AFTER a winter as long, cold and trying as the one we’ve just experienced, any excuse to wave it goodbye and welcome the arrival of warmer times should be celebrated – and there’s no better way of doing that than hauling the old barbecue out of the garden shed and firing it up. Offering a dismissive shrug to the risk of spring showers, pulling on a comedy apron and spreading the first homemade burgers of the year over hot coals is now as established a tradition for the May bank holiday as skipping round maypoles or getting stuck in traffic on the M1 – but it’s worth doing it right. In an effort to avoid the usual traps of charcoal-outside, raw-inside sausages and leathery steaks coated in singed, sickly marinades, we’ve asked some of London’s leading chefs how they make the most of the barbecue.
BARBECUE TIPS FROM THE CHEFS
FERNANDO TROCCA, GAUCHO
To test the cooking temperature throw a bit of water on the grill bars – it should take three seconds to evaporate. Any less and you will burn the meat, any more and you will boil it. Different food items need different temperature, but a rule of thumb is the thickness of what you are cooking will determine the cooking time. Cooking on the bone also increases the cooking time, since bone is not a great conductor of heat. www.gauchorestaurants.co.uk
ATUL KOCHHAR, BENARES
My number one tip is marinade – make sure you allow two hours for meat and one hour for fish as it really makes a difference. Experiment with different rubs and spices and baste frequently with the marinade during cooking. Fish is easily overlooked but whole fish such as trout or meatier fish such as monkfish work really well. As for accompaniments, fresh, herby, spicy salads such as green mango make a great partner for rich barbequed meats. www.benaresrestaurant.com
JEFF GALVIN, GALVIN RESTAURANTS.
Never rule out fish for the barbeque – I love it. For a delicious red mullet or gilt head bream “en papilotte” with Italian fennel, stuff the belly of each fish with fennel cooked in a pan with garlic and pastis. Lay a garlic leaf along the length of each fish on both sides and wrap in tin foil with lemon slices before barbequing for about five minutes on each side. www.galvinrestaurants.com
CHRIS GALVIN, GALVIN RESTAURANTS
Wrap seared lamb cutlets in damp hay and thyme to finish cooking on the barbeque to give an unusually fragrant smokey flavour. www.galvinrestaurants.com
SALLY CLARKE, CLARKE’S
Never underestimate what you can do with vegetables on the barbecue: try skewering asparagus drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper before grilling it for a few minutes on the barbecue and serving sprinkled with Maldon sea salt, Parmesan cheese, black pepper and a balsamic dressing. www.sallyclarke.com
AGGI SVERRISSON, TEXTURE RESTAURANT
Make a "brush" using rosemary and thyme, keep a bowl of olive oil next to the barbecue and regularly brush your meat with the oil during the cooking. It gives a subtle but fresh herb flavour to the cooking. For an extra smoky flavour, throw woodchips on the barbecue before you start cooking. www.texture-restaurant.co.uk
ALAN FORDRED, VIVAT BACCHUS
In South Africa we call a barbecue a braai, and the delicious fish we often cook on it is the snook – the equivalent here would be mackerel, which is seasonal right now – and my mother has a special method. Spread a fillet with a spoonful of apricot jam, season it, then wrap it in a tinfoil parcel leaving some air for it to steam, and place it on the barbecue. It’ll take the smokiness from the barbecue, and the jam forms a tangy, sticky glaze that tastes delicious. www.vivatbacchus.co.uk
OMAR ALLIBHOY, EL PIRATA DE TAPAS
In Bali they use the dried coconut shells as their charcoal, which gives a fantastic flavour to their grilled fish and lobster. In Texas they smoke their beef cuts for four hours before slicing the steaks and grilling them. www.elpiratadetapas.co.uk
ADAM BYATT, TRINITY
Barbecuing whole joints of meat is great in theory, but in reality the ferocity of the heat means the meat can end up charred on the outside and raw on the inside. My suggestion is to cook pieces of meat that are no thicker than 4cm or so, to allow you to get a really nice barbecue flavour whilst keeping the meat moist and tender. www.trinityrestaurant.co.uk
MARK FINES, THE GUN
Always keep your ash from previous barbecues. When the barbecue’s up to heat, sprinkling on ash gives you control over the heat, meaning you can have a hotter part with less ash and a cooler part where it’s thicker. Use the hot part to colour up and sear the meat, then move it to the cooler part to cook it through more slowly. The ash also stops flare-ups when the fat drips down. www.thegundocklands.com
STEVE MUNKLEY, PARK TERRACE
Buy a barbecue with the thickest bars possible. This means they hold heat longer and cook food better – mine was built with an old grill from the chargrill here in the restaurant. Meat and fish are the star players in a barbecue so keep dessert simple and relatively healthy. Barbecue fruit as a dessert – try putting chunks of pineapple, peaches, plums and bananas on skewers and cook for a few minutes on each side. www.parkterracerestaurant.co.uk
ANNA HANSEN, THE MODERN PANTRY
I like to brine (marinate in saltwater) chicken or pork the night before, since it adds moisture and flavour. Try adding spices to the brine for extra oomph. Also, wrapping whole fish in banana leaves prevents it drying, and also means you can marinate and stuff the fish without worrying about the stuffing falling out when you turn it and also helps ensures it remains whole. www.themodernpantry.co.uk
HENRY DIMBLEBY, LEON
Grill asparagus on the barbecue for a lovely smokey flavour, and eat with a tarragon oil of tarragon, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper. www.leonrestaurants.co.uk
THE BEST BARBECUES
WEBER Q220 GAS BBQ
The pod-like top unit of this stylish number is removable from the cart, giving you extra flexibility on where you want to do your barbecuing. It’s made from cast aluminium, which means it’s light as well as strong.
A sleek, stainless steel barbecue combining minimalist style with simple functionality – particularly good for those with restricted outdoor space. There’s also a gas-powered version if you’re prepared to pay a bit more.
GRAND HALL PREMIUM GRILL
The hi-tech option for those who really want to impress their guests, this Dutch-designed barbecue can has four burners plus an extra iron and porcelain hotplate in its side panel.
EVA SOLO BARREL GRILL
With its sleek, stripped-back look and ingenious design, it should be no surprise that this beauty was dreamed up by Scandinavians. Made of stainless steel, it may look like a coal-bucket with a grill, but it does more than that, allowing you to adjust the cooking zones for direct and indirect cooking using a lid. There’s also a gas-powered
PORSCHE DESIGN AND GRAND HALL X-SERIES 1
The souped-up supercar of outdoor grills, this collaboration between Grand Hall and Porsche Design Studio is as impressively stylish as it is good at searing, grilling, and baking to perfection.