No matter where I go in Britain I hear the same tales of woe regarding the Great British weather and how it can often ruin that quintessential past time, the Bank Holiday weekend BBQ!
I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about how to make cooking outside easier for people and as we approach the August long weekend, it occurs to me that it’s the BBQ equivalent of Christmas! Everyone is on high alert for the sign of a rain shower that could dampen spirits, food companies up and down the country are readying themselves for the deluge of last minute shoppers looking for something quick they can throw on the grill, and there’s the added pressure felt by anyone who’s volunteered to host that soon their home will be inundated with friends and family who are only too happy to help, but really you just want them to get out from under your feet and leave you to it. In this blog I have a few recipe suggestions and insider menu planning tricks that can really take the stress out of catering for a large group and allow you to enjoy delicious and nutritious food with close friends and family.
Ditch the Grill!
This may sound odd but forget for a moment what you know about hosting a typical BBQ and ditch the 27 different items you would normally insist can be cooked all on the same heat source! Instead go for a show stopper, a centre-piece, something with a bit of flair and opt for a roast instead! Something like a Whiskey Smoked Leg of Lamb will feed 12 comfortably, and more besides if you bulk out the salads and vegetables. You will be sitting pretty at the table, able to enjoy your guests and their company, rather than stinking of hot fat from standing over the grill as usual.
Roasting will mean your BBQ is working long before the first guests arrive, and aside from the initial preparation, once it’s on the BBQ you’re largely free to do other things; like organise the family to tidy the garden and getting the drinks on ice!
Colourful Sides Packed with Flavour
We are in prime salad and vegetable season and we can literally eat the rainbow, in-terms of the colours available. Roasting vegetables for salads that are served at room temperature is a great way to put food on the table without needing to do everything last minute. A trick I picked up working at the Olympics in 2012 is to prepare the individual items of a salad in advance, keep them store separately in the fridge, and assemble in the 30 minutes before you put them on the table. The problem with making salads ahead is that they don’t last, but by keeping the components separate until you’re ready to assemble means they don’t spoil and you’re able to get more of the work done ahead of time.
I will roast off butternut squash segments, beetroot, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, new potatoes, asparagus, etc sometimes 2 days before, and once cooled they go into zip-seal food bags that stay in the fridge until I’m ready to assemble. Assembling these side dishes is a job that was literally made for those people who always say, “if there’s anything you’d like me to do, just let me know!”
Take 2 or 3 vegetables, add in some fresh salad leaves, a soft herb leaf or some toasted seeds or nuts and you have a salad that will knock peoples socks off with it’s vibrant appearance, depth of flavour, and sheer simplicity! One of my favourite salads at the moment consists of roasted beetroot with the skins left on and segmented, roasted baby new potatoes seasoned and coated with a little cold pressed rapeseed oil and allowed to cool, a bag of fresh rocket and some sunflower seeds that have been dry fried until nutty brown on the outside. The beets and potatoes can be kept chilled until the hour before serving and are best brought to room temperature for maximum flavour.
Fish for Starters
With the main course taken care of you can now focus on what to serve your guests as their starter. Again I’m going to keep it simple by focusing on creating one stand-out dish like these Moules Marinere, rather than trying to cook multiple items that all cook at different times. If you have guests who aren’t too keen on fish the substitute for delicious chicken skewers, but the thing I love about seafood and shellfish is how quickly it cooks!
Something like a 125g salmon portion will cook on an indirect heat at 180-200c in less than 10 minutes. With the main roast off the barbecue you’re free to choose if you leave the heat on a split roasting setup, or if you bring the fuel together for a larger grilling area. Perhaps scallops are your thing so you would preheat a small skillet pan or griddle to make sure you have beautifully even caramelisation on both sides, or if you cook up some tiger prawns with a chilli, garlic, lime marinade then preheat a large cast iron pot for 10-15 minutes and cook those prawn in less than 3-4 minutes, tops! Serve with a simple green salad, or for the tiger prawns, some crusty bread with fresh butter and you have a starter to die for!
Whether you have a charcoal, gas or pellet BBQ, you’ve cooked the main items on the barbecue so you have a heat that is crying out to be used! Grab some peaches, plums or pineapple from the fruit bowl, and compose this little thing of beauty, the grilled fruit sundae with mint yoghurt and granola! Sprinkle the fruit pieces with a little caster sugar and ground cinnamon and allow the mix to dissolve and soak into the fruit for 5 minutes before grilling on both sides just until it softens and creates lines of flavourful caramelisation. Serve with a homemade mint yoghurt made with natural yoghurt, choppped fresh mint and a dash of runny honey, or alternatively with a scoop of ice cream and a sprinkle of granola for crunch.
Something happens when we see a glimmer of sunshine on a bank holiday weekend that sends us into a frenzy! We rush out to the shops and grab pretty much one of anything we can see, and it’s almost like we’re stocking up for the last supper. Below are a few pointers for a stress-free alfresco dining experience this weekend that will see you spend time with the people you invite, rather than having a one way conversation with your grill!
- Stock up on charcoal from a BBQ specialist store to ensure a good quality fuel that will burn well and not give your food an unpleasant flavour.
- Make sure you have enough gas in the tank if using a gas grill.
- Design a menu that has a quick cook starter, a roast as the centre-piece for the main course and salads and vegetable dishes that can be prepared ahead of time, and a quick grilled fruit dessert to make the most of the heat in your grill.
- Allow your roast to rest for as long as it cooks for. Wrap in foil and 2-3 t-towels for insulation to give the best finish, and to also give you time to get everything else together.
- Take the chill off the roast by fetching it from the fridge an hour or so before it’s due to go on the BBQ to cook. This will allow it to cook slightly quicker as well as more evenly.
- Preheat the BBQ to make sure you have the right temperature before adding any roast as the temperature on the thermometer will drop even though you haven’t altered the amount of heat in the cook-box. Preheating will give you confidence the roast is cooking at the correct temperature.
- Maintain the fire of your charcoal grill by drip feeding unlit coals (100% natural fuel only) periodically to extend the burn time until you have everything cooked to your satisfaction!
- Keep your digital temperature probe handy so you don’t overcook the roast, and to give you a sense of how long it will take.
Cooking for large numbers on a BBQ combines 2 skills that don’t get tested much in daily life; cooking outside on the BBQ, and cooking on scale for large numbers. Give yourself more than a fighting chance by following the pointers above and I think you’ll be surprised how effortless it really can be. And remember, the secret to a great cookout is great ingredients that aren’t messed with too much and cooked well. Less really is more!
Have a great weekend everyone!