I’m still at the stage (age?) where my pokey backyard isn’t quite big enough to entertain the masses (unless sitting on an up-turned bucket with the view of a car park is your idea of a fun shindig). My parents, on the other hand, have a lovely terrace, big garden and a first-class barbecue, so I always find myself sweet talking them whenever I see the little sun icon pop up on my phone’s weather app. They love it really, though, as they know that in return for having my hungry mates around, they’ll get some scrummy leftovers (that’s if they decide to make themselves scarce).
Without sounding like a royal snob, in recent years I’ve found that a burger in a bun, a cheap sausage and a dollop of coleslaw just isn’t enough for me (although I do have a continuing love affair with coleslaw). And this year, I’ve cranked it up another notch. The barbecue was hosed down this week (another clause in the Ts & Cs for taking over my parents’ place), and this is what featured on my menu:
Beer can chicken
No, it’s not my Jamaican accent for bacon chicken – this is actually a can of beer stuffed into a chicken. Extremely popular with our friends stateside, but yet to utterly convince us Brits, it is a lot of fun to create, and is certainly a showstopper. But more than that, it tastes delicious – succulent, juicy and barbecuey (yes, that’s an adjective). I followed a trusty Jamie Oliver recipe from his book ‘Jamie’s America’, which told me how to create a gorgeous spice rub (one that you can also massage into all sorts of other meats for the barbie): fennel and cumin seeds, smoked paprika, brown sugar, chilli and oil. After glugging some of the beer so the can was half full (it’s a hard life!), place the chicken so it looks like it’s sitting on the can (not very elegant!), then strategically position the bird on the bars of your barbecue and cook for around an hour and a half. The steam from the can of beer cooks the inside of the chicken, which is why it ends up so juicy – and utterly moreish.
If you want to try another kind of showstopper, this is a guaranteed winner. We all know that the masters of the barbecue tongs live down under, so I chose a recipe from Sydney-based restaurateur Ross Dobson, author of book ‘King of the Grill’ to help me with something I’ve always wanted to try: whole-baked salmon. Always opt for fresh, advises Ross, even though the cheaper frozen varieties may be tempting. It usually works out as between £10 and £12 per kilo and, while spending £35 on a 3kg whole salmon might seem extravagant, it will feed the masses – with plenty left over for salads and pasta dishes in the subsequent days, post-barbie. It is also much cheaper, per gram, than buying individual salmon steaks. Sear the fish and smother with a mix of spring onions, parsley, coriander, mint, chilli, lemon juice, salt, oil and lemon slices. Ross recommends wetting the newspaper to stop it from burning on the hotplate, and it creates a steamy environment for the fish to cook in. The result is a fragrant parcel, the contents of which will knock the socks off your ravenous guests.
There’s absolutely no reason not to give your summer veggies the barbecue treatment, too; ooh, those beautiful criss-crossy black lines with their smoky, charred taste. For this, I turned to none other than veg expert Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his ‘River Cottage Veg Everyday’ recipe. Hugh says to vary the vegetables as you see fit, so I decided on three of my faves: aubergine, courgette and fennel. The fennel was the particular highlight here, imparting a sweet but subtle aniseed flavour, complemented by the squeeze of lemon juice, handful of finely chopped thyme and drizzle of fruity olive oil.
Tomato and feta salad
Let’s not forget how important the accompanying salad is when putting together your smorgasbord of delights; you don’t want to let down your efforts by opening up a bag of wilting leaves and throwing in a bowl at the last minute. I saw the vibrant picture of Anna Jones’ ‘lemon-roasted feta with traffic-light tomatoes’ in her book ‘A Modern Way to Eat’ and just had to make it. I’d never even thought about roasting feta before, but it really does give it, as Anna describes, “an unexpectedly wonderful milky wobbly curd inside and a crisped golden outside.” I’m guessing I could have done this on the barbie too, but there was no room at the inn. After sprinkling the feta with bashed coriander seeds, lemon zest, pepper and olive oil and roasting for the best part of half an hour, I chopped up a variety of different cherry tomatoes and added to the bowl with lemon juice, mint, salt, olive oil and more lemon zest, then crumbled the feta on top. As I predicted, it was a big hit.
Top your feast off with bottles of chilled cider or a carafe of rosé and some homemade elderflower lemonade for the kids, and you’re good to go.
So, do you have any tips for finger-licking BBQ crowd pleasers?
Toni Waterfall – Cookery, Food & Drink A mum with a food-loving family and a part-time pescatarian lifestyle, I’m always searching for delicious and practical ideas to try in the kitchen. My all-time favourite chef is Gordon Ramsay, but I’ve never made a bad meal using a Jamie Oliver recipe. Spaghetti bolognaise is the go-to meal in my household, but I also enjoy cooking curries from scratch – especially seafood ones. I always say that balance and seasoning are crucial elements of getting a dish right. I’m constantly thinking ahead to the next meal and am an impulsive, daily supermarket shopper, as opposed to a weekly bulk buyer.