BURN BURN YES YOU'RE GONNA BURN!
Depending on how I look at it, this week's early burst of spring sunshine has been great, the shorts have come out along with the pale, hairy legs, a couple of lunchtime pints have been supped out on the pavement and yesterday, I even managed to catch a few rays sitting on my new patio having had the day off (within the hours of GTT* of course). But behind all the frivolity this kind of weather brings, there is the nagging doubt that this week could possibly be it, this year's Great British Summer. So with that in mind, I decided in the afternoon that we should have the first barbecue of the year and eat outside before May ushers in a summer of general pissiness, low grey clouds and gusts of disappointment from the east. Make hay while the sun shines and all that.
Barbecuing has been quite a love affair of mine over the years starting in my uni days. For parties, we would often knock down garden walls in whatever house we were renting to create makeshift pits with oven shelves loaded with cheap value sausages, burgers and chicken wings. In turn these were often marinated in cheap lager to keep the roaring flames down as fat rained onto the coals. From there I progressed to using the throwaway packs, at one get together we assembled 8 individual trays and everything was going swimmingly until somebody questioned the reliability of a wooden table as a surface. Again cheap lager came to the rescue. Over the last few years, I've come to rely on the easy to assemble kits (yeah right!) that you get from diy stores which are great and do the job well over a summer period but come next spring are found to be collapsed in a rusty heap at the bottom of the garden. Soon it will be time to build a brick barbecue proper but for last night's effort, I wheeled out old "Betty" and I reckon I could get a couple more blazes out of her before her bottom falls out.
Betty has actually been the best of the bunch so far with it's kettle lid which has enabled me to roast as well as barbecue, chicken in particular gains a delicious smoked flavour. I also once cooked some pork belly using the indirect heat technique which came out fantastic, rubbed with oil and some Chinese five-spice, it was so tender and succulent. As it was just the two of us last night, I didn't go in for anything quite so ambitious, just plain barbecuing. So once the flames had died down and the coals had whitened up, I laid down some parboiled new potatoes wrapped in foil which had been coated in olive oil, balasmic vinegar and rosemary to get things under way. By way of a little appetizer, we kicked off with the cheese of the moment, grilled halloumi with Delia's magic dressing and pitta. I've made this time and time again and I can confidently say that Mrs Smith's piquant green sauce is so chin-dribblingly good, you could kiss her on the lips for dreaming it up (except you wouldn't because that would be like kissing your mum).
Once that was out the way it was time to get the chicken thighs on which had been marinating in chopped preserved lemon (homemade) and the Moorish skewers. I am indebted to Moro for inspiring these kebabs made from tenderised pork loin and marinated in a combination of garlic, sweet paprika, coriander, fennel, cumin, olive oil, red wine vinegar and finely chopped bay leaf. It can be sometimes tricky cooking meat on a barbecue when considering timings and making sure everything is cooked through, especially poultry so with the thought of the galloping trots running through my mind, I kept scrutinising the chicken over and over again. Unfortunately plans to eat al fresco were undone by this over zealousness, I kind of forgot that nights still draw in early at this time of year so we had to retire inside to finish eating our feast but at least we could then keep the bugs from dive bombing the Turkish salad. Again this is another Moro stalwart (I do have more than one cook book by the way) - finely chopped tomato, cucumber, red onion, pepper, parsley, coriander, lemon and olive oil, topped with Greek yogurt, caramelised butter and chilli flakes.
So how did everything fare? The Moorish skewers as always were lightly spicy with a lovely sweet smokiness in the background and very tender, which is not surprising as I bashed the bejesus out of the pork beforehand. The chicken didn't pick up much of the flavour of the lemon but the extra salt from the preserve gave the skin a nice crispy smack and the flesh was still fairly moist. I was very happy with the potatoes, they were cooked just right and the balsamic gave them a nice glaze. The Turkish salad resembled tabbouleh in the end as I'd thrown in so much parsley but that's not such a bad thing, always good to have something fresh and crunchy with grilled meat. All in all it was a good start to the barbecuing season. As I sat at the table after finishing my plate and the last of the wine, it got me thinking about other things I could try this out this year, I haven't done much in the way of fish on Betty for instance. And it was with that thought I looked out of the window and saw her, standing there, still aglow and with a funny kind of sadness, I pondered to myself "I wonder how much longer she's got left?".