The faint waft of barbecued meat hangs in the air and the clink of bottles chime. The gentle hum of the long lazy evenings of al fresco dinning is upon us.
The remarkable thing about England is that we dispute on what to eat on a daily basis; No two houses will sit down for a similar meal.
However, as soon as the sun puts his hat on there is a collective national lust for a barbecue. Peculiar more because grilled meat, potato salad, and bread is heavy and therefore not conducive to a hot day!
No, some grilled white fish with some green beans and a piquant of salsa verde is far more appropriate.
Nevertheless the sun shines, the charcoals go up, and the chaps march to the off-license and the butchers. That reminiscent scene is repeated all along the high streets of London – a burly man dripping in afternoon sweat holds a slab of beer on his shoulder, a bag of meat in his hand, and a satisfied smirk on his face.
Even a burnt sausage, with just enough ketchup to revive it, tastes like a present from the gods to that man.
However a barbecue shouldn’t be difficult. The major issue with poor barbecues is that the funnest part of the event is often the men posturing around the hot coals with rapidly warming lagers – all experts, the Ramsay’s of the open-flame, prodding at meat with all the knowledge of a caveman.
And of course, there is a debate amongst the community – gas or coals, are you functional or a romantic? Essentially if one can start a felicitous fire then carry on but if smokey white coke is all one has to cook on, then indeed go gas.
Let them bicker, as it really doesn’t worry an old cove like me what appliance the food is cooked on as long as it is edible, no, of greater importance are the receptacles – the gadget de rigour is a wine glass clip. One hooks it onto the plate and then slips the wine glass on, enabling the drinker/eater to have a full plate and glass – stand and eat and even have a free arm to annunciate his waffling points.
Booze, always key at these events should be thought as a pairing; beer and red (Pinot noir), fizz and white (an English Riesling), and pimms with a rose.
I am content with all three combinations.
Food wise, I staunchly believe in the more the merrier. That is unless it is a bowl of green leaf salad that will be untouched or if it is an uncut cherry tomato that proves impossible to fork, and when it does it spurts all over your linen shirt.
Potato salad, chilli sweet corn, pasta salad or a French rice salad (not cous cous – this is not a health farm!), a vat of coleslaw, and potentially a few sides of jacket potatoes. One queer friend of mine likes to have hunks of pineapple in cottage cheese – rather him than me.
Burgers buns – spend a bit of money, as no one likes dissolved rolls in their hands.
The most important victuals are of course the viands – sausage, yes. Burger, yes, marinated chicken legs and thighs, yes. Steaks, yes. Lamb kofta, yes. slow cooked ribs that are flashed on the grill, why the hell not.
A fine list indeed but the key to cooking this hareem of protein is to move it around the grill and make sure it is all cooked low and slow.
A burnt sausage occurs only when an impatient barbecue technician singes the skin and greedily bites into the cold raw inside, thereby having to return it to the fire and making it less appetising than a wet kipper on a wet Wednesday.
I iterate, move the meats around and when they are done leave them to rest aside on a warm plate or, if you have an all singing all dancing barbecue, pop it on the resting rack.
Don’t forget to have a table overly stocked with condiments, sliced beef tomatoes, and baby gem lettuce.