Paradise by the flame-grilled light
As Kiwis, we love a good barbecue. With the hot summer sun beating down on us and a cold Speights in one hand, tongs in the other, we gather with friends and family and throw some cheap steaks and sausages onto the barbie and proceed to flame grill them with a casual sleight of hand that is ever so nonchalant in every way but at the same time, so very decidedly thought through, so as to give the impression of having the ultimate barbecue knowledge to save face in front of your guests or admiring children.
You see, there can be an actual art to mastering the barbecue and for preparing the food that will soon be adorning its charred metal bars, from different seasonings and rubs; sauces and garnishes, to different meats and cooking styles which can be a way to really spice up your summer and a sure fire way to impress your friends. But before we go into the intricacies, we must first take a look at the past to understand the history of the legendary barbecue.
‘Barabicu’ is believed to be the original description of what we now know as the barbecue, having been found in literature from the early Caribbean. It was then introduced to the European languages as ‘Barbacoa’ which translates as ‘sacred fire pit.’ This was probably more along the lines of the Hangi or Umu that is found in the traditional Maori and Polynesian cultures and is still practiced today.
Traditionally in the southern United States, a whole pig was often caught and prepared for the barbecue. Being a low maintenance food source in the nineteenth century, the pork was often sent off to fend for itself. It was then caught once food supplies were looking grim and prepared for the grill. In Brazil, the technique was a little different though, with a larger range of meats used for the ‘Churrasco’, which is believed to have originated in the 1600s-1700s and then went on to achieve country wide fame in the late nineties.
Churrasco was to essentially cover the meat in a coarse salt and then leave it for around half an hour before sticking the joint with a sword and cooking over a fire. Beef was the main meat of choice in the early days, with poultry and lamb making an appearance later on, usually marinated overnight so as to take on all of the flavours before being grilled above the glowing red flame that engulfs the meats.
Barbecuing has taken on a more varied role now, and with the option of heavy experimentation with our foods and a whole new world of flavours and ideas to choose from, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
Let’s take a look at one of my favourite things to cook first of all, the mighty and delicate world of seafood. Being one of the harder food groups to cook well, it is naturally intriguing and challenging along with being a broader canvas from which to work with; flavours, styles and types being the predominant choices for experimentation.
Perhaps you would like a whole roasted Snapper with the light hint of a bourbon and maple smoke imparted into the flesh and a mixture of a sweet mirin, kecap manis and brown sugar glaze to bring out the colour of the beautiful fish. The glaze gently dances around with the smoky hints of the bourbon and maple, giving you an exquisite explosion of flavour from every bite.
Maybe a side of Salmon is more your style, grilled alongside caramelized bananas and a fresh zesty Summer salad, whatever it is, you are definitely not limited in your choices.
The most important part of barbecuing your food is the preparation of the meat. You want to have a good marinade that will enhance the flavour of the food you are cooking, but have it so that it isn’t overpowering the dish or the meat. But what goes with what and how much do we add to get that perfect match? If you want to stay on the safe side you can go with the most commonly used marinades, so for example you could use a BBQ marinade for your steak, a herb rub for your lamb and a wood smoke flavour for your fish. But if you want to have a bit of fun and experiment with your marinades then by all means, go for it.
Lamb racks are one of my favourite cuts of meat to work with. Sure, they don’t have a huge amount of meat for what you get, but they pack a lot of flavour and they are very visually appealing which, if you are cooking for guests, is a big plus. The easiest marinade you could make for the Lamb would be a subtle salt and herb rub. Get a bunch of fresh herbs such as Thyme, Rosemary, Mint and Oregano and finely chop them, leaving the Rosemary as it is.
Mix the chopped herbs together with some salt and rub it over the rack. Then you can rub a small amount of chopped garlic over the skin or if you want the garlic to infuse into the centre of the rack, get some whole cloves and a small paring knife, make some small incisions along the rack and press the clove inside the meat. You can do the same with the Rosemary sticks, you can either tie them around the rack with some string or you can slide them through the meat so the flavours from the stalk release inside the meat as you cook it.
Drizzle with some Olive Oil and leave to sit for around 30 minutes to an hour and then place upon a pre-heated barbecue and sear off on the bars before turning down the heat and leaving to cook for around 5 minutes on each side, or a little longer depending on how big the rack is and if you like it medium or rare.
Smoking meats on the barbecue is also a fun and easy way to spice things up for guests; the woody smell drifts its way around the garden and if you do it properly you will look like you know what you are doing and earn some big points with your friends.
There are a couple of ways you can do this, the first of which is to get some smoking trays from a home depot store, these are basically small metal boxes with a lid and holes on top to let the smoke out. All you have to do with these are to line them with tin foil for easy cleaning and fill with your smoking chips, place over the flame and let her rip.
If you can’t really be bothered picking up some smoking trays for a one off meal then you can use some tin foil instead, making a double layer on the bottom and filling with smoking chips and then folding a tin foil top over these and poking holes in the top to release the smoke.
The easiest way to experiment with smoking is, of course, in choosing the smoking mix that you use. Don’t use your own offcuts – treated timber is poisonous. The general mix (and you can pick these up from the big DIY chains) is just to use a pre-cut wood chip that is selected for smoking such as Manuka or Kawakawa but you can put a whole range of different things into your smoking mix to really bring out your own personal flavour.
I tend to use a range of tea’s, chilli’s, rices and herbs. You can mix those in with the wood chips or mix them exclusively with the rice and use that to smoke, though I prefer a little wood in my mix to get a good smoke going. For my competition dish at the Auckland Food Show in 2011 I used a smoking mix of Manuka wood chips, brown sugar, Dilmah Rose tea and a berry tea along with a little vanilla pod mixed in with it all.
I also marinated the Salmon in a Rose sugar syrup mix to emphasize the Rose element of the dish and to help bring the flavour out as it’s not very dominant by itself.
Once you have your smoking mix ready you can get the barbecue nice and hot and then get the smoking chips in there, shut the lid and let it fill with smoke, if you are cooking beef, lamb, pork or sausages, you can leave those as is on the grill plate, if you are cooking fish you will want to put it on a tin foil and baking paper base with some holes poked in the bottom, otherwise you will have one hell of a job getting that fish back out again in one piece.
For the Churrasco way of barbecuing, you will want to use the recipe provided with this article. With Churrasco, you want thin slices of meat that will take on the marinade quickly so for beef, the most common cut that they use is a long flat cut of skirt, aka plate steak, it’s not the same as flank steak though so don’t get the two mixed up when you are at the butchers.
For chicken you want to either pound the breast or thigh down into a thin slab or alternatively you can slice it into flat pieces.
If you have some metal skewers then use these to skewer your marinated meat, if not, you can soak some long wooden skewers in water overnight and spike your meats with those.
Now that everything is marinated and skewered up, you can place them onto the barbecue on a high heat, the more flames the better in this case, though be careful not to turn them into lumps of charcoal at the same time.
Experiment with different marinades and rubs for your meats, the barbecue is a wonderfully versatile cooking implement and the more you play around with flavours and smoking mixes, the more you will discover just what your barbecue can do to your food.
Churrasco Marinade Mix:
3 heads garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup onion, minced
2 teaspoons oregano
1 cup olive oil
Using a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic, salt and peppercorns into a paste. Mix the paste into the rest of the ingredients and whisk together.
Sit for 30 minutes.
Cover the meat with the marinade mix, wrap and store in the fridge overnight, though you can use it after five hours if you must.
Grill the marinated meat outdoors on the barbecue. (Make sure your coals are hot and white!). For the steak – you can cook them however you like it — from rare to well done. However, the rarer the meat, the more tender and flavourful!