Barbecue time – no excuse needed

Spring is springing, thank goodness, I find the winter is getting colder.

Its at times like this, writing about the foods we cook outdoors, that you begin to realise how great it is to live in a country with as much cultural diversity as we have. The joy of exploration of the dozens of cuisines now in this country, the pleasure at discovering something new.

The masters of outdoor cooking seem to be, the America’s both North and South and Asia, as well as the countries of the Mediterranean on all shores have some excellence in this area. Many western countries, Australia included, often fall a little behind in this area. Have you been to an ozzie bbq lately?

There are two ways to consider sauce/marinades/rubs, one is to add flavour, the second is to help with tenderising.

The America’s have a way with meats, think the Asado of Argentina and Brazil, think the BBQ’s of the South of the USA and the way that this form of cooking, very foreign to us since we seldom use smoking in cooking, has such a hold all the way through the USA. On a personal note I confess to not being a great lover of smoked meats, light smoking, so long as it is NOT by some damn awful machine or a liquid smoke, can be good. Cooking entirely in smoke, with the possible exception of foods like fish, I simply find too aggressive. Some countries have a tradition of smoking foods, Japan being one. Smoking was also used extensively in the old world as a means to preserve foods.

USA.. There are two very specific styles of meat BBQ cooking, one that uses a smoker, the other not. The essential difference is that for cooked, non smoked foods, the food is always marinaded before cooking, basted with the marinade as it cooks, basted again when cooking is complete. This will result in meats that look very glazed, tender and often with a sweet finish. (This is an interesting thing, because of the amount of sugar in the marinade, a higher quantity of salt is added, in the end perhaps not great for health) The smoke cooked meats are not usually subjected to so much marinade, but are instead cooked for much longer times until a very tender stage is reached and then reglazed with the original marinade. (Note: there are numerous types of smokers ranging from cold to hot) The longer cooked larger pieces of meat and poultry are most often found using the dry rub method. Rubs are occasionally treated as state secrets and handed down from father to son with the recipe never revealed. There are some popular rubs that are usually named after the cities or areas in the USA where they originated.

Rubs are not something that we have used a lot in Australia, we have only started using marinades of any kind in the past 10 to 15 years, prior to that when meats were cooked outdoors, they were traditionally cooked until they resembled charcoal and were often considered inedible (Charcoal is bitter and yet I must confess that if I am offered a piece of BBQ’d steak, then I want it crispy charcoaled on the outside and bloody inside. Lamb chops that are cooked on a hot bbq where the tails get all crispy are delicious… confession is good for the soul!). The next step was the introduction of indoor alfresco style grills mostly based on gas and volcanic rock and these encouraged the use of basic marinades, mind you its fair to say that Volcanic Rock did become unattractive after a few cooks, I can’t remember if it was possible to wash them. I remember for example a boned leg of lamb that was ‘marinaded’ in plum sauce and then cooked slowly over an indoor bar grill. As I recall it was delicious, but not what we now think of as barbecue. It was the advent of the migration of people from the Mediterranean and Asia that awakened our interest and showed us the pleasures of foods cooked with care using even simple marinades like a good olive oil with herbs and perhaps garlic. At much the same time, Cajun foods took many peoples interest in the restaurant area and the first of the American influences began. Cajun cooking was all about the use of a dry rub, which was often then mixed with pounded onion. It is only in the last couple of years that people have begun to explore the world of rubs and realised that the spices, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper found in so many rubs and often teamed with a drop or two of lemon juice, can be so enticing.

Asians have long known that meats that have been bathed and allowed to both absorb flavour and tenderise (Pawpaw or Papaya and Kiwi Fruit, one is said to be able to tenderise up to 3 kilo of meat… are great tenderises of meats, as is Nashi pears, used a lot in the cooking of BBQ meats in Korea) and have developed the techniques according to the regions and countries, with occasional boundary hopping that sees for example Chinese techniques in Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Singaporean foods. It is historically interesting that the influence of countries like Japan and Korea have not much ventured beyond the boundaries of their own lands. One of the most delicious of these is Char Siu Sauce, a method for cooking pork that produces meat that is both tender (it is often belly pork or one of the fillets) and delicious. It is regarded as a barbecue or roasted food because of the way it is cooked in the extremely hot Chinese style oven which produces heat similar to a tandoor oven of India, the difference is that the foods being cooked in the Chinese ovens are suspended with hooks and usually do not touch the sides of the oven, in India and Middle East, foods cooked in the Tandoor are often cooked on the sides of the oven (breads for example) and the meats and similar are cooked on long metal skewers that are allowed to stand on the base of the oven. This style of cooking uses enormous heat, the result is the food is cooked fast, retains moisture and becomes deeply coloured. It is possible to replicate this in domestic ovens, but time must be allowed for the ovens to heat up.

One of my favourite all time lunch orders in Asian restaurants both here and in Asia is a mixed plate of pork, Char Siu and Barbecued pork belly with crispy skin. (ok ok… and a plate of stir fried vegetables) The Crispy Skin Pork is rubbed with dry spices and cooked at the same extremely high temperature resulting in richly tasting pork with great crackle. When you get this with Char Siu pork, its somehow delights the senses. Mind you it is also wise to order a plate of stir fried vegetables to counter the excess of meat.

Vietnamese have a rich tradition of foods that are first marinaded or basted. Then subjected to cooking. It is not common for meats to be cooked over an open flame, nor is an oven a common cooking method (except in the North where Chinese influences are stronger) but an oven like method is created by lidding the wok and trapping the heat. Thai food is the same, in that cuisine much emphasis is placed on the proper balance of sweet, salt, sour along with ingredients to lift taste. Malaysian foods are a strong mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences, in the north where peninsular Malaysia meets Thailand, the influence is Muslim Thai. Grilling on open flame is much loved amongst the Malays and my all time favourite is the way they cook fish. Most Asians are content with small fires which do not require much fuel.

The point is that Asia does have a vibrant tradition of using marinades and spice rubs to enhance and tenderise!

Cavalier of me not to briefly discuss the alfresco cooking of the Mediterranean. The simple truth is that it has been done for thousands of years and is much loved as the primary way of enjoying meats, poultry and fish, It is also fact that the use of marinades has been part of the cuisine for all that time. Simple things like lemon juice, great olive oil, wild herbs have all been used to work their magic. Its very strange that we have developed away from that form of cooking in Australia, preferring the cooking range or stove as the common way. I suspect that in many cases this has also become the reality in most Mediterranean countries where the constraints of time and living, simply do not allow for the lighting of wood or charcoal fires. The cooking of meats done in the old way is some thing that has been relegated to special occasions.

When Elizabeth David researched her first book on foods from the Mediterranean, in Italy she could only find one spice blend, this was made from Juniper Berries, Nutmeg, Pepper and was used mostly on grilled or roasted meats from the Northern parts where the pines produced the berries. Prior to that, reaching back into the deeper history of countries of the Mediterranean, meats were often cooked with a lot of things like pepper (from India and North Africa) and the extensive use of fermented fish was in evidence. This was often accompanied by sour wines (the precursor of vinegar) and the result was a very pungent mix indeed. Honey featured widely in these marinades. This sort of food was the province of the rich, most average people’s diet was very heavily based on grains. and pulses. Very little of this style of cooking remains today as the basic tastes were simply way beyond what we now accept as good taste. However that said, there are echo’s and these can be found in the extensive use of fermented fish (read anchovy) in things like fish sauce from South East Asia.

Spain has given us Adobo and with the Spanish conquests in the new world, this recipe has followed. It is now found in many countries and seems as much loved today as it was years back. It is essentially a spice blend that is added to meats before cooking. There is a note here, the word Adobo was also given to a dish that is native to the Philippines and in fact has nothing to do with this spice mix. The Filipino dish is meat stewed in (coconut) vinegar with spices. The Spanish love pork and so the majority of meat cooked alfresco in Spain is just that.

The Middle Eastern countries are experts on cooking meats, poultry and fish on the BBQ, wars have been started and fought over techniques. The Lebanese could argue with the Moroccans and even the Libyans when it comes to this form of cooking, but in the end, it has to be said that most of the countries of the region have great foods to enjoy with this method of cooking, many use the spice blends of their region as flavour base. Baharat is an example. There are many spice blends of the region, most if not all can be used to add taste to meats with the simple addition of some oil and an acid, usually lemon juice.

Peter Watson …RECIPE SHEET

Char Siu Sauce/Marinade

Char Siu is a marinade that is used specifically for Pork. I have tried it on other meats, lamb is good.

The cuts used most are the belly and the eye fillet. In the case of the belly, the skin is removed and the belly is cut into strips about 2.5 cm wide and the length of the belly, in the case of the fillet, any connective tissues are cleaned off.

I like to try and marinade for a minimum of 24 hours and up to 48. Char Siu is a sticky, flavour filled sauce that needs time to penetrate the meat.

Use a zip lock bag and place the meats into the bag and a generous amount of the marinade, make sure that all surfaces of the meat are well coated and as much of the air as possible removed, place in the refrigerator for 22 hours or 46 hours, bringing the meat out of the refrigerator for two hours before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.

Three choices for cooking… oven, grill or barbecue. In each case it is essential that the appliance be turned to maximum heat (domestic ovens take 20+ minutes to get hot). The grill should also be well heated as should the barbecue. Do not throw away the marinade from the bag, it will be used to baste after cooking.

For the oven… place a drip tray under a shelf that is at the hottest part of the oven, make sure the shelf is clean, place the pork on the shelf and close the door. It is hard to give a definitive cooking time, after 25/30 minutes you may want to test the meat, the eye fillet will be cooked, the belly pork not and will likely need another 25/30 minutes. Do NOT over cook, the meat should be sticky and brown on the outside and moist in the middle.

For the grill… you will need an exceptional grill that can be well heated. Place the meats on the oven tray over a drip tray and cook until done… turn as needed.

For the barbecue… traditionally this would be done in a Chinese style oven/barbecue (looks like a tandoor oven) with the meats suspended and the oven super hot…this has the effect of cooking the meat very quickly, leaving it moist and deliciously browned. The same method is used for Ducks.

Which ever way you go, please remember to baste the pork (or lamb if you have tried it) with the marinade/sauce after cooking.

Serve with rice and stir fried vegetables.

Barbecue Sauce/Marinade.

Owing much to the USA this is typical of the type of sauce that can be used two ways.

Way 1… is to use it as a marinade for up to 24 hours before cooking. This is purely to add flavour, it is not designed to tenderise.

Meat choice… in some countries, the meat chosen will be a large roast size weighing up to four or five kilos. Alternatively this can be used on steak sized or even on sates. The best technique is to have the meat in a zip lock bag and be well rubbed with the sauce, then allowed to rest in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Remove from the bag, cook as desired.

Way 2… the meat you choose can be rubbed with a dry rub, marinaded in any way that you desire, even simply given a nice rub with some good olive oil, salt and pepper. It is then cooked according to your choice and the sauce is used to paint onto the cooked meat prior to serving.

Rib Rubs.

We are somewhat inexperienced in cooking this cut of meat. Yet it is cheap and often delicious meat that will be well worth learning the techniques.

Wending your way through the choice of rib is a little fraught and you will need to decide if you are going to have the ribs running as ribs or be cross cut. They can be called long ribs, short ribs. The third way is if you are buying beef ribs for an Asado (South American) barbeque in which case it will usually be different.. for more information please research.

Two ways to use the rub… dry or wet, the classic way is dry. The method is very simple, rub the meat with the dry rubs and allow to stand for up to 24 hours (your guessed it… in a zip lock bag), it is not usual when cooking meats with dry rubs, to cook on high heat as this will burn the spices and turn them very bitter. If the heat is a high temperature, then be sure to baste the ribs with some oil to ensure that they seal and retain moisture. The oil will crisp them.

The second way is to mix the rub in with some oil and lemon juice (or even some wine… you are looking for anything acidic) and rub this into the meat, and again in that endless supply of zip lock bags, allow the meat to stand for 24 hours.

Ribs are traditionally cooked on an open flamed barbeque and this does seem to bring out the best flavour in them. Cook as per your normal barbeque method and serve with salads. And provide plenty of serviettes.

For more information

~ by peterwatson on September 11, 2012.

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