Every spring and summer, chefs become more popular than ever. Our phones start ringing and invitations to summer and garden parties start flying in. The reason for our new-found popularity is easy to understand: it’s barbecue season.
Chefs find out they have friends they never knew about the moment there is the first whiff of warm weather. People automatically assume that if they invite a chef along to their barbeque, he, or she, will do all of the cooking.
I’m a big fan of barbecues and lots of my fondest food memories are related to al fresco eating. I remember going to Chesil Beach, in Dorset, and fishing for mackerel. We caught them, gutted them and cooked them there and then on disposable barbecues. You can’t get fresher than that!
That’s the beauty of barbecuing. It’s not just about the food – It’s also about the company too. It’s a very sociable style of dining. It’s fun, stress-free and a great chance to catch up with your family and friends. You shouldn’t let one person stand outside like an idiot, doing all the cooking. Barbecuing is a time for everyone to get involved, have a glass of Pimm’s and most importantly, have fun.
My golden rule for barbecuing is simple: cook low and slow. That means you want to cook at a low temperature and over a longer period of time. You don’t want to barbecue when flames are leaping through the bars – the temperature should be more controlled. If you cook when the barbeque is too hot, you get the classic black-on-theoutside-raw-in-in-the middle effect.
Barbequing lends itself to marinating. There should always be something sweet in the marinade. A lot of people use honey or Demerara sugar to add sweetness, but I prefer to use ingredients that are naturally sweet. Marinating your food with fresh fruit, or fruit vinegars, is a much better idea. You get that classic sweet-and-savoury combination and the sweetness helps with the caramelisation process.
We like to introduce the al fresco vibe to our menu here La Bécasse, in Ludlow. We do barbequed, chargrilled and hot-smoked items. One of my favourites is a chicken dish that is marinated with strawberries. We blend fresh strawberries, tarragon and a few other bits and pieces to form the marinade. The chicken breast is left in this marinade for 24 hours before being barbequed. It’s delicious. The strawberry flavour isn’t in your face, you just get the sweetness from the natural sugars.
So go on, next time the sun shines, wheel that barbeque out of the garage and get cooking!