The al fresco dining season is upon us, but how best to stoke the flames of your trusty BBQ? We asked chef and barbequing guru Rich Harris for his advice on creating simple chargrilled food with wow factor…
“There’s nothing wrong with gas barbeques, but in my opinion you can’t beat cooking over charcoal and wood,” says Rich Harris, whose recently released BBQ bible Fire & Smoke offers easy to achieve recipes with a gourmet twist. Despite a preference for food with a smoky bite (Harris’ favoured flamers are the Kamado grill for their ‘incredible heat retention’ and ‘accurate temperature control’, as well as the ever-popular, ‘brilliant all-rounder’ kettle-style BBQ), the experimental chef is anything but a purist. Drawing on his food travels and inspirations, from Argentinian asados to Thai street food, his culinary aim is to steer us away from predictable burgers and sausages to something more exciting, all with accessibility in mind: “There’s no point coming up with something impressive if nobody’s going to bother to cooking it,” Harris says matter-of-factly.
A favourite recipe is the Szechuan Smoked Pig Cheeks with Plum Ketchup, a simple dish with hefty flavours. “It’s one of those dishes that demonstrates how the addition of wood smoke can completely transform and elevate an underused, inexpensive ingredient such as pig cheeks, into something really special,” explains Harris. Viewing the BBQ as an outdoor extension of the kitchen, he believes that the growing trend for year-round barbeque cooking should be embraced (Harris even cooked the family Christmas turkey on his last year). “Low and slow methods for hot smoking work well throughout the year,” says Harris. “If the weather’s not great, just throw on a shoulder of pork, cover with a lid and leave it to cook for hours for lazy Sunday dining.” We asked Rich to divulge his top tips for a show stopping BBQ, come rain or shine…
Preparation makes perfect: A barbeque should be about getting everyone around the table for a great meal – you should be able to enjoy yourself rather than sweating over the BBQ all day. So, plan your menu and prepare as much as you can the day before, from marinades to salads. Come barbeque time, take any large pieces of meat out of the fridge well in advance so that they can come up to room temperature; this is essential as it allows the meat to cook evenly.
The perfect heat: People often start putting food on the grill before the coals are ready. If the coals haven’t burned down the food can taste acrid from the smoke produced, and it’ll also be too hot to cook anything properly. There’s nothing worse (and more dangerous) than a piece of meat that’s charred on the outside and still raw in the middle. Allow the coals to die down until they’re white and gently glowing before you start cooking (which means lighting your BBQ at least half an hour before beginning to cook).
Get experimental: Fire & Smoke also features cold smoking recipes, which offer a way of treating guests to new tastes. The main difference with cold smoking is that it doesn’t cook the food, but is a way of flavouring cured fish, cheese and all sorts of other ingredients (I’ve even included a recipe for smoked vodka). Instead of using chunks of wood and charcoal, cold smoking results in filling a chamber full of smoke produced by gently smoldering wood dust; so a barbecue with a lid works perfectly. You can buy all sorts of different wood dusts online, so you can be really experimental with flavours.
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