It's been a slow start to the season, but there's no fighting with the date. It's here. It's Labour Weekend. Holiday time. Tools down, or tools up, depending on how
you look at it. The best thing about barbecuing is that you are outdoors, which somehow invigorates, lets you rise free of your winter trappings of cosy armchair
comfort. It gets you moving again!
'Barbecue' doesn't have to mean MEAT, or same-old same-old. What it should stand for is delicious food. But it's not a miracle cooker. It will no more improve crappy
sausages than a regular frying pan or skillet. It won't turn stewing steak into fork-tender morsels. That said, it does add flavour to everything that is cooked upon it.
Barbecue to me also means convenience. Since I first tentatively turned the gas bottle on under the hulking stainless steel beast we purchased about three years
ago, speed cooking with ease has become synonymous with barbecuing. Turn the knob, watch the gas ignite, let the grill or hot plate (solid griddle) heat for a
bit, then cook. To clean, splash with a cup of cold water and mop with a paper towel. No frying pan to scrub, no walls to wipe, no splatters on the floor to mop up. I love it.
Using the barbecue for meals other than dinner is big in New Zealand - we do the best Sunday morning sizzle-up I've come across: tomatoes, mushrooms, sweet corn
fritters, fried red onions, garlic bread, bruschetta, fresh fish, smoked fish hash, breakfast sausages, eggs any which way, sizzling bacon, hash browns, bubble-and-squeak,
bananas in their skins, hotcakes, flapjacks and pancakes,
all get to star. Of course, Americans, you need to get a hot plate - a solid heavy piece of metal on which food
is seared and cooked - to cook many of these things. New barbecues in the US are now coming with hot plates, or you can purchase one separately. (See the back pages of
Sizzle Sensational Barbecue Food for more information.)
There's something about the smell of food cooking outside which piques the interest, gets the juices flowing and induces hunger. Barbecues are like a magnet, people cluster
around pretending to warm themselves or offering to help even when it is obvious no help is needed. What is it that keeps us there? The sizzling, the glorious smells and
the promise of something gorgeous to come, is the answer! I reckon it's a great place to start any gathering, even if it's a tad nippy to stay outside for long. Sizzle up
a few prawns or scallops, or grill a
few rounds of bruschetta (grilled bread rubbed with a cut clove of garlic and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and topped with
whatever takes your fancy) and you'll soon have the party firing.
I often rave about NZ lamb. It is mild, even sweet-tasting (not rank like it is in some countries) and the meat is very fine grained. My recipe for
grilled lamb cutlets with
mustard and thyme is superbly simple and simply superb. I once served it to the late great Maestro Luciano Pavarotti at a country estate and horse stud just out of Auckland.
He was here to sing, but his passion for horses and NZ's reputation for quality horse breeding saw him visiting a horse stud in search of a young filly to take back to Italy.
And I was the lucky person chosen to cook for him (the full story is recounted in my semi-autobiographical book
Dancing On My Table).
The cutlets are delicious with grilled tomatoes and a
potato salad. A family meal of which we never tire – replace the potato salad with crusty bread or bruschetta and change
out the tomatoes for a salad from the garden to keep the idea fresh. I've also included a recipe for
roasted red pepper and pineapple salad which goes magnificently with pork
and fish dishes cooked on the barbecue.
Whatever you cook this weekend, fingers crossed for good summery weather around the country as we fire up the barbecues and get sizzling!
For more foodie talk, I'll be on National Radio with Jim Mora at 3.05pm on Fresh Fast Food
this Friday 24th October and again November 7th, and I'll be in Dunedin 6th November
at Bell Pepper Blues for a Taste magazine reader dinner.
And, finally if you haven't heard, Sizzle Sensational Barbecue Food won another award in Frankfurt last week – the Best of the Best at the Gourmand Awards.