I know it's hardly BBQ weather down here, but there is a massive fireworks championship on near me so the family and I are going up with a disposable BBQ and some lamb & pink pepper burgers. So much has been written about the best way to cook massive amounts of meat but you don't hear much about sides unless you're in America, where potato salad, pickles and the water used to make bread (I kid you not - Eat my Globe's Philly Cheese Steak) are religiously worshipped. And that's not including the covenants and cults that surround every self-respecting BBQ sauce Stateside - different spice mixes, moistening agents, alcohols, smoke levels... If you're confused, let Adam Perry-Lang and a good butcher solve your problems for you. It's all part of the joy of BBQ though - playing around with lots of different spices, cuts of meat, glazes, rubs, basting butters and the like. It's hardly going to be elegant, but the flavours that even a simple rub can give when you combine it with a smokebox and some indirect cooking are incredible. Go and try it, and don't be afraid of being a bit industrious and agricultural in making smokers or adapting home BBQ setups.
Right, BBQ propaganda over. Continental style BBQ - think lamb brochettes, steaks, marinated chicken joints and rosemary for kindling - is beautiful, on that we agree. Even better though is this - the perfect, catch-all salad that's equally at home doing things to a burger, yoghurt-marinated chicken, lamb brochettes or even some griddled veg.
RECIPE - FANTASTIC BBQ SALAD
DISCLAIMER: This is really easy. As in people who burn toffee can still make this.
Preheat your oven to 210 Celsius. Halve peppers, any colour (go on a pepper each) and lay them in a baking tray. Add a liberal splash of olive oil and some sea salt, then roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, keeping an eye on them. You want the blackened spots, smoky flavour and loads of sweetness peppers get when roasted.
Meanwhile, peel some red onions (one will do 2-3 people, size dependent) and top and tail. Cut down vertically through the core, then finely slice from the rounded edge towards your first cut. Separate your onion fronds into a bowl then pour over a touch of red wine vinegar, some olive oil and lemon juice. Toss it through the onion.
Take the peppers out of the oven when done and let them cool a bit. If the olive oil hasn't got any blackened bitter pieces in it, feel free to add some to your onion bowl. Go on - do it. Julienne your peppers, add to the bowl. Shred a fair bit of mint, cut some chives into batons and throw them in, as well as some torn parsley (tabbouleh style - it doesn't have to be small) Taste the dressing and add extras of anything if they're needed, then serve on a tray or plate.
Before subjecting an innocent trout to trial by smoke, bone it. Firstly, take the head off and gut it. Then fins off, cut around the fillets and pinbone it, leaving something fish-shaped and hollow. Cut further up and open the fish out along the backbone left in it - the photo shows what you should get: two fillets, pinboned, joined by the backbone of the fish and opened out flat. It doesn't have to be perfectly neat, just flat enough. Remove any membranes from the flesh and lay it out in a tray. Step 1 done.
Different to other types of smoking where the whole fish are trussed up and strung above the smoke for some time, the reason I do my fish this way is simple - I'm hot smoking, so want it to cook through ASAP, and I only have a roasting tray to work with. For maximum flavour, you want the maximum area for the smoke to touch. Finally, doing it this way means that it's so much easier to just take the fish straight off the rack, drain any juices and flake hot-smoked trout off the bone. Juicy, smoky, moist, sweet, savoury and with real depth, this is a total joy to eat, especially with a fresh-dressed salad of apple, shaved fennel and green herbs. There's room for something more sophisticated, but in cases like these I prefer to not screw around with it too much - simple outdoors methods of cooking like this give big flavours: you don't want to crowd the stage. Put one actor on it, give him a spotlight and that's all the audience need.
I started out in the kitchen when I was about 2. I can't remember for sure, but I know for a fact I was sitting on worktops with Mum and Papa well before I could walk. In a toddler's world of sponge cakes and baby food, I was already making my mark, using food colouring in batter and spreading pastry offcuts with jam. Apparently, I once went through a phase of refusing to eat any kind of cake unless it was lurid blue. I don't think much has changed: I still love being in a kitchen, I still play around with food and I still use pastry offcuts to make tiny jam roly-poly puddings. Often, I'll forget about them and only remember when the smell of burnt strawberry or apricot caramel reaches whatever corner of my bedroom I'm in. As we all do, I also forget that once jam goes in the oven, it becomes nuclear and burns fingers, mouth, tongue and throat as you eat it. We never learn...
By the time I was six or seven, my parents were happy enough to let me cook for them when they were busy - omelettes and pasta pomodoro con Chianti were staples of my repertoire. My omelettes are a lot better now, and my pasta pomodoro is no longer made with a stock cube and tomato puree, but I still learnt lessons back then. The effect and type of heat certain things need, the kind of cut I wanted for that veg, what herbs make straight-up omelettes something worthy of a Big Apple-style brunch. I genuinely think that it was my parents' tolerance and appreciation (well, at least they could put their feet up for a bit) and my capacity to sponge new information that makes me the cook I am today. Take thousands of meals and hours, almost unlimited access to every resource imaginable through books, social media, TV, radio and food festivals, victory in a regional cooking competition (balsamic and honey riff on lamb, loganberry crumble and evaporated milk custard. I was eight.) let that simmer for a few years, then add a desire to get serious, some big research, a whole new style of cooking, a year in a professional kitchen and liberal quantities of having to cook for myself, and that makes the hungry, asbestos-fingered, rare-in-the-middle, independent master of blade and fire I am today. There's still so many memories waiting to be made and so much more to learn, eat and share.
Merci, Papa, for being French. I am the last person you will hear argue that France has a better food culture than anywhere else, or better food or wine. But my family in France is the old-school, three course lunch with wine every day, bread on the table, recipes through generations stereotype everyone has. They have given me a love of great food both rustic and elegant, of coffee and liqueur after a five-hour lunch, of brioche for breakfast with homemade jam and most of all, they've given me heritage to die for. From patisserie woman Tata to indulgence and appreciation of my uncle Francois, my French heritage means that I can appreciate everything I eat for what it is. The simplest salad in summer is a crisp, refreshing and generously-dressed bowl of greenery and herbs, perfect with a fruity rosé. Winter suppers are well-seasoned terrines, fantastic soups and crusty bread, and a gateau of some kind. Every meal shared with others is an occasion: a chance to get together around a table, to eat and drink until we are full, and to then put the world to rights over coffee in the Hellem boules and some artisan chocolate. Food is a celebration, an occasion. Eat it. Love it. Live it.