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James Close: Barbecue season is well and truly upon us

James Close, head chef of Raby Hunt Restaurant in County Durham shares his tips and a recipe for summer dining

Lamb Burger with yoghurt dressing and grilled Aubergine
Lamb Burger with yoghurt dressing and grilled Aubergine

Once again welcome to my fortnightly column in The Journal. I hope you have enjoyed my ramblings so far and have been inspired to create a few dishes at home from the various recipes I have been putting together.

As you know I haven’t always been a chef, but like most people reading this column, I was always a keen cook at home from a very early age.

I was never one for comic books and football annuals - I preferred a cookbook or flicking through my parents magazines looking for recipes tucked away at the back of various travel and home-making publications.

What I really like was finding dishes I could relate to, and ones that didn’t look to difficult to master at home with my limited larder and cooking knowledge. Simple dishes cooked well with the right ingredients were always the most fulfilling and ones that I would repeat over and over again.

I’m fortunate enough now to have built up a restaurant that has a great reputation for simple food cooked well.

I know now through experience that although people want food that will satisfy visually, it’s always the flavour that counts.

This week I would like to move away from restaurant recipes and recreate one of my favourite summer dishes I cook at home.

Time to get the barbecue out!

James Close of the Raby Hunt restaurant pictured with sous chef Ryan Bunker
James Close of the Raby Hunt restaurant pictured with sous chef Ryan Bunker

You might think a barbecue is a barbecue, but I’ve tried and tested many methods now of getting that charred and smoked flavour into food. We have a unique clay egg shape indoor barbecue here, so even when it rains we’re able to grill all year round.

A dish I have been working on recently for the restaurant involves hot smoking chicken, using the green egg we are able to cook at high temperatures and lock in that flavour, then once the barbecue has cooled slightly, we add some hickory chips to the coals and shut the lid.

After a few hours the chicken is moist and packed full with smokey hickory and oak flavours - I’m always amazed at just how good it tastes.

My plan is to use this cooking method with other ingredients such as pigeon, quail and lamb. Hopefully these should be coming to the menu at the Raby Hunt soon.

So, on to my summer barbecue recipe - one you really should try at home.

Everyone thinks they can make a burger, but I recommend you try this method... it should leave your fellow grill guests bowled over with flavours, and wondering just how you did it.

RECIPE

Lamb Burger with yoghurt dressing and grilled Aubergine, makes 4 burgers.

Good quality Lamb rump mince - 400g

Spice mix - Nutmeg, Coriander seed, all spice, white pepper, star anise, fresh coriander, madras or curry powder. (1 tsp of each)

1 egg

I large aubergine.

Natural yoghurt (1pot)

Cucumber (1/2 portion)

Mint leaves

Preparation

Mix in a bowl the lamb mince with all the spice mix and bind together with an egg using your hands.

divide into four patties and leave to rest in the fridge for two hours.

To make the yoghurt dressing - cut the cucumber into small pieces, combine with the yoghurt and chopped mint leaves.

Chop the aubergine into two - rub with oil and a little of the spice mix.

Cooking

Oil the burgers and place on a BBQ for four minutes each side

Place the aubergine face down on the grill beside the burgers on the outside of the barbecue for four minutes.

Turn onto its back for two minutes.

Once the burgers are cooked, place in a good quality burger bun or ciabatta roll and add the yoghurt dressing. This will sit on the plate next to your grilled aubergine.

Perfect summer dining. Enjoy.

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