Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
Here’s a question for you: what is barbecue sauce? And more importantly, what is it for?
Is it like barbecue-flavored snacks, in that it gives the flavor of barbecued food?
Well if it is, why put it on food that actually has been barbecued on a proper charcoal unit?
There seems to be some confusion about this, and because Bloke in the Kitchen is all about keeping things simple, let’s start with a basic point of view: when you cook food on a barbecue, you don’t need to then smother it with something to make it taste like it has been barbecued. That’s like going on a beach holiday and basking in the sun but using fake tan on your skin too. If you’re going to do that, you can save the air fare and just bronze yourself out of a bottle in the privacy of your chilly northern bathroom.
If you’re having a barbecue, by all means have a sauce or two available for those who want one, because burger joints have taught many people that no meal is complete without ketchup. If they want to engage in that practice, that’s up to them.
We had a teenager staying with us recently and I made Spaghetti Bolognese for us. She immediately stood up, went to the fridge, took out the ketchup and slathered it all over.
Well I’m sorry, but I didn’t take that very well. Okay, the Bolognese possibly didn’t merit words like “exquisite”, but it was pretty tasty, rich and juicy and it certainly didn’t need a squeeze of red colouring and sugar to make it edible.
But that’s another story. With a barbecue, anything goes, really, so there’s no harm in providing some gunge for those who automatically reach for it.
Make your own if you like: mix some tomato ketchup (yes, that) with mustard, Worcestershire sauce, honey and whatever else takes your fancy, and let those who are that way inclined gorge themselves on it.
Some people smear the meat with it before they cook it, but they are confusing it with a marinade, which we will come to in a minute. But if you do cover the food in sauce and then place it over the heat, you’re boiling and burning it. If you’re in a household where such sauces are seen as essential and you will be lynched if you don’t do it, try to get away with giving it a quick coating when it is almost cooked and ready to serve. That way everybody is happy.
However, if you are indisputably in charge (or if you can get away with it), just cook it as nature intended.
A marinade can help get some flavor deep inside a piece of meat, but that means a liquid, which can penetrate the stuff, not a slimy substance that stays on top.
For chicken, squeeze a couple of limes or lemons into a bowl and crush some garlic into it. If you have some lemongrass, you can add that and let it infuse (give up its flavor to the liquid), before removing the strands and steeping the chicken in it.
Even then, though, bear in mind that you will have given the chicken a new flavor, when it has a perfectly good one of its own, so unless you’re convinced it is better, maybe you should do half with the marinade and half without.
With sausages, marinades do not work. They have a plastic skin that will keep the flavor out. You need to buy tasty sausages, and there are plenty around, from the local butcher’s own creations to some fancy ones in the supermarket.
Burgers: well, they’re a piece of cake, aren’t they? And they really can benefit from some sauce.
Now, the serious meat. As mentioned last week, it might be tempting to add a touch of class to the meal by including some steaks, i.e. beef, but in fact it’s asking for trouble. Unless you get some pretty expensive stuff and you’re skilled at cooking it, it could well end up tough and dry. If you insist, however, you could use a marinade, but a better option is to rub it with some spices. Sprinkle on some paprika and a little chilli pepper, perhaps, and rub it in so it’s not just on the surface. And a knob of butter is always well received by a steak.
A better idea, though, is to use pork or lamb chops. They are far more cooperative, more forgiving. Make sure the pork ones are cooked through, because undercooked pork can be dangerous. Having taken care of that, you’ll find that chops do the trick of making it seem more like a proper meal than just a barbie, and they’re no problem. Throw them on, make sure they’re done, singe them a bit around the edges and Robert is your mother’s brother.
Next Saturday: fish, seafood and side dishes for barbecues