Summer is now officially here and already we seem to have had more sunny days than we had for the whole of June, July and August in 2012!
I think we only dined outdoors on a couple of occasions with any comfort.
The other times the Wilkinson clan stoically braved the wind, rain and cold in coats and cardis as only the British can. It certainly wasn’t barbecue weather.
It’s anyone’s guess what the rest of summer 2013 has in store for us, but I’m not about to write it off when it is only one week old.
I’m nothing if not an optimist and the law of averages means we must be in for a decent summer pretty soon. Surely?
I’m hoping to get in at least one or two barbecues back home in Jarrow over the coming weeks.
I know a lot of people are dismissive of barbecues and eating outdoors in general unless it’s that great British institution the picnic (an even more miserable affair if it rains as you all try to squash into the car in a gloomy car park in the middle of nowhere).
But one of the great things about a barbecue (especially as most people tend to have them at home – I’m no Ray Mears, boldly heading off into the wilderness at the first opportunity) is that you don’t need a red-hot day to hold one.
As long as it’s not raining or blowing a gale (fire and wind don’t tend to work well together) you can hold a barbecue.
There’s something very liberating about cooking and eating outdoors. I think it’s the fact you can throw the normal culinary rules out of the window.
Cooking outdoors seems to get the creative juices going and encourages people to be more adventurous.
People are more willing to experiment with foods and ingredient combinations they wouldn’t normally entertain in the domestic kitchen.
And because barbecues are often spontaneous affairs thanks to our not-always-so-great weather, people are also more inclined to use local ingredients.
The sorts of foods that cook well on a barbecue – fish, steaks, lamb and pork – are all things we do particularly well here in the North East.
Cold pressed rapeseed oil from Yellow Fields or Borderfields – both produced in Northumberland – is ideal for barbecue cooking due to its high heating point.
We do our own home-cured bacon chops here at Food Social (along with char-grilled sirloin and rump steaks), which make for a fabulous barbecue offering.
I’ve included them in this week’s recipe, which is one of my favourite barbecue treats.
The light char from the barbecue goes well with the sweetness of the treacly muscovado sugar and acidity of the lime, while the rough and rustic salsa verde perfectly complements the meat and the outdoor setting.
Even better is that this recipe can easily be adapted to work with plain pork chops and just the glaze, or even chicken breasts or thighs.
Whatever you do, remember first class ingredients, simple recipes and good company are the key to a successful barbecue.
Get those things right and everything should go swimmingly (although hopefully not literally).
Andrew Wilkinson is head chef at David Kennedy’s Food Social, 16 Stoddart Street, Shieldfield, Newcastle, NE2 1AN, 0191 260 5411, www.foodsocial.co.uk , open noon-2pm and 5.30pm-10pm Monday-Saturday and noon-3pm Sunday.
RECIPE OF THE WEEK: Home-cured bacon chops with a muscovado and lime glaze and salsa verde (serves four)
FOR THE HOME-CURED PORK CHOPS:
4 pork chops
3 bay leaves, thinly sliced
3 star anise, crushed
150g sea salt
75g caster sugar
FOR THE SALSA VERDE:
3 sprigs mint, chopped
3 sprigs basil, chopped
Good handful parsley, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp capers, rinsed drained and chopped if large
½ tsp Dijon mustard
6 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
FOR THE MUSCOVADO AND LIME GLAZE:
50g muscovado sugar (light or dark will do)
Juice two limes
Marinade the pork the day before. To do this, mix together the sea salt, bay leaves, star anise and sugar, sprinkle over the chops, cover and leave to infuse for at least 12 hours in the fridge.
To make the salsa verde, mix all the ingredients together and balance the flavours with a little salt and pepper. Make the glaze by boiling the sugar and water on a low heat until you have a syrup. Add the lime juice and mix.
Rinse the cure off the chops. Pat dry and brush the glaze over both sides of the chops.
Cook on a hot barbecue for 15 minutes.
Serve with the salsa verde, a nice seasonal green leafed salad and boiled new potatoes