If there is one thing that occupies my mind in the build up to the Birthday BBQ, it is the question of what meat to cook. Sure, the Sherry Trifle is a nice way to round off the meal but the limelight remains firmly focussed on the meat, and rightly so.
In years gone by, I have tried to find a theme.
The year I discovered Turner and George’s Black Label burgers (are there better?), I bought a couple of dozen and cooked them to order, served with brioche buns, rudimentary salad and a home-made scotch bonnet relish for those keen for a challenge. It was a nice idea and was certainly appreciated but added extra effort and took time having to cook the burgers in batches of 4 or 6 according to each guest’s specification.
Another year, inspired by a trip to Blacklock, baby back ribs and lamb chops took centre-stage. The cooking was a lot easier, but the chops – simply marinated in olive oil, garlic and rosemary, seared on the hot grill and served pink in the middle – were not the success I thought they would be. Annoyingly, I’d planned to pinch Blacklock’s brilliant idea of piling freshly cooked lamb chops on top of garlic brushed flatbreads to soak up all that lovely juice, but in the rush of things I completely forgot. Oh, what could have been…
Last year, I served various types of meat on skewers, encouraged by the popularity of a sticky honey and soy sauce based marinade for chicken pieces that the kids had been lapping up in the preceding months. Lamb koftes and halloumi and vegetable kebabs accompanied the sticky skewers. Surprisingly, the vegetable kebabs went down very well, the chicken less so.
How to cook the perfect…
This year I was bereft of inspiration, so instead of looking for some sort of commonality, I decided to play it safe and simply compiled a menu of the biggest hits from years gone by. Based on nothing more scientific than my memory of compliments from regular attendees over the years, the two dishes that were first on the list were easily identified – pork ribs and lamb koftes.
Both recipes were from the same source – Felicity Cloake‘s “How to cook the perfect…“ series on the Guardian of which I am a big fan. Over the years, I have tried quite a few of her recipes and they are always reliable. I particularly like the way that she strips away the unnecessary, making for relatively simple but effective recipes.
The recipe for the Pork Ribs is a case in point. If I want to make the marinade I don’t actually need to buy any additional ingredients and can take them all from the store cupboard. The 5 listed ingredients are everyday ones unless, of course, you fall into the “hate it” marmite camp. Speaking of which, if you are that way disinclined, don’t let the inclusion of marmite put you off. Not for the first time, one of my friends professed to not being able to stand the stuff in between mouthfuls of his second helping.
For whatever reason my butcher doesn’t often have baby back ribs in any real quantity, so I used pork belly ribs and cooked 6 racks, three in each tray, trebling the marinade quantities. They required a bit longer cooking to get to that floppy stage – about 3 hours 15 minutes with the last 30 minutes uncovered – and a bit more careful basting to make sure that each rack got a damn good covering.
The Lamb Koftes required a bit more effort, grating onions (not the best job) and toasting pine nuts being the additional steps required before combining with the other simple ingredients. They lived up to their top billing status and despite cooking three times the amount, there were none left.
To accompany, I had two types of sausage from the butcher – a pork and chilli one being a particular favourite of mine at the moment – and halloumi and vegetable kebabs. Unfortunately, due to the inclement weather and the fact that the only confirmed vegetarian had bailed out earlier in the day, the kebabs remained uncooked but made for a very pleasant supper during the next week.
The end result was no less appreciated by the attendees than in previous years. And the party concluded as it usually does, a clutch of old friends drinking and chatting as the night wore on. In retrospect, I suspect I may have been guilty of trying too hard. My lesson was learned – keep it simple and give the people what they want.