My own grandmother would have cooked on a barbecue over the last few weeks the weather has been so glorious. There is something about cooking outside and eating outside that whets the appetite and makes us look at food differently and prepare it with more thought and appreciation I think. Unless you are a diehard barbecue cook who fires up the coals in all weather, the barbecue is something that most of us only pull out from under the mouldy tarpaulin a few times a year. Therefore, below is a list of what I have found to be barbecue essentials.
Tools of the trade – If you find tongs useful get a long handled one. You’ll save your hands and forearms from getting burnt as you turn meat that will spit and burn. Better still get a proper long handled meat fork. It’s really the best thing to use. Also, wear an apron. There’s no point cooking an amazing meal and then looking like the St. Valentine’s Day massacre when you’re finished.
The most useful tool I have found for a barbecue is a wire brush to clean the grill with. Obviously, it’s important to clean the grill after the barbecue – a clean grill will ensure meat and vegetables don’t stick during cooking. But also give the grill a brush between batches during cooking. This stops meat drippings and charred bits from sticking and burning onto the next batch. Trial and error however has taught me to always buy a good quality wire brush in order to avoid picking metal prongs out of your burger!
Cooking tips for the barbecue – Meat should be seasoned with salt before grilling. Use good big tasty flakes of sea salt for this – Achill Island Sea Salt is ideal. As salt will draw moisture out of meat, it is important to season just before grilling. The salt enhances the flavour of the meat and also builds up that char crust that is so delicious on well barbecued meat. As the meat comes off the grill, you can season with some ground black pepper.
It’s hard to tell sometimes if meat or poultry is cooked when cooking on the barbecue. It is important not to under cook meat especially poultry but it is also so important not to overcook. I always use a meat thermometer for this. Then I’m confident the meat is cooked to perfection. Sometimes if I am cooking a lot on the grill, I tend to barbecue the chicken first. I like to cook chicken on the bone. I barbecue it first to get that char and flavour and then I finish the pieces off in a pre-heated oven. They have the barbecue flavour and are also cooked through by the even oven temperature. They are then finished at the same time as other cuts of meat that can be served rare or medium. Below is a table of internal cooking temperatures – make sure to insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the piece to check the temperature.
Then sit out and enjoy your barbecue feast in the best country in the world when the sun is shining!
In my house when I was small, you knew the weather was getting warmer not just from looking outside, but when the big hearty winter dinner was replaced with the tea salad. We didn’t call it a tea salad of course – it was just called ‘salad’ because it was the only form of salad available. It was the 1980s and the avant-garde tossed salad of the roaring 90s hadn’t arrived in Connemara yet. We felt incredibly sophisticated to have on our plates a leaf of butter head lettuce acting as a bowl to a small scoop of Heinz’s tinned potato salad. Slices of ham were rolled and propped up by a plain tomato cut in half or maybe quarters. Our mother would have boiled eggs earlier in the day and you watched them cooling in the saucepan wondering if they were going to be made into egg mayonnaise sandwiches or not… our favourite. If they made the salad, they were simply shelled and cut in half. We weren’t really Heinz salad cream people but more Hellman’s. There was any amount of homemade brown bread and warm tea. There were no dressings or oils or lollo rosso or radicchio but looking back on it, we loved those evenings. I went looking for a can of Heinz potato salad the other day but couldn’t find one. I wanted to see if it tasted the same. I’m glad I didn’t find it.
Warm weather food has taken on a different form today. After a day’s work, if the weather is good it’s a wonderful thing to come home and cook something that is quick to prepare, tasty and light but still filling. It gives you time to spend outside. What we love in our house are kebabs or skewers that can be partially prepared in advance, usually the night before, by marinating the meat and then skewering on wooden skewers just before a very quick cook under a hot grill. They can be accompanied by noodles or homemade coleslaw or potato salad (Heinz or otherwise) or a green salad.
A favourite skewer of ours in the shop doesn’t require overnight marinating but does require a food processor.
Satay Chicken Skewers
This recipe serves 4
Ingredients for satay sauce
A small bunch of fresh coriander
1 fresh red chilli
1 clove of garlic peeled.
3 heaped tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter
A glug (2 tablespoons?) of Soy sauce
1 inch piece of fresh root ginger
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 x 180g chicken fillets
Pineapple pieces (optional)
What to do:
- Turn your grill on full blast. Soak 8 wooden skewers in a tray of water. If they float, place a plate on top to submerge them.
- Assemble the food processor with the standard blade. Add the coriander, stalks and all; the red chilli stalk removed; the peeled garlic clove; the 3 tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter; the glug of soy sauce; the roughly chopped piece of ginger; the zest of the 2 limes and the juice of one. Add a couple of splashes of water to help blitz it to a reasonably thick sauce consistency. Adjust seasoning if required. Put half of this sauce to one side for accompaniment for the cooked kebabs.
- To the other half of the sauce, add the evenly diced chicken fillets (you will get about 6 pieces from each fillet). Coat all the pieces evenly with the sauce. Place about 3 pieces on each skewer, alternating them with a large chunk of pineapple if using. This will give you two kebabs per person.
- Place under the hot grill for about 8 to 10 minutes each side or until bubbling golden and cooked through. You can check the thickest piece of chicken to make sure.
- Serve with a noodle salad or rice. Spoon some of the reserved satay sauce over the kebabs at the table. The kids will love them.
Now we just have to wait for the weather!
(This article was published in The Western People on 20th April 2015)