Backyard barbecues

Backyard barbecues

The barbecue season is now in full swing. Flames flicker after dark in backyards, on balconies and on beaches everywhere and smoky aromas permeate the air.

Because we got tired with waiting nearly an hour for charcoal to heat up, we went back to a gas barbecue – switch it on and you’re ready to go in five minutes, but cleaning it is a real (and messy) chore. I was looking longingly at a €30 grill in the supermarket the other day. Just a simple job where you only have to empty out the ashes, wipe over the grill rack and you’re done. So for a lot of things we now heat an old griddle pan on ours until its smoking hot and cook on that. Not so messy, but just as effective.

I’m sure there will still be plenty of blackened sausages, overcooked hamburgers and steaks as tough as shoe leather coming off those flickering grills, overseen by the chef with a can of Cisk in one hand and spatula in the other, but when you’re having fun, nobody seems to mind – it’s all part of the summer ritual.

Most butchers, especially in the larger supermarkets, have a bewildering array of marinated meats for barbecues. You can get chicken thighs, breasts and drumsticks, kebabs, steaks, hamburgers, lamb burgers, meatballs and chops to name just a few, some of which are soaked in the most lurid coloured marinades. I’m sure they are very good and great if you’re short on time, but I prefer to make my own marinades. I cover meat or chicken with cling film and leave it in the fridge to soak in the marinade for at least an hour or anything up to 24 hours.

Here are some recipes, all tried and trusted, but probably more suitable for the backyard rather than the beach. And the usual word of warning about marinades – brush them on generously during cooking, but be sure to discard any that’s leftover. If you want to use the marinade as a sauce, either make some fresh to serve with the cooked food or boil the leftovers for several minutes.

This will be my last contribution for The Sunday Times of Malta. So, dear reader, it’s been a pleasure to share my recipes with you for the past 14 years, but now I have to say goodbye, best wishes and happy cooking!

Barbecued salmon with parma ham and avocado dressing

(Serves 2)

4 pieces of skinless salmon fillet, about 150 to 175g each
Ground black pepper
4 large basil leaves
4 slices Parma ham
1 small ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp sour cream, crème fraîche or plain yoghurt
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Olive oil

In winter I often bake salmon wrapped in Parma ham so I thought I’d give it a try on the barbecue and it worked a dream. The only thing is to make sure you use broader pieces of salmon and not long thin ones as they are much easier to turn.

Sprinkle each piece of salmon with a grind of black pepper, top with a basil leaf, wrap in a slice of Parma ham, then cover and chill in the fridge until ready to cook.

Peel, stone and roughly chop the avocado, put it into a small bowl and squeeze over the lime juice. Stir in the mayo, sour cream and parsley, then season to taste with a pinch of sugar and a grind of black pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and chill until needed.

Fire up the ‘barbie’ and brush the salmon with olive oil. Cook the fish for about four minutes on each side, brushing with more oil as necessary and carefully turning once, using a broad fish slice or spatula. Serve on warm plates with the dressing. We like this with a nice oily bean salad.

Five-spice pork fillet

(Serves 4)

1 large pork fillet, about 600g
Small can pineapple chunks in natural juice
6 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, thinly sliced lengthways
1 red and 1 green pepper, cored and sliced
250ml chicken stock
1 tbsp cornflour mixed with water

You can of course cook the fillet whole, turning it frequently, but be careful not to overcook it, as it can go from ‘done’ to ‘dry’ in the blink of an eye!

Keep it warm while you make the sauce.

Trim the fillet of all fat and silvery skin or ask your butcher to do it for you. Then cut it into once-centimetre slices. Drain the pineapple and reserve the juice. In a large bowl, mix together three tablespoons of the pineapple juice, the soy sauce, ketchup, sugar, ginger, garlic and five-spice powder. Add the pork and give it a good stir so that it’s all well coated. Cover with cling film and chill for at least an hour.

When nearly ready to cook, heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion and peppers until they are soft. Drain the marinade from the meat and stir it into the onion and peppers, together with the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, add enough of the cornflour mixture to thicken, then simmer for two minutes. Stir in the drained pineapple, cover and keep warm.

Barbecue the pork over hot coals for about two to three minutes each side, then divide it between warm plates, spoon the sauce over and serve with noodles or rice.

Lemon and garlic chicken

(Serves 4)

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp soft light brown sugar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and ground black pepper
4 chicken breast halves
1 onion
2 yellow peppers

In a large bowl whisk together the first five ingredients, then season well with salt and pepper. Cut the chicken into two-centimetre cubes and put them into the marinade. Give it all a good stir, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Soak some wooden skewers in water for about half an hour. Cut the onion in half across its middle, then cut each half into quarters and separate into pieces. Core and deseed the peppers and cut them into two-centimetre pieces. Thread the chicken on to the skewers, interspersing them with pieces of onion and pepper.

Cook the skewers over hot coals, turning frequently and basting with the marinade until the chicken is cooked through. These are nice served with sweet potatoes baked in their jackets and a simple green salad.

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