sweet and full of flavour.
What produce do you think people will find most suprising to grill?
Beetroot, leek or whole butternut squash. They’re actually tougher than they look and are able to withstand high heat. It’s all about burning confidently. People shouldn’t be scared of burning stuff and if you’re a cheese fan, I’d go for paneer over halloumi if grilling.
How can we think of barbecuing differently?
We can definitely all move beyond sausages and burgers. We should use barbecues as outdoor ovens and not feel limited by convention. You can absolutely cook or finish whole joints of meat on the barbecue, in the same way you would an oven, but to arguably better effect when outside. The pork belly recipe, for example, gets an added smokiness when finished on a barbecue, and could be done in summer or winter. Lamb shoulder and butterflied lamb legs are also classic barbecue material and are examples of thinking beyond the bap, kebab and salad style meal. There's a whole world of flavour from barbecuing vegetables. Think of large sharing platters involving fennel, peppers, beetroot, onions, whole butternut squash.
What are the pros and cons for charcoal vs. gas barbecues?
TR: Every month I try and analyse how we can make this faster, and we can’t do it! I've got a love-hate relationship with it! But honestly, there’s nothing like it. It’s a beautiful light and when it’s the only light on in the room, it creates this incredible lighting effect. I’ve got so many in my house and we love them.
Barbecues are often times for family and friends to gather. What’s your favourite barbecuing memory?
My most memorable was perhaps while travelling in Argentina about ten years ago. A few of my close friends and I were taking a bit of time out, and for much of it, we were in Patagonia. I remember visiting a beautiful ranch near the bottom of the country, basically in the middle of nowhere. Their lamb asado, where a whole lamb is cooked on a cross over some smouldering logs is among the best meat I’ve ever tasted. Though I think it’s also a time and place thing.
What food trends are you noticing at the moment?
I think the Deep South-inspired trend of slow-cooking (pulled pork and brisket) isn't quite as popular outside restaurants as predicted. It involves a real effort with meat, often cooking for anything up to 12 hours and potentially smelling out the neighbours. I don’t think this is realistic for many cooks at home. In its place, I think we're seeing a greater appreciation of live fire cooking. It’s all about enjoying the flavour that flames can bring. There’s also a trend towards using seasonal vegetables and celebrating fresh ingredients.
On a personal level, my wife and I are expecting our first baby this summer, so things are about to change at home!...
ED'S EXCLUSIVE BARBECUE FRITTATA RECIPE
400g mini salad potatoes
3 red peppers
Leaves from 8 sprigs thyme
1 bunch spring onions
8 medium eggs, whisked and seasoned with salt and pepper
Cold pressed rapeseed oil
20cm oven proof, high sided frying pan or skillet
1. Cook the salad potatoes in simmering water until just tender, drain then leave under a running cold tap until chilled. Use the palm of your hand or the flat side of a large knife to gently squash the potatoes.
2. Cut the red peppers in half and blacken over a hot barbecue. Place them with their outer side down until very charred, and the flesh has softened but it still thick and juicy (between 5 and 10 minutes). Lay the spring onions on the grill too and char for a couple of minutes.
3. Place the peppers and onions in a bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to sweat and cool for 10 minutes, then push the skin away from the peppers with your fingers, discarding most of it. Chop the peppers into 1cm thick, long strips, and the spring onions into rough chunks.
4. Place a thick bottomed, reasonably high sided 20cm frying pan with an oven proof handle on the grill. Add a splash of rapeseed oil and the salad potatoes. Fry for 15 minutes so the edges turn golden brown and crisp. Stir occasionally. Add the thyme leaves, the peppers and onions and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
5. Prod the vegetables so they’re roughly evenly distributed. With the pan over a medium part of the grill, pour the whisked eggs in. Cook for 2-3 minutes until you see the egg at the edges has thickened. Crumble the stilton over the top, then bring the hood of the barbecue down. Cook for 5 minutes. If your barbecue has a temperature gauge, 180-200C is perfect.
6. When most of the frittata is set, but there’s still little wobble of molten egg and cheese towards the middle, it’s done. Remove and leave to rest for 3-5 minutes. Use a palette knife or similar to push the crisp edges from the pan sides and serve.
Food photography: Joe Woodhouse