The Hix Report – Cooking Outdoors

Our esteemed food columnist is hoping for sun this month so he can keep cooking outdoors. Grab yourself an al fresco patch of EC1 and a pair of BBQ tongs, and follow his advice…

There is something about outdoor cooking, whether it’s on your terrace, back garden or a trip to the beach with a disposable barbecue. I tend to take my small fold-up barbecue everywhere with me in the back of the car as you never know when a barbecuing opportunity may arise. I’ve often cooked a freshly caught fish on the spot, or even sautéed up some mushrooms that I’ve picked.

I recently acquired a Kamado Joe barbecue. Well, it’s more than a barbecue – it slow cooks and even smokes and cooks at the same time, which certainly puts a different twist on cooking outdoors. I must say it looks the business – one large, red egg-shaped body that has an amazing insulation, which gives you real flexibility. Barbecues these days have moved on an awful lot. The other weekend at Glenarm Castle in Northern Ireland, I cooked about 10 kilos of various big cuts of Peter Hannan’s beef – ribs, Chateaubriand and Porterhouses – on a Weber barbecue, which gave the meat such a great flavour. If you get the heat of the barbecue just right, and use good charcoal like the Big K restaurant-grade, you will be able to cook for hours on end. Sea salt, coarsely ground black pepper and a little brushing of oil is all you need for the best taste as the charcoal does the rest.

When I’m not in London or at the Oyster and Chop House, I’m lucky enough, in Dorset, to have a wood-burning outdoor Bernito oven. It’s fantastic for cooking fish that I’ve caught, or lobsters from my in-shore pots. I can get a halved lobster cooked in less than 5 minutes as the heat gets up to about 400°C in there. You just watch them turn bright red as they cook – very good entertainment for your dinner guests. Of course you don’t need to live by the sea to have a wood-fired oven, there are some great ones on the market by Bernito and Jamie Oliver, so you can have the same fun in your own back garden or Clerkenwell roof terrace (if you’re lucky enough to have one).

I take my small fold-up barbecue everywhere as you never know when a barbecuing opportunity may arise

I find a lot of people aren’t that creative when it comes to outdoor eating and poor quality sausages and cheap burgers are often the only things on the menu. Now there is nothing wrong with burgers and sausages if they’re top notch, but often they are cheap and get crucified on the BBQ. Instead, make your own burgers with coarsely-minced beef like rib trim (it needs to contain 20-30 per cent fat to stay moist during cooking), then all you need is to mix ketchup and French’s American mustard (60/40 mix) and a slice of beef tomato and some big dill pickles… and hopefully some sunshine.