Nothing sharpens the appetite quite like the tantalizing aroma of charcoal-grilled food, wafting through the evening air.
Barbecues are great way of entertaining informally, as you take advantage of warm summer nights. You can either be in charge of the cooking yourself, or let your guests loses with skewers of meat and vegetables and get them to cook for themselves.
Setting Up The Barbecue
Always make sure a charcoal barbecue has adequate ventilation. Never be tempted to set one up in the garage, porch or tent if the weather looks doubtful. Te fumes given off are harmful. so position the barbecue where air can circulate freely around it, away from the house and any dry vegetation. Never leave the fire unattended.
Choose compressed charcoal briquettes rather than the cheaper charcoal, chips, which burn away more quickly. The briquettes give a longer lasting fire with less smoke, and so are more suitable for party catering. When you start the fire use enough charcoal to last all through cooking, as adding extra later on will lower the temperature. Pile the charcoal into a pyramid and light with a proprietary lighter. Do not be tempted to use paraffin, petrol or mentholated spirits-be patient and preserves if the charcoal refuses to light at the first attempt. The coals will need around 40 minutes to get hot enough to cook over, so light the fire in good time. When the charcoal pile is flaring strongly, spread the briquettes into a layer, so that you end up with evenly-distributed embers. Wait until the charcoal becomes a pile of glowing embers, then place the grid over the fire to get hot a few minutes before you begin to barbecue.
For a higher temperature during cooking, position the grid nearer the embers, or rake them together into a heap. Move the grid away, or spread the coals out if the food begins to burn.
During cooking tilt the grid from time to time, so that fat runs off at the edge of the ire rather than dripping into it which can cause flaring.
Choosing The Food
If money is no object then steaks and chops are the obvious choice and very good they are too, gorgeously brown on the outside juicy and pink inside. It is possible to barbecue cheaper cuts successfully but this is really to quick a method of cooking to allow time for tough meat to tenderize. That said you can achieve a fair amount with marinades and meat tenderizers, but in general it pays off to buy the meat you can afford.
Marinades have an important role to play in barbecues they add flavour as well as helping to tenderize the meat. The acid ingredients (wine, lemon, juice or vinegar) do the tenderizing while the oily ones (melted butter or oil) help to keep lean meats moist and succulent as they cook. Marinading is a simple process that just needs a little forward planning. Place the meat in a chill for several hours, turning the meat from time to time to let the flavour soak in thoroughly. An hour or so before cooking drain off the marinade, which can be used to baste the meat when grilling and let the meat come to room temperature.
Another easy way of adding moisture, this time to the cooked food, is with savoury butters. Garlic, herbs, lemon juice or soft blue cheese can all be beaten into softened butter, which should be chilled until just before it is wanted, then allowed to melt mouthwateringly over the cooked meat.
If you want to use a mixture of meats and vegetables, the most convenient way to cook them is on skewers, as kebabs. Choose flat-bladed skewers that are long enough to handle easily when they are on the barbecue. Run the skewer through a piece of fat before you thread on the ingredients. so that they slide off more easily. Cubes of beat pork, lamb or chicken, rolled bacon rashers, chunks of sausage, can all be skewered and alternated with tomato, mushrooms, baby onions, squares of green pepper, chunks of pineapple, olives the list is as long as you care to make it.
Don't forget about fish when planning a barbecue most types grill well ad oily ones like mackerel will come up with a particularly good flavour.
The extras are an important part of a good barbecue. A nicely piquant, spicy barbecue sauce will be popular and you will also need easy vegetables like salads and jacket potatoes. Lay on plenty of pita bread or French bread and butter, plus some good cheese and fresh fruit for pudding. Eating out-of-doors always seems to make people thirsty. so you might decide to offer chilled beer lager or cider as well as, or even instead of a choice of red or white wines.
CHICKEN AND PRUNE KEBABS
4 chicken breast portions
1 x 440 g (15 1/2 oz) can prunes
90g (3 1/2 oz) blanched almonds
15ml (1 tbsp) Worcestershire sauce
15 ml (1 tbsp) vegetable oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) cider vinegar
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Remove any skin and bone from the chicken and bat out each portion thinly between sheets of non-stick paper. Cut each one into three and roll up.
Drain the prunes reserving the juice. Make a slit in each prune, remove the stone and stuff with the almonds.
Thread the chicken rolls and prunes on to four skewers. Stir the Worcester-shire sauce oil vinegar and seasonings into the reserved juice. Spoon over the kebabs. Leave to marinate for 2 hours.
Lift the kebabs out the marinade place on the barbecue and grill for 15-20 minutes, basting with the juice and turning several times. Serve the kebabs sprinkled with parsley to garnish.
VEAL AND HAM KEBABS
4 veal escalope total weight about 350g (12 oz)
4 thin slice cooked ham
1/2 green pepper
45 ml (3 level tsp) French mustard
24 stuffed green olives
150ml (1/4 pint) natural yogurt or soured cream
30ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice
60 ml (4 tbsp) vegetable oil
salt and pepper
Beat out the escalope thinly between sheets of non-stick paper and divide each one into four. Cut each slice of ham into four and cut the pepper into eight pieces. Spread the mustard over the pieces of escalope and roll up with a piece of ham inside. Tread the veal rolls, green pepper and olives on to four long skewers. seasonings together and spoon over the kebabs. Leave to marinate for 2 hours.
Lift the kebabs out of the marinade place on the barbecue and grill for 15-20 minutes. Turn and baste with the juices.
TOSSED ITALIAN SALAD
2 medium red peppers
2 medium green peppers
450g (1lb) courgettes
1 small onion skinned
4 large firm tomatoes skinned
salt and pepper
90 ml (6 tbsp) olive oil
45ml (3 tbsp) garlic vinegar
few fresh chives
Seed and thinly slice the peppers. Top and tail and slice the courgettes. Finely chop the onion. Separately blanch these three ingredients in fast boiling salted water the peppers for 3 minutes until the centers look transparent and the onion for 1 minute. Drain and cool quickly in cold water. Pat dry on absorbent paper.
Quarter the tomatoes and combine with the blanched vegetables in serving bowl. Sprinkle well with pepper.
To make the dressing place the oil, vinegar and seasonings in a bowl or screw-topped jar and whisk or shake together until blended. Add scissor-snipped chives and pour over salad. Toss lightly and chill before serving.
MACKEREL WITH CIDER AND ROSEMARY
4 medium mackerel
150 ml (1/4 pint) dry cider
30ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh rosemary or 10 ml (2 level tsp) dried
salt and pepper
Clean the mackerel and cut off their heads. Wash well under cold running water and drain in a colander. Make four or five deep diagonal slashes on either side of each fish.
Place the fish side by side in a shallow dish and spoon over the cider. Sprinkle the herbs and seasonings over the top, cover and leave to marinate in a cool place for 2-3 hours turning once.
Arrange the fish on a barbecue and brush with a little of the marinade. Grill for about 8 minutes on each side brushing frequently with the marinade.
Heat the remaining marinade in a small saucepan and spoon over the fish for serving,