The Art of the Winter Barbecue

As a backyard barbecue tragic, I’ve always been a great fan of cooking outdoors in any weather. Never mind the biting cold or the horizontal rain that smacks you in the ear as soon as you venture out of your door, barbecuing is a great Australian tradition that needs to be championed throughout the whole year and not just in the warmer months.

So why even bother with outdoor cooking in the cooler months I hear you ask. Personally, not only do I like to pretend that winter doesn’t exist, barbecuing and writing about it is my main source of income. As a regular blogger, food educator and ambassador for the Queen Victoria Market, my job is to source and recipe test seasonal produce, meat and seafood year round in order to pass that knowledge on to a wider audience. Talking seasonally, the choice of available fresh food and ingredients varies in the colder weather, which brings on new exciting challenges and flavours when it comes to the humble BBQ.

Without getting into a technical quagmire, most folk will have gas-driven or solid fuelled barbecue equipment available to them. Or both, if you’re truly passionate. When I’m talking about solid fuels, I’m referring to BBQs that rely on charcoal, briquettes or hardwood to operate. A mate and I recently built a wood fired oven in my inner suburban backyard that’s fuelled by timber but I’ll admit that’s being extravagant and may not appeal to everyone. In saying that, it cooks a magnificent roast and the white-hot embers are mesmerizing to watch…
In most cases, either type of barbecue will do the job more than adequately when it comes to creating a tasty meal, regardless of the weather at the time. The majority of food groups taste great when grilled over flame or roasted to perfection over scorching embers, it’s just a case of choosing wisely and knowing which ingredients perform best on the equipment available to you.

So, for those people like myself who hanker for that special something that barbecuing adds to a dish, let’s explore the art of cooking outdoors in winter. Firstly, there are a couple of basic things to think about:

  • There’s an absolutely essential piece of equipment that any serious home cook needs in their kit. Digital meat thermometers will ensure that meat-based dishes reach the required temperature. It’s highly recommended that dishes such as pork and chicken reach an internal temperature of 72 degrees C before consuming where as red meats are way more forgiving.
  • If grilling, stick to dishes that require the least amount of cooking time therefore minimizing your exposure to the outside world.
  • When roasting larger joints of meat or whole fish, etc, being aware of timing and temperature will be your savior here, and prevents you having to stand guard while the dish is cooking away nicely.
  • If you’re an inhabitant of one of Australia’s colder states and/or cities, invest in an outdoor heater or a raincoat on permanent standby!

So, what types of barbecued dishes are super tasty, contain ingredients that are easily obtainable and limit the time spent wearing woolly earmuffs?
Let’s start with a sample array of fruit and vegetables that respond really well to the barbecue environment:

  • Pineapples. (Whole roasted of grilled when sliced) Also a longtime personal favourite of mine and quickly gaining in popularity.
  • Peaches, plums, nectarines. (Roasted in halves)
  • Apples and pears. (Roasted whole)
  • Corn. (Roasted whole in their husks or grilled)
  • Mushrooms. (Grilled)
  • Asparagus. (Grilled)
  • Root vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot, carrots, etc. (ideal to roast alongside the larger joints of meat)
  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts. (Quickly charred, make a great addition when mixed through a winter salad)

And to my go-to food of choice…..
Seafood:

  • Sardines. (Grilled)
  • Salmon fillets. (Roasted and/or grilled)
  • Kingfish fillets. (Roasted and/or grilled)
  • Whiting, snapper, trevally and other local whitefish when available. (Roasted whole with a variety of stuffing and seasonings)
  • Tuna. (Seared)
  • Mussels (grilled in a skillet)
  • Scallops (combination of grilling and roasting)
  • Prawns (grilled)

And finally, to my all-time roasted wintery feasting favorites:

  • Beef. (Standing rib eye roast)
  • Pork. (Rack)
  • Lamb (whole rack or leg)

For something a bit different:

  • Wallaby fillets (grilled)
  • Kangaroo (grilled)

A note on the above ingredients:
I know they’re buzzwords but seasonality and sustainability are key when considering any of the produce mentioned in this article. Take the humble stick of asparagus for example. When in season and procured locally, lightly charred asparagus served with a squeeze of mandarin is hard to beat as a starting dish or as an accompaniment to a main course. Out of season, it’s sourced from any number of countries and by the time it arrives in Australia, it can resemble a skinny, limp 99-year-old man who’s led a life of manual labour.

But enough of my opinionated food obsessions, I think the vast majority of folk are savvy enough nowadays to ask where the produce hails from, whether the meat they’re buying is pasture-raised and truly free range or have those sardines been caught in Australian waters or arrived from some far distant land? The main thing is to make friends with your local butcher, grocer and fishmonger. And most importantly, swap the supermarket for a real market!

In my next blog, I’ll be focusing on favourite barbecue dishes from the QVM traders. To kick off proceedings, Alec Watson and Sons will share their recipe and cooking technique for butterflied leg of lamb. As an added bonus for this month’s blog, they’ve kindly donated one of their Cotechino sausages for me to sample.
Hand crafted on their premises at Queen Vic Market, the Cotechino is a traditional sausage favoured amongst the Italians from the northern regions. Made from pork, fatback, spices and pork rind, the Cotechino is often served with lentils or cannellini beans alongside polenta or mashed potatoes.
Tradition would dictate that the sausage be brought to the boil and simmered for two hours before serving with the accompaniments mentioned above, however as I love to barbecue, I’ll be roasting mine slowly over charcoal and eating with a home-made mustard. The recipe for which, is featured below.

Homemade Mustard:
Makes about 500ml

  • ¼ cup (100g) brown mustard seeds
  • ¼ cup (100g) yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 ½ cups (375ml) white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup mustard powder
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoons sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

Method:

  • Add both types of mustard seeds to the water and ½ cup of the white wine vinegar into a medium saucepan and leave overnight to soak.
  • Next day, add the mustard powder, honey, salt and turmeric.
  • Simmer over low heat; stir frequently until liquid has reduced to a thick sauce. This should take about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in remaining vinegar (1 cup) and set aside to cool.
  • Pour into sterilized glass jars (with lids) and refrigerate.
  • Wait three days before using.

Cotechino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Andrew Richardson