In the close and cloying heat of the Auckland summer I’m so very grateful for my BBQ. For months on end most of my cooking moves outdoors, while the house remains cool and mercifully free of food odours and associated flies. Moreover, it’s the time of year when I can revel in the primal tastes of flame and smoke. Long live the BBQ.
So in the informal spirit of the kiwi summer BBQ, here is quick-and-easy crash course (or refresher) in backyard grilling. Consider this the distillation of my many years of burnt fingers and fillet steak.
Never mind your salads; it’s smoky, sticky, finger-singeing meat that calms the braying masses at a backyard bash…
Beef and lamb are my meats of choice for the BBQ. Apart from tasting great, these meats are unlikely to cause food poisoning if you misjudge cooking times. For juicy, flavoursome results choose cuts with a plenty of marbling (intramuscular fat), but not too much external fat which causes flare-ups, neighbour-baiting clouds of smoke and immolated meat. My personal favourite for BBQ bovine is scotch fillet, but T-bone and sirloin are more than passable too. When it comes to lamb, butterflied leg is with without peer.
When grilling quality meat, use a simple baste such as olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, parsleyand a little garlic
The meat packaged as “BBQ steak” by supermarkets is usually a mediocre, flabby lot, but is not beyond redemption. Try it roughly cubed and marinaded in a blend of soy sauce, honey, ginger garlic, a splash of rice or cider vinegar, the same of sesame oil and a pinch of 5-spice. Pack tightly onto skewers (pre-soak if using wooden skewers to avoid burning) and grill slowly, turning and basting with marinating juices all the time. These are exceptionally good with satay sauce, fresh cucumber and rice.
Despite oft-repeated nonsense to the contrary, you don’t need to to blanch sausages before BBQ-ing, just keep the heat low and steady. Alternatively, score the sausages from end to end and they will neatly fold open and cook evenly. For a little extra interest baste with soy, brown sugar and chilli oil.
Always use quality sausages. I have no idea what goes into so-called precooked sausages, but it bears little resemblance to meat. Avoid.
Because fish cooks so quickly, it’s very well suited to the BBQ. However, the tendency of fillets to fall apart makes them a right-royal to deal with over a flaming grill. The usual way to avoid this is by wrapping fillets in foil. This certainly works, but what you end up with is not so much BBQ’ed as steamed. Somewhat defeats the purpose methinks.
I prefer to use whole fish (snapper is a great choice), scaled, scored and rubbed with sea salt, olive oil and plenty of pepper. Make sure your grill is very hot, then violently flame the fish for a minute or so on each side before wrapping it in foil along with a little butter, a splash of white wine, a few slices of lemon and some fresh fennel. Allow the fish parcel to slowly steam over the grill for 10-15 minutes.
This method ensures a good smoky flavour and a thoroughly cooked fish. Tear open the parcel and let your guests get stuck in – just warn them to watch out for bones. Great on thickly buttered baguette.
If you can grow it, you can grill it – well not quite, but close enough. Peppers, aubergine, zucchini, asparagus, field mushrooms, Florence fennel and radicchio are my top picks for char-grilling. Simply baste with olive oil, chilli, lemon juice and sea salt as they sizzle over a low and steady heat. BBQ’ed vegetables can be used to great effect in salads, in risotto (see below) tossed though pasta, or pureed with olive oil and seasoning to make fabulous dips.
Tips & Tricks
To bring a true wood smoke flavour to the otherwise clean-burning gas BBQ, toss prunings of grape, citrus, apple etc under the grill.
Slow steady heat will cook food. Big angry flames will only scorch it.
Chicken and pork are popular BBQ choices, but carry serious food poisoning risks when not handled and cooked correctly.
Always check your gas connections for leaks before igniting. Gas BBQ explosions are more common than you would like to think.
Drinking whilst grilling might be a kiwi tradition, but it can end badly. When leaning over a fire it’s best to have your wits about you.
A meat thermometer or probe makes BBQ a safer and more exact science.
Try this stunning recipe from Kapiti on for size!
Charred asparagus risotto with fresh dressed fennel salad and Kapiti Havarti
- 80g risotto rice per person
- 120ml real chicken stock per 80g of risotto
- 1 wedge Kapiti Havarti
- 1 white onion finely chopped
- Olive oil to cook
- 200ml cream
- 2 bunches of fine asparagus
- 2 heads of fennel
- Castor sugar
- White wine vinegar
- Fresh thyme leaves
- 2 lemons
Remove ends of asparagus and cut to equal lengths. Drizzle with a little olive oil and grill for a few minutes until they become soft, then reserve. Remove the outside shell and root of the fennel and slice finely. Pour a little vinegar and olive oil over the fennel and mix. Add a pinch of sugar and a squeeze of lemon to taste. Add salt and pepper. It should taste sweet and sharp but with good balance.
Bring your stock to a simmer in a pot. In a large pan on a medium heat, sweat onion until soft. Add rice and continue to cook until the rice becomes slightly translucent, then season a little with salt. Start adding your stock a ladle at a time, stirring constantly until all of the stock has been absorbed. Rice should be almost cooked. Take risotto off the heat and cool down to be served later. If being served immediately, add enough cream to loosen up your risotto.
To finish the risotto, cook out the cream until the desired consistency is reached. Remove from the heat; add Kapiti Havarti and plenty of fresh thyme leaves to add flavour. Taste and adjust if necessary. If too thick add a little cream to loosen. Spoon into a serving dish, place the warm asparagus and top with the fennel salad. Serve immediately.
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