Yippee, the BBQ is back out in the garden — always a brilliant moment, but this year there’s the added sense of escapism. More than ever, we’re relishing the thought of cooking outdoors and maybe having a few socially distanced friends to share the joyous experience of eating al fresco. We’ve really been counting the days until we can fire up the BBQ and get a sizzle going. So let’s jump right in…
The choice of barbeques now available is mesmerising, but no need to feel deprived if you don’t have all manner of fancy kit. Cooking over fire is as old as time and definitely adds an extra ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the flavour.
A circle of stone or a simple brick frame to balance a rack or pan will get you started. If you can source a piece of flat iron, you’ve got a plancha to widen your cooking options. Practice makes perfect with any cooking over fire or even on a gas barbeque.
When Francis Mallmann, maestro of open-fire cooking from Argentina did a guest chef BBQ here in 2016, he cooked over fire in five different ways.
A grate over live coals — parilla.
On a spit
Plancha — an iron plate, could be flat or with edges.
Asador — a metal cross to cook a whole lamb or goat.
Hung chickens over a fire on metals or wire chains.
Lighting a charcoal barbeque is never as easy as gas of course but it’s all part of the fun. Wood and charcoal impart lots more flavour and I particularly love applewood.
The key to successful grilling is heat control: learning how to build a good fire and judging the temperature is even more crucial to success than the type or brand of grill or barbeque, you buy or the type of fuel you opt for. Create two zones on the grate — a cooler 120˚C and a hotter 175˚C section. It's not difficult to do this: pile the glowing hot coals higher in one area, this will enable you to create and cook at two different temperatures.
You’ll need to cook large pieces of meat more slowly. It’s all about temperature control — you might want to start something on a high heat to sear the outside to get a delicious crisp crust and then transfer onto lower heat to cook through or perhaps grill ingredients requiring different temperatures simultaneously. If you are using a gas grill, just turn one side up and the other down. On a BBQ, if the fire gets too hot, reduce the heat by spreading out the coals and raising the grate if that’s an option.
- A long-handled tongs
- Long metal spatulas are top of the list must haves –
- Flat metal skewers for kebabs
- A hinged grill rack
- 2 wire cake racks for turning whole fish or small fragile items easily
- A natural bristle basting brush
- Bamboo skewers
- Instant read thermometer
- Stiff wire brush for cleaning the grill
There’s something for everyone’s pocket and style nowadays from disposable foil trays available in supermarkets and petrol stations to a stylish, state of the art, range of gas barbeques that are pretty much a second kitchen with extra cooking rings.
I still love to cook a few sausages by the sea, there’s something about cooking outdoors that makes everything taste a zillion times better. Virtually anything can be cooked on the grill or barbie. A covered BBQ hugely widens the options and adds an extra smoky kick to the food. I even cook pizza, roast a chicken or turkey — once again, practice makes perfect.
Butchers and supermarkets are offering a growing selection of ready-to-grill options but for the most part, the marinades are commercially made and very often contain a whole range of ‘unnatural’ ingredients that are either too sweet or too sharp. A good olive oil, a squirt of freshly squeezed lemon juice, flaky sea salt, freshly-cracked black pepper and a few fresh spices or spice rubs will add magic to your cooking. Scatter some fresh herbs over the food just before serving, to add brightness.
Resist the temptation to have numerous meats, one joint of meat, or a side of fish or a variety of veg and some complimentary sauces and salads complete the feast.
Here are a couple of my favourite recipes and a spice rub and I’ll do another column on outdoor cooking in a few weeks.
Halloumi the 'squeaky' Cypriot cheese brilliant for grilling and Summer salads. (See hot tips.)
- 500g Halloumi
- extra virgin olive oil
- freshly-ground pepper
- thyme, rosemary or oregano
Heat the barbeque or a pan-grill. If the halloumi is excessively salty, soak in cold water overnight or for at least an hour, discard water. Dry well, with kitchen paper.
Cut the cheese into 4 long pieces and thread into flat metal skewers or soaked satay sticks. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary, thyme or some dried wild oregano and some freshly cracked pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes each side until golden and hot through.
Serve with smokey tomato sauce, chimichurri, or aji green sauce.
- 1 whole chicken
- 75ml (3fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
- 4 large cloves of garlic, crushed or finely grated
- 1 tablespoon ground sumac
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1 lemon, cut in wedges
- a few sprigs of thyme
To remove the backbone of the chicken, use very sharp scissors and cut through all the way down from top to bottom. Place the chicken breast side up on your work top and using the palm of your hands flatten the chicken down. Using a sharp knife make a few slashes in the legs of the chicken.
To make the marinade, in a bowl use a whisk to mix together the olive oil, garlic, sumac and the chopped thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a shallow bowl or dish and pour the marinade over making sure it gets into every little area. Set aside to marinate for 10 minutes or even covered in the fridge overnight on a wire rack to allow any excess marinade to drip off. Then grill ideally on a Weber barbeque or a barbeque with a cover over a medium heat for 45 – 60 minutes approximately (the internal temperature of cooked chicken is 75 – 80°C/165 – 175°F). To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be clear.
Alternatively, to cook the chicken in an oven, preheat to 220°C/425°/Gas Mark 7. Place the chicken on a roasting tray with all the marinade and cook for 45 minutes – 1 1/2 hours (the cooking time will vary greatly depending on the size of the chicken) until cooked. When cooked the legs will feel loose. Allow the chicken to rest somewhere warm for about 15-20 minutes if possible.
When ready to eat, carve the chicken into pieces, scatter with the thyme leaves and serve with some wedges of lemon.
Cubes of tender meat (pork, chicken, beef, or lamb) are marinated in spices, then threaded onto bamboo satay sticks and cooked on the barbecue or under the grill. Satay is especially versatile — serve as a starter with drinks, or as a light meal with rice and salad. Kids love them. Shrimps work really well in this recipe too.
Makes 24 approx.
- 450g (1lb) lean lamb leg or chicken breast or thigh meat (boned and skinned) or organic pork fillet
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 2 shallots, or 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice or red wine vinegar
- 24-26 bamboo satay sticks or metal skewers (soak satay sticks in water 30 minutes before)
- 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 225g (8oz) Satay Sauce
- lettuce leaves and flat breads
Cut the meat into 5mm thick strips and marinate with all the ingredients for at least 1 hour. Thread onto the soaked bamboo satay sticks so the end is covered. Allow to drain on a wire rack. Heat a barbeque or pan-grill until very hot.
Brush each satay with a little oil and chargrill turning frequently until just cooked. Serve hot with Satay Sauce (see 000), lettuce leaves and flat breads.
This satay sauce recipe given to me by Eric Treuille of Books for Cooks in London can be made up to 3 days in advance.
Makes 500ml (18fl oz)
- 225g (8oz) peanut butter
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon Tabasco
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons runny honey
- juice of 1 lemon
- 125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water or coconut milk
Place the peanut butter, garlic, ginger, turmeric, Tabasco, oil, soy sauce, honey, lemon juice and water in a food-processor or blender, pulse until smooth. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavours to blend. Serve chilled or at room temperature. (Add a little more coconut milk if too thick).
A seriously macho cut: tomahawk steak is a ‘bone-in’ ribeye cut from the 6th -12th rib with the bone left intact so it resembles a tomahawk. It’s sometimes called a cowboy steak. It can weigh between 30-45 ounces (850g-1.275kg), and will be close to 2 inches thick. It’s perfect for BBQ because the bone, usually 6-8 inches long, creates a handle which makes it easy to turn over on the BBQ.
- 1 tomahawk steak
- flaky sea salt
- freshly-cracked pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
Make sure the steak is at room temperature. Heat the barbeque or an iron pan grill on a high heat. Score the fat side. Season the flesh generously with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Grill first on the fat side on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes to render out the fat. Then sear the flesh sides on a high heat, turning only once when a crust has formed. Reduce the heat to medium or move to a cooler part of the grill. Cook for 7-8 minutes on one side then 6-7 minutes on the other for medium-rare. (check the inner temperature, it should read 57°C/135°F).
Allow to rest on a warm surface for 8-10 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute themselves.
Slice the rested steak off the rib bone. Cut into slices across the grain and serve with the sauce and accompaniment of your choice — a creamy gratin dauphinoise, roast onions, wild garlic butter and salt, smoked paprika butter, anchovy and chervil butter, honey whole mustard butter.
- 4 medium onions
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
- salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Cut the onions into thick slices – about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick. Thread 2 or 3 rounds onto flat skewers.
Mix the oil, vinegar and chopped rosemary in a bowl. Dip or brush both sides of the onion rings, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook on a medium grill until cooked through and nicely charred. Turn occasionally and drizzle a little more dressing over the top to serve. Great with steak or halloumi.
Use for chicken, pork, lamb, fish and prawns.
Makes approx. 110g (4oz)
- 2 tablespoons of cumin roasted and ground
- 2 tablespoons of coriander roasted and ground
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns roasted and ground
- 1-2 teaspoons cloves roasted and ground
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
Toast the cardamom, cumin, coriander, pepper and cloves in a pan over a medium-high heat, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes. Cool and crush in a pestle and mortar or whizz in a spice grinder. Add the freshly ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well. Store in an airtight jar. It will keep for up to 3 months but try to use earlier. Store away from direct light, preferably in a dark glass jar.
Mark Moriarty is back with a brand new Cook-In series for home cooks on RTE One weekly on Wednesdays at 8.30pm. Mark will share easy-to-follow recipes, focusing on making the most of kitchen staples that we all have in the cupboard and fridge.
Look out for Irish Halloumi: my newest discovery is The Proper Dairy Company based in Clonmel. Omar Haqqi and his colleagues Ayman al Zou’bi from Jordan and Anna Elkifal from Greece, makes a traditional halloumi. It is made with cow, sheep and goat’s milk and is available via Sheridan’s in Dunnes Stores. The project has been supported by Bord Bia and presents an opportunity for other sheep and goat milk producers to enlarge their herds. Also seek out BallyHubbock Farm (@ballyhubbockfarm –), Toonsbridge Dairy, Ballinrostig Halloumi.
My pantry shelves always include a variety of tins of canned fish — not just sardines in olive oil which I adore but anchovies, also canned mackerel and ventresca tuna. Keep an eye out for an Irish brand Shines Seafood, a family business based in the famous fishing port of Killibegs in Co Donegal. John and Marianne and their daughter Ciara work with local fishers to source sustainable fish including wild albacore tuna during the short season from August to September — the fish is processed in Spain.
Many local butchers will cut and prepare a tomahawk steak for your barbeque. To order online, check out Peter Hannon (‘Meat Peter’) of The Meat Merchant — ‘meat merchant, decent cook, bad photographer from Northern Ireland’. Check out their website for pretty irresistible, succulent meat from their own herd.