Do we really need a charred sausage to prove it’s summer?
- Credit: Archant
We haven’t quite got the hang of the barbecue.
In 35 years of marriage, we have barbecued maybe four times. The latest attempt was last weekend and it served as a timely reminder as to why we indulge in this fine-weather culinary pursuit only once a decade.
In a burst of misplaced enthusiasm c.2004, we bought a swanky gas barbecue almost as big as a kitchen going for less than half price in Homebase. It sat outside, untouched until its cover perished with age, and then we gave it away.
But with the rare, fine summer of 2013 we thought we should make the effort. After all, we have many friends who love this form of alfresco fare. The supermarkets have been selling all sorts of meaty things especially for the barbie (see, I have the lingo) and so we succumbed again to the idea that this might, after all and in spite of everything, turn out to be “tremendous fun”.
There is a long tradition, sprung from the days of hunter-gathering (you’ll remember those, dear) of men being the official keepers of the barbecue. In the annals of male precedence, it’s up there with the history of the monarchy and membership of the Groucho club.
There’s the stance: feet firmly planted, four square to the sausages. There’s the implement: industrial-sized steel grippers. There’s the apron: a robust masculine stripe or a joke bra-and-panties pinny that can barely hold back the testosterone. There’s the must-have barbecue accessory: a beer. There’s the chorus of: “Don’t worry, I prefer them well done,” when the burgers catch light.
But barbecue boy doesn’t fool me. Behind all that macho posturing is a Michel Roux Jr struggling to get out. Look how gently he uses his little brush to apply the barbecue sauce; how tenderly he turns his beefburgers and how fondly he prods his kebabs. Give him a sprig of parsley and he’ll be cock-a-hoop.
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The only thing left for the little woman to do, once she has bought all the food and sauces, is make a Greek salad, a rice salad, a green salad, coleslaw. and a potato salad and make sure there is always a beer by her man. Yes, I know it’s a gross and uncalled-for generalisation, reinforcing out-dated gender stereotypes but when you’re not a barbecue person, how are you to know?
It took a lot of planning. Starting from scratch, I bought a pack of two, ready-to-use barbecue trays and a £10 barbecue. It is toddler sized. If you remember the A la Carte Kitchen toy (the one my daughter never got for Christmas), it’s a bit smaller than that. The idea was to use it as a stand for the barbecue tray. Sorted.
We decided to not to overstretch ourselves but to cook the kebabs, sausages and ribs in the oven and barbecue only the steaks. My husband marinaded the chicken while I skewered peppers and mushrooms. We work rather well together in the kitchen even though he does have a strange cheffy compulsion to use every single bowl, dish, plate and spoon we possess in the execution of his dishes.
Our friends, Jane and Richard, who are mistress and master of the art of barbecuing, were joining us and so it had to be good. They arrived; the predicted rain was holding off and we started with Pimms on the patio. My husband lit the touchpaper to ignite the barbecue tray and we waited for our coals to go grey, as per instructions.
It didn’t seem to be going awfully well, to be honest. The wind changed direction and we took in lungfuls of smoke, so I moved the barbecue round from north to east and the wind changed again. Wheezing a little, I brought out the steaks. My husband placed them on the tray. Nothing sizzled. After a couple of minutes, we picked them up... they weren’t hot but they did smell strongly and unpleasantly of paraffin; not one of Delia’s recommended flavourings.
We’re still counting it as a barbecue, though, because (a) we ate sausages outdoors (b) we lit the insect repellent citronella candles and (c) it rained. We probably now won’t have another barbecue in our lifetimes.... although we remain very happy to accept invitations to other people’s barbecues.