BARBECUES tend to be the preserve of alpha males. With a few exceptions, men (myself excluded) tend to steer clear of the domestic kitchen.
But at the first hint of a warm summer’s evening they’re stoking the fires and heading off on a hunting expedition to the local supermarket.
Somewhere deep inside every male the prehistoric hunter-gatherer gene still lurks and comes to the fore on balmy summer evenings.
With sleeves rolled up, apron tied tightly (this isn’t to stop clothes being splattered with fat but to ensure everyone knows who is in charge), tongs and carving forks at the ready and eye-wateringly thick smoke shrouding them from view, nothing says “man” more than a barbecue.
Try as I might to hate the barbecue phenomenon that has swept this country, few things now spell summer more than the smell of flame-grilled burgers, sausages and chicken filling the air.
Yes, it’s annoying as you sit in your own garden on a uncommonly warm July evening to be shrouded in someone else’s steak-impregnated charcoal smoke, but what’s the betting that irritation owes less to any anti-social tendencies and more to the fact that you haven’t been invited to the outdoor meat feast.
Much as we might gripe about barbecues, they are great social occasions, get us outside enjoying the longer days and are a fantastic way to showcase fresh, seasonal summer foods.
We don’t have a barbecue menu at David Kennedy’s at the Biscuit Factory – although you’ll find everything else.
But it has been discussed in a tongue-in-cheek “wouldn’t it be nice if” kind of way when the weather has been particularly favourable and we’ve all been stuck indoors slaving away in a hot kitchen.
We could organise an impromptu street food event in the courtyard and invite our neighbours along.
It’s just wishful thinking, but if we should be lucky enough to ever get a rerun of the summer of 1976 (oh, happy days) then watch this space.
We’ve certainly got lots of dishes on the restaurant menu, however, that would lend themselves to a barbecue and take the occasion from the normal “thrown together at the last minute” affairs most seem to be, to something more sophisticated.
The summer a la carte, for instance, currently features a heritage tomato salad with croutons, Serrano ham and rapeseed mayonnaise utilising the talents of two of my favourite local producers, Ken Holland of North Country Growers and Yellow Fields virgin cold-pressed rapeseed oil.
It’s a light and refreshing salad that would make a perfect barbecue side dish.
Ken’s fresh and tasty heritage vegetables appear in many guises from crudites served with a tahini and yoghurt dip to accompaniments to the main events like our fish dishes. We’re big on seafood from North Shields Fish Quay here at the restaurant.
And the likes of in-season mackerel, salmon and whitebait and shellfish such as scallops and prawns all taste sublime properly grilled on a barbecue.
We’re also huge fans of Wallington estate rump steak (served with thrice-cooked chips using Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes). Of course, no barbecue is complete without a steak sizzling away on the coals.
It’s sad, though, that for many Brits a barbecue means tough, dry steak, scorched burgers and shrivelled sausages.
Barbecuing should essentially be about slow-cooking food, not incinerating it to within an inch of its palatability.
Pork – we use Crane Row from County Durham – is an ideal barbecue food, along with lamb chops, chicken and wonderfully spicy flame-grilled chorizo.
Extra flavour, should you need it, can be added with a fresh, homemade tomato salsa or guacamole, harissa, good old English mustard and pickles.
It’s no sin to part-cook particularly chunky meats such as steaks or whole chickens before flinging them on the grill.
Wrap up in parchment or tin foil to stop the meat drying out.
David Kennedy is chef-proprietor of David Kennedy’s @ The Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddart Street, Shieldfield, Newcastle, NE2 1AN, 0191 260 5411.
Stuffed fillet of pork with Provencal tomatoes and rocket salad (serves four)
THIS makes a great alternative to barbecued steak or chicken. Start it off in the oven and finish off on the barbecue for a lovely crispy flame-grilled flavour.
4 x 200g fillet of pork, trimmed of any fat or sinew
200g sunblushed tomatoes
Handful of picked basil leaves
2 of the ripest vine tomatoes you can find
Sprig of rosemary, chopped
Sprig of thyme, chopped
Sprig of oregano, chopped
1 bulb garlic
Handful of rocket leaves per person
100ml rapeseed oil
200ml white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
4 x pieces crackling if so wished
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ gas mark 4. Get two baking trays and two sheets of greaseproof paper. Line one of the trays with a sheet of the greaseproof and lay on the pork, skin side up, and season with salt.
Lay over the other sheet of greaseproof and then place the other tray on top to make a sandwich. Weight the top.
Cook for between 15-20 minutes until starting to crisp.
Meanwhile, blitz the sunblushed tomatoes and basil. Take the pork out of the oven and with a thin- bladed knife pierce the middle of the fillet. Turn the knife lengthways to make a pocket.
Using a piping bag, squeeze in the sunblush tomato paste. Drizzle rapeseed oil and salt and pepper over each fillet and place on the barbecue to finish off, turning every few minutes until crispy.
Cut the tomatoes in half, sprinkle over the chopped thyme, rosemary and oregano and sit on the side of the barbecue to cook through. Wrap the garlic bulb in tin foil and roast on the barbecue.
Make a dressing with the remainder of the rapeseed oil, salt and pepper and white wine vinegar. Once everything is ready, slice through the pork and arrange on a dish with the rocket salad, cloves of garlic and tomatoes and drizzle over the dressing.