VIDEO: A masterclass in the art of the summer barbecue
When the sun appears, you can guarantee many a barbecue will be dusted down from the shed and the fridge will stocked up with sausages and burgers.
For the slightly more adventurous of us, ribs and chicken breasts might be prepared for throwing on the heat, but what about fruit Pavlova or a Guinness cake?
I kid you not. I was gleefully tucking into a barbecued meringue, cooked to perfection by expert Richard Holden.
This was of course after I had successfully aided in cooking a tomato and thyme-marinated chicken and a flatiron steak outdoors during a barbecue masterclass held at John Whaite’s Kitchen Cookery School in Wrightington.
Thankfully I was blessed with a warm and sunny day - perfect for the kind of cooking activity associated with summer weather.
I admit I was not the obvious candidate to attend the masterclass - having never cooked on a barbecue before - unless you count the disposables ones we used in the park during my student days.
My first task was to prepare a pea and bean salad to go with our main meal. This was fairly straight forward, once I had figured out how to blanche the peas and beans.
But the meaty task - excuse the pun - was to marinate the chicken breasts and the flatiron steak ready for the barbecue. Once that was done in the calm confines of the professional kitchen, it was time to wander outside and test out our barbecuing skills.
Luckily we had a helping hand, as Richard had diligently lit the charcoal barbecues on our arrival using lighter cubes and a match. He contained the heat with a chimney starter.
He also showed us a handy trick to stop meat sticking on the grill by wiping it with a half chopped onion, soaked in oil. My self-discipline was tested as we were told not to lift the lid to take a peek, as this delays cooking.
Instead, after a reasonable amount of time and when prompted by Richard, we lifted the lid to turn the chicken over. He told us if the meat doesn’t stick to the grill and there were golden caramelised lines underneath, it was ready to turn.
The lid is then placed back on, with another anxious wait. A quick peek is allowed, as long as the lid is not fully lifted.
The big task however, was to check the meat was fully cooked. I admit, I tend to just cut it in half, but we were told that was a big no no, as it makes the meat dry.
Instead, he showed us the Thermapen, a digital thermometer. By sticking the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, you can see if the meat is safe to eat. We found our chicken varying in temperatures, so we had to stab it a few times to find the coolest spot.
Once the temperature had reached 75C, the chicken was ready to plate up. Next was the flat iron steak, which took hardly any time at all. The best temperature for that was a mere 55C.
After all that hard work, it was time for the best bit - sitting round the table to enjoy the fruits of our labour.
We weren’t quite skilled enough to attempt to bake the meringue on the barbecue - that was Richard’s handiwork. But he was generous enough to let us have a slice each, which was superb. There was a subtle smokey taste which really did add to the flavour.
Lancashire-born Richard launched his a cookery school - Richard Holden BBQ - in 2015, which passes on the skills needed to cook up a world-class barbecue feast.
He tours the country offering demonstrations and workshops, using the ‘lid down’ cooking method, and has appeared at some of the UK’s top foodie events, including Grillstock, CarFest and Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival.
He says: “My passion is teaching people how to make the most of out of their barbecues and improve the way they cook in general. Barbecues can be used every day, creating healthy and delicious food. They give extra flavours you don’t find cooking in the kitchen.
“If I am cooking for a large group of people, the easiest thing is a roast because it is only one piece of food to prepare. It is far easier than flipping all those burgers.
“Another popular dish of mine is a porketta, or you can use pork loin or a pork belly if you want to cook it lower or slower. You roll that with sage, thyme, parsley, lemon, salt and pepper, tie it with butcher’s string and cook it.”
Richard adds you can cook almost anything on the barbecue.
He says: “My approach is anything is fair game. There are the meats, such as chicken, pork and lamb, but people don’t expect you to be able to barbecue vegetables. I have done harissa roasted cauliflower, with a smoked cauliflower hummus underneath that, which has been the star of the show.
“You can also do desserts. I have made a chocolate Guinness cake - a sponge cake on the barbecue baked off beautifully, with no burnt bottoms.
“At the course, I did a meringue and rolled that into roulade with fresh fruit and cream.
“I love doing seafood in barbecue, especially as it keeps the smells out of the kitchen.
“Anything really - I say get a cook book, open a page and if you want to cook it, that’s what I cook on the barbecue.”
For more information on Richard’s workshops and demonstrations, click here
His next free demonstration will be at The BBQ Shop, Hayes Garden World, Lake Road, Ambleside, on Saturday June 23 and Sunday June 24, 11am until 1pm and 2.30pm until 4.30pm.