There’s no place like home to dine outdoors
IF the prospect of dining out in a restaurant stills feels daunting, or confusing, or just a logistical nightmare, then on some occasions maybe the best option is simply to stay at home and cook up something fancy for an al fresco dining experience of your own!
But let’s face it, after a year and a half of fancy restaurant takeaways and meal kit boxes, simply firing up the BBQ and putting a burger on it probably isn’t going to cut it anymore. It’s time to go next level, my friend, and for that you’re going to need some expert advice.
Luckily for us Corkonians, we have some amazing chefs who specialise in over-the-fire cookery, so I asked them for their top tips on cooking meat, fish, offal, vegetables and even fruits, using nothing but some smoking charcoal, for some flame-licked inspiration to really wow your dinner guests!
Harrison Sharpe, Head Chef, Elbow Lane Brew and Smokehouse, says learn to build a good fire and always choose quality over quantity…
1. Learn how to build a fire
First, and most important, use good wood. I don’t mean go into the forest and fell an oak tree, but a bag of kindling from the supermarket definitely won’t cut it either!
I recommend using a mix of kiln dried hardwood and lump charcoal. The hardwood will burn longer than most other fuel and provide you with that amazing smoky flavour, and charcoal will give consistent and even heat — the best of both worlds!
Use a grilling chimney to take the sting out of building that initial flame, then, when you have a good base, stack wood on the coals like a giant jenga tower. This provides airflow which is important for the life of the fire. The first stage is all about flame and heat, but then you need to tame it to cook with. Spread the wood and coals evenly on the bottom of the BBQ and let it build heat. Then push it all to once side to create two cooking zones: a hot section and a cooler section. Now you’re ready to control the heat for cooking.
2. Buy good quality meat
Buying high quality meat means going to a butcher. Cork has some great craft butchers that have worked their whole lives perfecting their craft and really want to provide you with the best quality meat they can.
Butchers have a wider range of cuts than the supermarket too, and I’d recommend going for lesser cuts. While that fillet looks tempting, it’s expensive and will dry out on the BBQ.
Look to South America, who are masters of cooking over open flame, and go for Picanha or Tri-Tip — incredibly flavourful and just as tender when cooked right.
Less is more! Choose quality over quantity — one large cut of meat, like a whole tri-tip or a deboned leg of lamb, and give that meat the time and attention it deserves.
3. Keep marinades simple
Stay away from marinading in sweet sauces with lots of sugar — the meat will just burn. My secret is to dissolve 50g of salt into 500ml of water and tie a bunch of rosemary, thyme, and a bay leaf to make a brush with some string and brush that onto the meat every few minutes. It’ll help with flair-ups and season everything beautifully!
4. Get the prep done early so you can enjoy yourself!
Make salads, sauces, and prep veg ahead of time so all you have to do when guests arrive are finishing touches.
Having people over for food shouldn’t be stressful, but about catching up with friends, good music, simple, delicious food, and a few nice ice-cold glasses of beer, because those are the little things that really make life worth living!
Aishling Moore, of Goldie Fish & Ale, says swap meat for local and seasonal fish and shellfish…
When barbecuing fish, I always recommend choosing whole oily fish like Mackerel or Red Mullet or, if you are lucky enough to get hold of some, fresh Sardines.
These oily fish also have a great depth of flavour, so as well as not sticking to the grill, their flavour really stands up to the smoke.
I also recommend cooking fish on the bone as it can be very forgiving if overcooked, which can happen grilling on a BBQ. The bones help keep the fish moist and greatly influence the flavour.
Always check the fish is cooked by holding a small pairing knife to the thinnest part of the fish for 10 seconds. If it’s warm it’s cooked.
Moisture on the skin of fish is the enemy of crispy skin as it will stick to the grill, so never ever wash fish with water.
Oysters cooked over coals are a true triumph and an excellent way of getting people to try oysters for the first time. Open the shell (known as ‘shucking’) and add a nob of garlic butter before grilling. Cook just until you see the oyster steam and shake within its own shell.
Monkfish is excellent cooked over coals — especially if marinaded overnight in yogurt and spices. This helps develop a nice skin on the outside and helps prevent the fish from sticking.
Slide chunks of marinaded monkfish onto skewers with pieces of pepper, onion, and courgette then cook on the grill, turning regularly.
Brian Murray, The Glass Curtain and BBQ pop up Birdsong in the City, says fruits and vegetables are transformed when cooked over coals!
You can literally cook anything over fire! Obviously, all the classic meats, fish and shellfish are great but there can be a lot more excitement and creativity with cooking fruits and veg over a wood fire or charcoal.
Chargrilled greens of any kind I love, just simply dressed with a little rapeseed oil, lemon and a little flaky sea salt are great.
What I have been really enjoying lately is grilling directly on the fire using a wire mesh grill basket, you could just use a little sieve for this.
We had the sweetest sugar snap peas from Kilbrack Farm that I just dressed with a little oil and seasoning and cooked directly on the fire in the grill basket, so the high blast of heat and smoke cooks the delicate peas in seconds and slightly chars and caramelises them.
Whole leeks thrown directly on the fire are great, the outside will blacken, and the inside will steam in its own juices, creating a delicately smoked and juicy leek.
You can just see little bubbles through the burnt outer layer indicating the tender leek steaming, then serve them up with a nice Romesco sauce of charred peppers and onions puréed with toasted almonds, olive oil, sherry vinegar and paprika.
Peaches are amazing grilled and put through salads with a nice buratta or Buffalo mozzarella. We’ve also cooked Bushby’s strawberries by putting them in the grilling baskets, (like the sugar snap peas), and grilled them directly on the coals.
You wouldn’t think you could grill something as delicate as a strawberry, but just a few seconds on the coal and they become super sweet, jammy with a slight smokiness, and they leak out a little juice almost like a grilled strawberry consommé.
We served this with a white chocolate mousse, but a yoghurt panna cotta would go great with it too!
John Relihan, Twe12ve Fires, says get up close and personal with offal!
A protégé of Jamie Oliver, and former Executive Head Chef of Holy Smoke, John is Ireland’s foremost master of cooking over smoke and fire. He is currently working on an exciting project with Smokin’ Soul called Twe12ve Fires, a series of over-the-fire outdoor masterclasses, the first scheduled for September 17.
John has always championed cooking offal and says its all about remembering that offal is also meat, incredibly tasty, supremely versatile, cheap, nutritious, and environmentally conscious with zero waste.
Check out John’s YouTube Channel www.youtube.com/JohnRelihan for videos on cooking offal.
Here’s some advice from him...
Approach cooking offal over fire the same way as you would everything else over fire: use good charcoal, and source the offal from your local butcher. I like to use lamb’s brains and tongues, chicken hearts, beef liver, heart and tongues, and I approach cooking each of these differently. Here’s how:
Beef Tongue: Place in a cast iron cooking pot and slow cook in water with lots of different vegetables and flavours: garlic, spices, herbs, onion, and cook until tender. Peel off the skin, slice it and grill it off over coals.
Beef Heart: Get your butcher to prepare the heart by removing sinew. Marinade overnight with olive oil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and lemon zest. Grill it like you would a steak — medium rare, sliced and serve with chips.
This is my favourite piece of offal! It has amazing vitamins and minerals, it’s good for you, its lean, and beautiful when cooked over the fire.
Chicken Hearts: Season the hearts with salt and pepper, skewer them, drizzle a bit of olive oil over, get them onto the grill, cook them medium to medium well. Delicious!
Lamb’s Tongue: Slow cook in a pot of broth over coals until tender, peel off the skin, add them back into the pot with a nice chicken broth, add some turnips and slow cook. When the turnips are nearly done, take some of the stock and reduce it down a little bit, add a bit of butter and some chopped parsley to make a sauce. Add salt and pepper. Slice the tongue and turnips and spoon over the sauce. Magical dish right there!
Lamb’s Brains: Get a pan really hot on the fire, add beef fat or any kind of lard, season the brain with salt and pepper, put it top side down into the pan until caramelised. Flip it, add a slice of bacon to the pan and a bit of butter. Baste the brain with the butter and add some capers.
Grill off a slice of bread and rub with garlic and lemon, place on a plate with the brain then bacon on top. Place the empty pan back on the coals again until really hot and deglaze with a bit of chicken stock to make a sauce. Pour this all over.
Beef Liver: Rub all over with a Jerk spice rub, pop it on the grill and cook medium rare. Slice it up to serve. Making use of spices is one way to change the flavour profile to have more than just the offal-y taste. A little bit of jerk seasoning jazzes everything up!