Bloke in the Kitchen. Barbecuing meat

kitchen

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?

barb 4
The source of the magic: smouldering charcoal is the king of cooking fuels

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.

barb 3
Shop-bought or homemade, who really needs it?

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.

barb 5
That’s a pretty civilised plate of food: chops, vegetables, potatoes, and not a plastic bottle in sight

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.

barb 2
The barbie chef’s friend, the humble sausage

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.

barb 1
And just to show you’re not a complete moron: some pieces of meat

Next Saturday: fish, seafood and side dishes for barbecues

 

Bloke in the Kitchen. Getting a charcoal barbecue going

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

 

barbie 1
Small is beautiful. A barbecue like this doesn’t cost much but if you know what you’re doing, it can bring a lot of fun

When we eat outdoors, it often involves a barbecue, which can be great fun, but many people struggle to get the thing going when it’s a proper charcoal-fired one. Gas is easy, but charcoal? It’s a bit of an art.

Actually, it’s an art the same as making boiled rice is an art, which is to say it’s not difficult at all. You’ve just got to understand a couple of things.

First, you need a bag of charcoal, preferably fresh and dry.

Secondly you need a packet of firelighters.

And matches – preferably big ones.

COWBOY TIP 1

Start early. Half an hour before you need to start cooking, your first coals should be smouldering.

So, break a firelighter brick out of the block and put it in the middle of the barbecue.  Then start making a pyramid of charcoal over it, but leave a bit of room for it to catch. Fire needs air. Try to build yourself a little access hole or tunnel. A dozen pieces of charcoal should be enough to start with – enough for the flame to get to work on, but not too much, or you’ll suffocate it.

The idea is to get something going and build on it once it’s lit.

So, light a match and poke it through the hole you’ve left so the firelighter catches. It should lick up around the closest coals and in a minute or two they will start to burn a bit.

COWBOY TIP 2

If you don’t have any firelighters, soak a piece of paper kitchen towel in cooking oil and use that in the same way. It won’t burn for as long, but  if you use several you should get it going.

barbie 3
There’s too much flame going on here. The coals need to be sedate and white.

Charcoal doesn’t burn like crazy: once it gets going it just smoulders, and that’s what you want. If there is a lot of smoke and flame, it’s not ready. You have to let the gases burn off, because they smell – not like wood but like petrol, and you don’t want that permeating your food. It may flare up briefly when fat drips onto the coals, but that’s different.

If you have a larger barbecue you can build two or three pyramids and gradually they will spread into each other so you have one whole hot mass.

The charcoal should be white when you start cooking: that doesn’t mean it’s nearly spent (finished), it’s just the  surface, but it means the gases are not horrible like they were at the start. When the coals look peaceful and old, like Meryl Streep and Sidney Poitier playing grandparents, that’s when they’re ready.

Now, the food. And please note: this is not for the perfectionist.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS ALERT

I think part of the reason women who normally do the bulk of the cooking hand this over to their man is because it’s not the smooth, orderly process they are accustomed to. It’s a bit more like pirates cooking on a beach or cowboys around a camp fire. If that analogy doesn’t reflect the dynamics in your relationship, forgive me, but it’s how the situation often is in my experience. If in your household the man is the one who likes to take things slow and easy, and the woman is the one more likely to do it off the cuff, on a wing and a prayer, that’s just how it is. Similarly, if you are same-sex partners, you will do it how you do it.

Can we carry on now? Thank you.

barbie 2
Looks like there’s some steak involved here. Good luck with that.

The cooking instructions for barbecues are the very essence of Bloke in the Kitchen: approximate. You don’t know exactly how hot the coals are or the distance between them and the metal grill the food is on, so  you have to keep having a look. Get a good pair of metal tongs and remember, you can’t turn the heat down on a charcoal barbie: if something is cooking too fast, all you can do is move it out of the centre, to the less scorching area around the edges.  And the pieces that start round the edge will probably have to go nearer the middle at some point. You have to keep picking things up, turning them over, and moving them around.

If you’re barbecuing in the dark, or if you start in the daylight but you’re still going when the light has gone, you need to have some source of illumination so you can assess the food. Crucially, you need to be able to see how pink the meat is, because chicken and pork particularly need to be cooked through and you only know that if the blood has gone.

If you can’t rig up an electric light or a camping gas lantern, use a nice big torch.

As for the stuff you use, sausages and chicken wings work well; steaks can be hit-and-miss, tough and yet raw, or burnt, dry and unappetizing.

It’s better to sacrifice your Michelin stars for the evening and just knock out something basic and tasty, if unsophisticated. Burgers rather than entrecote.

But that’s enough for now. Whack a few sausages on the barbie and keep it simple.

We’ll look at the food in more detail next Saturday.

 

Bloke in the Kitchen. Young Lovers chicken

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Here’s a great, simple, throw-it-in-the-oven recipe that’s hearty enough for the depths of winter if you’re living somewhere cold, but is equally enjoyable in a hot country.

The recipe was given to me by a friend who is a typical Bloke in the Kitchen: he’s a busy working man, divorced with three kids whom he cooks for from time to time, but mostly it’s just him and maybe a friend or two. Likes cooking but doesn’t want to be in the kitchen all day.

He didn’t invent this dish, but he gave me his own take on it and I’m doing my own take on his take. You do it in a roasting dish deep enough to take a bit of gravy.

INGREDIENTS

Chicken legs

Dry cider (or dry white wine)

Mustard

Potatoes

Vegetables (whatever you like)

METHOD

Put the chicken legs in the roasting dish and prepare as if you were actually roasting a chicken. Season with salt and pepper and Worcestershire sauce.

Roast on medium for an hour, until they are getting a tan and looking succulent.

chicken gravy
Errm, this isn’t actually it, bit it should look something like this

Remove the dish from the oven and start turning it into something other than a dry, roasted chicken. Splosh in half a bottle of dry cider or white wine and stir to get the good stuff off the pan. Add a chicken stock cube, then a big dollop of mustard. Dijon is best, or something else French, with grains if you can find it. You’re not looking for the nose-running harshness of hot English mustard (although you can do it that way if you like).

Mix a couple of tablespoons of flour in a cup of water (this is to thicken the gravy) and pour that in.

Bang it back in the oven for an hour or so.

Mash some potatoes, cook the broccoli, green beans or whatever.

Serve with as much or as little of the lovely gravy as you like. The mashed potatoes and the gravy will melt into each other like young lovers in a holiday cabin by the beach.

 

Bloke in the Kitchen. Chicken leftovers curry

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

This is not so much a recipe as a summary of the whole Bloke in the Kitchen philosophy. Nobody is telling you what to do – it’s just a few suggestions and some encouragement. It’s the football manager saying, “It’s not the World Cup Final. Just go out there and enjoy yourself”.

Preparation time: 10 minutes max.

Cooking time: from 30 minutes

What is a curry?

The word ‘curry’ is now applied to just about any dish that uses the kinds of spices found in Indian food (all over the sub-continent, in fact, plus other places). There is something called a ‘curry leaf’ which has a spicy flavor, but essentially a curry is what you want it to be.

There are countless actual recipes, most of them variations of variations on a theme, but what we’re looking at here is making the most of the roast chicken you had yesterday – just by throwing a few spices at it. If you cooked the chicken yourself, good for you. If someone more skilled cooked it for you, at least you’re doing your bit by using what’s left, instead of throwing it away.

It may even be the debris from a takeaway; it doesn’t matter. You’re avoiding waste, saving money, and it’s going to taste good.

THE VERY VERY BASIC VERSION

Use curry powder. This is a mixture of spices that tastes like… curry powder. It doesn’t make for a particular dish, just generic curry. There is nothing wrong with this, and you’ll find it served in restaurants all over the world, but it’s the lazy, non-creative way.

However, if that’s what you want to do, here’s how.

spices
It’s not magic – it’s just cooking

METHOD

Fry some chopped onions and garlic (add this after the onions and be careful not to burn it). Add your chicken, vegetables or whatever and sprinkle curry powder into the mixture. What you’re really doing is making a kind of stew and currying it up. So you’ll need your main ingredients and then chuck in whatever you feel like.

If you rub the chicken with the curry powder first you’ll give the actual meat the flavor, rather than just the sauce. Then add some liquid: water and a stock cube would be the basic answer, but you can use some wine, a little beer or a can of tomatoes. Just remember: you get out what you put in, so make sure it’s good stuff. With wine, if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. If it’s horrible it will stay horrible.

Some vegetables will contribute to the flavor and break down to add to the consistency.

Non-hot peppers (red, orange, yellow or green) go well in a curry. A few leftover Brussels sprouts would do – but not too many. Peas don’t really work, in my opinion – but that’s just my opinion.

Roast potatoes in a curry are fantastic.

Lentils are a very suitable ingredient. There are separate lentil dishes (called dal), but you can put them into the main dish. Red split lentils (they’re orange, actually) will do the job nicely. Just make sure there is plenty of liquid in there, because they’re going to absorb some, and put them in early enough – give them at least 20 minutes to soften. If you’re going to leave it cooking for an hour, so much the better. But keep checking it and add more liquid if it’s getting dry.

Cook your curry slowly in a pan on the stove top – just get it bubbling slightly and keep it that way.

So:

  1. Fry some onions and garlic.
  2. Throw in some lentils and water and cook them until they fall apart.
  3. Put the cooked chicken in and sprinkle curry powder over it.
  4. Add some vegetables.Keep tasting it and adding water, wine, Worcestershire sauce, chilli powder etc. until it tastes as you want it to.
chicken curry
Looks good – and only you know what’s actually in it

USING YOUR OWN SPICES RATHER THAN CURRY POWDER

Start with some powdered cumin and coriander, then tweak it with ginger, chilli or jalapeno (that’s a type of chilli pepper), some sort of spicy sauce, maybe a little mustard, a spoonful of Marmite, a squeeze of lemon… do it gradually and keep tasting.

Be creative and make it yours.

If you play it by ear, according to what’s in the fridge and the cupboards, it may never be exactly the same twice, but it will always be tasty and interesting.