Summer and long days are still with us for a few more weeks and therefore the barbecue season remains in full swing even though personally, I love to fire up the barbecue even when it gets colder. There is nothing more satisfying that spending time outdoors, starting the fire and waiting for the charcoal to be ready to start the cooking.
While cooking directly with fire is a very old technique that has been with us since many years and is the bedrock of our civilisation, memories of barbecue are not always necessarily optimal. Yes, there was the pleasure of starting the fire, people gathering around the grill but most of the food was far from memorable. There used to be overcooked meat, sausages of dubious quality (which still exist and are still popular with children), hamburgers and overcooked steak. If you might be lucky you could get tuna steaks grilled but these would also be dry as the tendency was to overcook things.
But there are some that have taken cooking with fire to another level. Think Argentinian master Francis Mallmann, think Victor Arguinzoniz of Asador Extebarri and you are speaking of cooking at the highest level with fire.
A great book to get you started and inspired with cooking with fire is Seven Fires by Mallmann but when I saw the book Grill, Smoke, BBQ by Ben Tish of Ember Yard, I was intrigued. As I was going through the pages, I found not only great tips on how to start a fire, what charcoal to use but great recipe ideas that can lift your barbecue experience. (I have the Kindle version though what got me intrigued was the actual book in a store).
First was the introduction which pretty much captures not only my childhood memories but also the philosophy that you can work magic by cooking with charcoal and wood if you use the fire and the ingredients in an appropriate way.
The book is divided into different sections. The first part gives you tips on how to light a barbecue, what charcoal to use, how to enhance flavour by using hardwood such as oak, apple, hickory or cherry wood to give a few examples.
It is then divided into breakfast, brunch and bread, tapas and small plates, large plates, sides, desserts and the basics. I still need to get round to attempting barbecues at breakfast but the recipes like baked eggs with chorizo, tomato, peppers and spinach, smoky eggs with asparagus and sweet shallots on sourdough or the grilled mackarel with fennel, yogurt and sumac salad, or the smoky grilled watermelon with burrata, balsamic and basil are all very tempting.
What I have tried to good effect are some tapas and small plates, large plates, sides as well as a dessert. The grilled octopus with moja verde and peperonata was excellent, as were the lamb chops with smoky aubergine and salsa verde, a variation of the Florentine steak, barbecued mushrooms with rosemary, garlic and soy butter, the wood-roasted potatoes with thyme and garlic and the charcoal-grilled peaches with lavender honey and mascarpone ice-cream (which I substituted with a vanilla ice-cream to good effect).
This is a great recipe book for those who want to find inspiration and lift their barbecue skills. It also gives you lots of ideas on how to lift flavours, how to use the freshness of herbs to complement the smokiness of the cooked food.
It is a really great addition to my library of cooking books and one that will probably also get me grilling also this coming winter.
The author of the book is Ben Tish, the Chef Director of the Salt Yard Group which comprises four London restaurants, all specializing in a rare mix of food and wine from both Spain and Italy. Prior to joining Salt Yard, Ben spent much of his career working with Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton. Ben has appeared on the Food Network and Masterchef UK among other cooking shows.