The Darina Allen Column

Again this spring, fine weather has allowed great use of our outdoor spaces - Darina’s delighted to have the barbecue out again and to share her expertise: it’s all about temperature control…

Yippee, the BBQ is back out in the garden, always a brilliant moment but this year there’s the added sense of escapism…More than ever, we’re relishing the thought of cooking outdoors and maybe having a few socially distanced friends to share the giddy joyous experience of eating al fresco. We’ve really been counting the days until we can fire up the BBQ and get a sizzle going. So let’s jump right in…

The choice of barbecues now available in mesmerising, but no need to feel deprived if you don’t have all manner of fancy kit. Cooking over fire is as old as time and definitely adds an extra ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the flavour. A circle of stone or a simple brick frame to balance a rack or pan will get you started. If you can source a piece of flat iron, you’ve got a plancha to widen your cooking options. Practice makes perfect with any cooking over fire or even on a gas barbecue.

When the maestro of open-fire cooking from Argentina, Francis Mallmann, did a guest chef BBQ at Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2016, he cooked over fire in five different ways.
1. A grate over live coals – parilla.
2. On a spit
3. Plancha - an iron plate, could be flat or with edges.
4. Asador – a metal cross to cook a whole lamb or goat.
5. Hung chickens over a fire on metals or wire chains.

Lighting a charcoal barbecue is never as easy as gas of course but it’s all part of the fun. Wood and charcoal impart lots more flavour and I particularly love apple wood.

The key to successful grilling is heat control, learning how to build a good fire and judging the temperature is even more crucial to success than the type or brand of grill or barbecue, you buy or the type of fuel you opt for. Create two zones on the grate – a cooler 120?C and a hotter 175?C section – it’s not difficult to do this – pile the glowing hot coals higher in one area, this will enable you to create and cook at two different temperatures.

You’ll need to cook large pieces of meat more slowly. It’s all about temperature control - you might want to start something on a high heat to sear the outside to get a delicious crisp crust and then transfer onto lower heat to cook through or perhaps grill ingredients requiring different temperatures simultaneously. If you are using a gas grill, just turn one side up and the other down. On a BBQ, if the fire gets too hot, reduce the heat by spreading out the coals and raising the grate if that’s an option.

The Tools: (In a box)
Long-handled tongs
Long metal spatulas are top of the list must have’s –
Flat metal skewers for kebabs
A hinged grill rack
2 wire cake racks for turning whole fish or small fragile items easily
A natural bristle basting brush
Bamboo skewers
Instant read thermometer
Stiff wire brush for cleaning the grill

There’s something for everyone’s pocket and style nowadays from disposable foil trays available in supermarkets and petrol stations to a stylish, state of the art, range of gas barbecues that are pretty much a second kitchen with extra cooking rings – I still love to cook a few sausages by the sea, there’s something about cooking outdoors that makes everything taste a zillion times better. Virtually anything can be cooked on the grill or barbie. A covered BBQ hugely widens the options and adds an extra smoky kick to the food. I even cook pizza, roast a chicken or turkey…once again, practice makes perfect.

Butchers and supermarkets are offering a growing selection of ready to grill options but for the most part, the marinades are commercially made and very often contain a whole range of ‘unnatural’ ingredients that are either too sweet or too sharp. A good olive oil, a squirt of freshly squeezed lemon juice, flaky sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper and a few fresh spices or spice rubs will add magic to your cooking. Scatter some fresh herbs over the food just before serving, to add brightness.

Resist the temptation to have numerous meats. One joint of meat, or a side of fish or a variety of veg and some complimentary sauces and salads complete the feast.

Here are a couple of my favourite recipes.

Lamb, Pork or Chicken Satay

Cubes of tender meat (pork, chicken, beef or lamb) are marinated in spices, then threaded onto bamboo satay sticks and cooked on the barbecue or under the grill. Satay is especially versatile - serve as a starter with drinks, or as a light meal with rice and salad. Kids love them. Shrimps work really well in this recipe too.
Makes 24 approx.

450g (1lb) lean lamb leg or chicken breast or thigh meat (boned and skinned) or organic pork fillet
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, or 1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or red wine vinegar
To cook: 24-26 bamboo satay sticks or metal skewers (soak satay sticks in water 30 minutes before)
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
To Serve: 225g (8oz) Satay Sauce (see below)
lettuce leaves and flat breads

Cut the meat into 5mm thick strips and marinate with all the ingredients for at least 1 hour. Thread onto the soaked bamboo satay sticks so the end is covered. Allow to drain on a wire rack. Heat a barbecue or pan-grill until very hot.
Brush each satay with a little oil and chargrill turning frequently until just cooked. Serve hot with Satay Sauce (see 000), lettuce leaves and flat breads.

Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce
This satay sauce recipe, given to me by Eric Treuille of 'Books for Cooks' in London, can be made up to 3 days in advance. Makes 500ml (18fl oz)

225g (8oz) peanut butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons runny honey
juice of 1 lemon
125ml (4½ fl oz) water (or coconut milk)

To prepare: Place all listed ingredients in a food-processor or blender, pulse until smooth. Cover and leave for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavours to blend. Serve chilled or at room temperature. (Thin with water or coconut milk if too thick).


Halloumi Skewers

The squeaky Halloumi cheese from Cyprus, is brilliant for grilling and summer salads. Irish versions to look out for include BallyHubbock Farm, Toonsbridge Dairy, Ballinrostig and The Proper Dairy Company. (See Hot Tips below).

500g Halloumi
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
thyme, rosemary or oregano

Heat the barbecue or a pan-grill. If the halloumi is excessively salty, soak in cold water overnight or for at least an hour; discard water. Dry well, with kitchen paper.
Cut the cheese into 4 long pieces and thread into flat metal skewers or soaked satay sticks. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary, thyme or some dried wild oregano and some freshly cracked pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes each side until golden and hot through.
Serve with smoky tomato sauce, chimichurri or aji verde Peruvian green sauce.


Tomahawk Steak

A seriously macho cut, tomahawk steak is a ‘bone-in’ ribeye cut from the 6th -12th rib with the bone left intact so it resembles a tomahawk. It’s sometimes called a cowboy steak. It can weigh between 30-45 ounces (850g-1.275kg), and will be close to 2 inches thick. It’s perfect for BBQ because the bone, usually 6-8 inches long, creates a handle which makes it easy to turn over on the BBQ.

1 tomahawk steak
flaky sea salt
freshly cracked pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Make sure the steak is at room temperature. Heat the barbecue or an iron pan grill on a high heat. Score the fat side. Season the flesh generously with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Grill first on the fat side on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes to render out the fat. Then sear the flesh sides on a high heat, turning only once when a crust has formed. Reduce the heat to medium or move to a cooler part of the grill. Cook for 7-8 minutes on one side then 6-7 minutes on the other for medium-rare (check the inner temperature, it should read 57°C/135°F).
Allow to rest on a warm surface for 8-10 minutes before carving to allow the juices to redistribute themselves.

Slice the rested steak off the rib bone. Cut into slices across the grain and serve with the sauce and accompaniment of your choice – a creamy gratin dauphinoise, roast onions, wild garlic butter and salt, smoked paprika butter, anchovy and chervil butter, honey whole mustard butter….

• Halloumi
Irish halloumi producers include BallyHubbock Farm (@ballyhubbockfarm – Instagram), Toonsbridge Dairy, Ballinrostig Halloumi - and my newest discovery, The Proper Dairy Company, based in Clonmel. Omar Haqqi, with his colleagues Ayman al Zou’bi from Jordan and Anna Elkifal from Greece, makes a traditional halloumi. It is made with cow, sheep and goat milk and is available from Sheridans Cheesemongers counters in Dunnes Stores. The project has been supported by Bord Bia and presents an opportunity for other sheep and goat milk producers to enlarge their herds. For other
Shine’s Wild Irish Tuna
My pantry shelves always include a variety of tins of canned fish – not just sardines in olive oil which I adore but anchovies, also canned mackerel and ventresca tuna. Keep an eye out for the Irish brand Shines Seafood, a family business based in the fishing port of Killybegs, Co Donegal. While the fish is processed in Spain, John and Marianne Shine and their daughter Ciara work with local Irish fishers to source sustainable fish including wild albacore tuna during the short season from August to September.
Tomahawk Steak
Many local butchers will cut and prepare a tomahawk steak for your barbecue and some, eg Higgins Family Butchers offer it online – and check out Peter Hannon (‘Meat Peter’) of The Meat Merchant in Moira, Co Down for pretty irresistible, succulent meat from their own herd.


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