Hands up: who doesn’t like a great British barbecue? When I think about us Brits’ enthusiasm for grilling, I get a pang of emotion. Can you think of another style of cooking that our nation so feverishly embraces? I don’t see many people vying to make soup or casserole with the same gusto as firing up a barbecue and charring copious amounts of meat and veg for family and friends. People love it. The social aspect is part of it, as is the ritual involved – beer and wine always taste better when consumed while cooking over a hot grill – and the fact it results in instant satisfaction: it’s the complete package. But most of all, it’s fun.
Over the past few years, we have upped our game when it comes to the outdoor grill and the popularity of cooking over charcoal has risen dramatically. Gone are the days when grilling meant sausages: people are way more adventurous with what they barbecue. The welcome resurrection of local butchers and fishmongers has given us access to better ingredients, and chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver have demonstrated how easy it is to achieve great results with a little imagination.
Try these recipes for size. I designed them to be quick and easy with as little preparation as possible: minimal stress, maximum enjoyment. And although they all taste and look different, they each follow a similar formula of salty, sweet and acidic which, to my mind, is what makes great barbecue.
Quick tip: Not everything needs to be cooked at a ferociously hot temperature. So wait for your flames to die down, then make a big pile of charcoal on one side of the barbecue. This provides a range of heat across the grill from a high heat to cool. I work from left to right starting hot and setting things aside to rest over the cooler part: a few minutes rest can be the difference between a good steak and a great steak.
Charred lamb chops, turmeric yoghurt and pickled chillies
Lamb is my favourite – there’s so much flavour in the meat and all that highly prized fat and offal. I defy anyone to resist a pile of charred lamb chops. This recipe works just as well with leg or neck steaks. You’ll need to prep this the day before you eat it …
12 lamb chops
For the marinade
2 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp ground turmeric
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
450g plain yoghurt
For the pickled chillies
4 tsp sugar
100 red wine or rice wine vinegar
For the turmeric yoghurt
200ml plain yoghurt
2-3 garlic cloves, finely grated
Juice of 1 lime
1½ tsp turmeric
1 Combine the ingredients for the yoghurt and refrigerate till needed
2 Now, make the pickled chillies. Mix the sugar with the vinegar in a bowl. Char the chillies on the grill till blistered and blackened. Allow to cool a little, chop up and plonk (including the seeds) into the sweetened vinegar.
3 Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, add the lamb chops and stir to coat completely. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.
4 When you are ready to barbecue, prepare the grill. Lamb chops – especially gorgeously plump ones – will flare up over the coals when the fat starts to render. I like a hint of this on my chops, but too much can impart a bitterness. So your barbecue needs to be relatively hot to get a decent char on the chops. Before grilling, wipe off any excess marinade, salt the chops and put on the hotter side of the grill. Resist the urge to turn them immediately: instead, leave them until they have a little char, which will reduce the risk of sticking. Turn the chops and repeat on the other side. When charred on both sides, turn again, placing them over a cooler part of the grill, keep turning now and then until all your chops are done.
5 Now, cooking times will vary depending on your chops’ thickness and size, so it’s hard to give you precise timings. The best approach is to prod the eye of the meat with a clean finger. If it feels flaccid and raw, it needs a few more turns. Thin chops will cook with just a few turns over a high heat. Thicker, larger chops will require longer over the coals in the cooler parts, so they have a chance to cook through. For medium rare, the meat should feel firm, but have softness to the touch: once the chops have gotten over the shock of being grilled and allowed to rest they will relax further. Then they are ready to serve.
6 To serve, pile your chops on to a big platter, scatter over the pickled chillies over the top, along with a little pickling juice. Serve with the turmeric yoghurt.
Split aubergine and ricotta
To go alongside, I’ve chosen ricotta for its fresh, milk-fat qualities (which work so well with the herbs and sumac), but you can use any cheese you like.
A sprinkling of sumac
50g pumpkin and sunflower seeds, toasted
A couple of handfuls of mixed mint, parsley and tarragon
1 Put the aubergines over a medium heat on the barbecue – you want them to cook slowly. They will need turning and a bit of char will add to the flavour at the end, but avoid burning them. They will start to sag slightly as the inside cooks: roughly 20-30 minutes for an average size aubergine. Have a feel with your fingers. Does it seem cooked in the middle? If so, gently split the skin and expose the flesh inside, taking care not to turn the whole thing inside out. Season with sea salt and lay split-side down over a slightly hotter area of the grill. Once the inside has a pleasing colour, it’s done.
2 Arrange the pieces split-side up in a bowl, sprinkle some sumac on top and dollop on some ricotta, then scatter the seeds and herbs over everything. Finally, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper.
Grilled chicken livers with pomegranate
Chicken livers are totally underrated. Grill them over charcoal or wood and you can really get the best out of them. The range of heat on the grill really comes into play here. As with the lamb chops, you want to start off on the hot side of the grill and end on the cooler one. The salad component goes damn well with any meat, really: pork, lamb, beef, offal, venison …
800g chicken livers
1 tbsp vegetable oil
6 medium onions, peeled and halved through the root
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
1 large pomegranate
1 Lift each liver on to a double layer of kitchen towel to soak up any juices and avoid them sticking to the grill. Transfer the livers into a big mixing bowl with 1 tbsp vegetable oil and toss to coat. Hold two bamboo skewers about 1cm apart in one hand and load the skewers with 5-6 chicken livers each. Refrigerate until needed.
2 When you are ready to start barbecuing, lightly oil and season the flat side of each onion, then set them flat-side down over the hot part of your grill. When charred, turn over and leave to finish cooking on the cooler side of the grill.
3 Meanwhile, retrieve the livers from the fridge and place them over the hot area of the grill. Give them a chance to colour before moving, to avoid them sticking. When they have pleasing char marks, turn them over and cook on the other side. As with the lamb, if the livers feel very soft they need a bit more heat to cook through: the firmer the livers, the more done they are. Just a gentle temperature will do now, to get the heat all the way through the livers, allowing them to rest too.
4 When your livers are close to being done and the onions are blackened and soft, mix the parsley together with the pomegranate seeds and a glug of olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt. Arrange your onions and salad on a plate then stack the skewers alongside. Finish with a generous drizzle of pomegranate molasses.