This time of year can offer some of our best weather, so it's a good time to break out the barbecue. Brenda Costigan fires up the coals in the first of a two-part barbie special
In his huge book, The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson says that barbecues naturally occur in those places where the climate is right for outdoor cooking, Texas and Australia being prime examples.
However, with the development of marvellous garden furniture, complete with portable awnings to ward off the unexpected shower, to say nothing of huge gas barbecues that can be turned on in a jiffy, we in Ireland have learned to enjoy eating out in the open air, that most satisfying of experiences. Even in its most simple form, such as a little charcoal fire in a biscuit tin with a wire tray resting on top, the flavour and the satisfaction of food cooked outside can be enjoyed by all -- provided the rain holds off.
A danger common to all barbecues is the possibility of mild cases of food poisoning. Food may be burnt to a cinder on the outside, but it is often quite raw on the inside. This is a particularly important point to watch when cooking chicken joints with the bones in. Take care also with sausages, burgers and pork, all of which need to be cooked right through. This caution doesn't apply to meats that can be normally eaten rare, such as steaks and cuts of lamb. It is well worth precooking chicken joints (with the bones still in) in a hot oven for about half an hour, or until they are cooked through (if they are covered with foil they won't brown), and then brown them on the barbecue. Parboiling sausages for browning later on the barbecue will also ensure they are thoroughly cooked. This is especially important when you're cooking for large numbers.
Another danger point for food poisoning is mayonnaise, especially when it is combined with various raw vegetables and salads that have been left to sit in hot sunshine. Keep these salads in the shade. Oil-and-vinegar dressings do not cause the same problem.
Making a nice change from beef burgers, this recipe for lamb burgers includes the subtle flavours of ginger and garlic with a little kick of chilli. Serves 4.
You will need:
2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 teaspoons grated fresh root ginger
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1lb 2oz (500g) raw minced lamb
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper or chilli pepper (see note)
¼ teaspoon five-spice powder (optional)
Chutney, to serve
Raita, to serve
Cayenne pepper is very hot, so use it cautiously: chilli powder can vary a bit but it is generally less hot than cayenne pepper.
Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan and gently fry the finely chopped onion with the grated fresh root ginger and the finely chopped garlic. Put this mixture into a bowl. If you are preparing the burgers in advance, allow this mixture to cool completely before you add the minced lamb and other ingredients.
If you plan to cook the burgers straight away, there is no need to wait and you can proceed immediately. Add the minced lamb, the salt, the freshly ground black pepper, the cayenne pepper or the chilli pepper, whichever you are using, the five-spice powder, if you are using it, and the egg.
Mix all the ingredients together and then shape the mixture into four burger shapes. Put them in the fridge for a while to solidify. Cook them on the barbecue until they are cooked through.
Serve with chutney and raita. Raita is made from grated cucumber in natural yogurt, flavoured with some chopped, fresh mint and seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, with some crushed garlic added if you like.
If you prefer, shape the lamb mixture into small round meatballs. These can be fried and served with cocktail sticks.
The choice steak for a barbecue is the T-bone, which includes a little piece of the fillet on the smaller side of the T. Fillet steak, which is a really tender cut, is very expensive. Striploin is another barbecue favourite. Ask your butcher for advice. It is worth finding a good butcher to provide your favourite tender steaks.
Grilling is such a quick method of cooking that it will not tenderise the meat, unlike slow-cooking methods. The breed of the animal and the length of time the beef has been left to hang has a direct bearing on its tenderness. Well-hung beef has a darker appearance than the red meat you often see on display. The thin streaks of fat through the steaks, called marbling, improve the meat's flavour and tenderness. Allowing steaks to sit in a tasty marinade for some hours adds to their eventual flavour and may help to tenderise them a small bit.
The simplest marinade consists of some olive oil and some balsamic vinegar sprinkled over the steaks, together with chopped garlic and some herbes de Provence: leave the steaks to marinate for a good half an hour before cooking.
AN AUSSIE MARINADE
Inspired by a recipe of chef Bill Granger, this marinade is very tasty with a good steak. If you don't have dry sherry in the house, use dry white wine or vodka instead. Serves 2-3
You will need:
4 tablespoons dry sherry or white wine or 2 tablespoons vodka
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 dessertspoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 dessertspoon sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 or 3 225g (8oz) steaks
To make the marinade, mix the dry sherry, white wine or vodka, whichever you are using, with the oyster sauce, the light soy sauce, the caster sugar, the olive oil, the sesame oil and the freshly ground black pepper. Put the steaks side by side in a flat dish, and cover evenly with the marinade. Cover the dish with cling film and put it in the fridge for two hours or more. Turn the steak over at least once during that time. Before cooking, take the meat out for the last 30 minutes to allow it to come to room temperature. There is no need to wipe the marinade off the steaks. Sear the steaks for two minutes on each side, by which time they may be nicely rare; cook for longer if you want them more done. Here is a finger test to check a steak's doneness -- test by pressing the steak in the centre with your fingertip -- if the meat is squishy, it is rare; if it resists, it is pink and if it feels firm, then the steak is well done.
Vegetables of your choice are marinated first, then pushed onto a skewer and grilled over the barbecue. Serves 4-6
For the kebabs, you will need:
350g (12oz) button mushrooms, cleaned
350g (12oz) courgette, in mouthful-sized chunks with a piece of the green skin on each
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks
10--12 cherry tomatoes
2 medium onions, each cut into six segments
For the marinade, you will need:
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon basil leaves, torn
1 tablespoon mint leaves, torn
2 cloves garlic, crushed
In a bowl, mix together the olive oil, the lemon juice, the salt and freshly ground black pepper, the sugar, the torn basil and mint leaves, and the crushed garlic. Add the button mushrooms, the courgette and pepper chunks and the cherry tomatoes. Cover and leave for about an hour.
Thread the onion segments on to the skewers, and then thread on the marinated vegetables. Grill the kebabs until they are browned.
You will need:
24 new potatoes
4 medium onions, each cut in six segments
Lightly scrub some small new potatoes and cook them until they are just tender in boiling, salted water. Drain. Thread six new potatoes on to each metal skewer, with a chunk of onion laced between each potato, then brush the kebabs with some oil and grill them on the barbecue until they are browned all over. Serves 4.
Cook your potatoes, without peeling them, in boiling, salted water or in a steamer until they are just tender. Drain well. This can be done in advance. When you are ready to cook, brush the potatoes with oil and brown them directly on the barbecue. The resulting skins will be lovely and brown and crunchy.
WHOLE CORN ON THE barbecue
This is inspired by a recipe of Sarah Raven's, which appears in her Garden Cookbook. Sarah suggests buying the freshest corn that you can. Once it is picked, the sugar in the corn starts to turn into starch. Serves 4.
You will need:
4 corn cobs with the husks on, but the silks removed
Butter, mashed with a little salt, freshly ground black pepper and a little chopped fresh thyme
Cook the corn in plain boiling water (adding salt to the water will only toughen the kernels).
Home-grown corn cooks in 3-4 minutes, while bought corn will take about 10 minutes, or maybe longer. When the corn is tender, plunge the cobs into cold water, then dry them as well as you can.
Peel back the husks of the corn cobs and smear the mashed butter over the corn, then fold the husks back over the corn. Put the corn cobs on to a slow-burning barbecue, turning them occasionally until the husks are charred. When they are ready, peel off the husks and eat.
Alternatively, remove the husks, brush with oil and barbecue until golden, then smear with the mashed butter to eat.