Has the sun made a surprise appearance? Take to the outdoors and create a barbecue spread post haste. We have tips for a complete menu that skips the arduous prep and allows you more time by the grill.
The weather is as unreliable as an old box of damp firelighters festering under the sink, so a lot of us choose to fire up a barbie at the last hour. While searing flames are known for cooking food in quick time, often the most time-consuming aspect is preparation and ping ponging through a busy meat aisle. We’ve put together some cheats and shopping hints that’ll take a skewer to your stress bubble.
Shoot off from the starting blocks by writing a succinct list to take to the supermarket – a large store is the best option for buying everything in one fell swoop. Try to list according to aisle and don’t stray from your chosen basics. If you’re faced with empty meat shelves, adapt and go vegetarian with chunky halloumi and meaty mushrooms.
Meat really does benefit from being immersed in a marinade – a plain old chicken thigh can be elevated into something much more tender and flavoursome with the addition of some citrus, herbs and oil. This red citrus marinade needs only half an hour to take effect. The red wine quickly penetrates the meat and injects it with a deep colour, and, when coupled with citrus from orange zest and juice, tenderises and flavours in super-fast time.
A sharing spread is an ideal way to keep your guests occupied as most of it can be poured into bowls or placed on a rustic wooden chopping board without having to go near a stove. Use this version as a blueprint and go for a basic range of meat, cheese and veggies – if you’re feeling ambitious you can roast the peppers and make the homemade flatbreads. Or, go for a themed platter:
Italian antipasti: Parma ham, salami, green olives, anchovies, sundried tomatoes, preserved artichokes.
French hors d’oeuvres : Tapenade, Comté cheese, figs, Brie wheel.
Spanish tapas: Boquerones, caperberries, sliced chorizo, Manchego cheese, peppers in oil.
Whichever you choose, make sure you serve some torn, crusty bread on the side.
Cassie, our assistant food editor, swears by gazpacho as a super-speedy starter. The chilled Spanish soup requires passata, red peppers and your choice of flavours – this version contains garlic, sherry vinegar, lime and chilli. Whizz the ingredients in a blender for a few minutes, season to taste and serve with ice cubes.
If you have access to a blender, homemade houmous can be on the table in only ten minutes. But if you’d like to minimise the washing up, buy a couple of tubs of good ready-made houmous and spice it up with harissa, lemon and pine nuts. Add a garnish of chopped fresh herbs and serve with warm pitta breads.
Chill your drinks
If you’re struggling for fridge space and need to cool your drinks quickly, Cassie recommends filling tubs, buckets and bowls with salted ice water – the salt lowers the temperature and gives you icy cold drinks in seconds.
Now is not the time for flaring, muddling and shaking, so pick up a bottle of fizz as a safe base for cocktails. Adding peach juice and rosewater to Prosecco creates a glass of pure sunshine, or you could really push the boat out with a tub of sorbet. Add a dollop to wine flutes, top with sparkling rosé and have yourself an instant frozen cocktail.
Spatchcock and butterfly meat
While we recommend joints of meat for the time-pressed griller, if you're dealing with a whole chicken or leg of lamb, it will cook in a fraction of the time if you get creative with your knife skills. Spatchcocking chicken involves cutting it along the backbone and spreading it out flat. To butterfly a leg of lamb, locate the central bone and cut the meat away from it on each side. Our video guides are here to help...
Instead of marinating cuts of pork or beef, opt for flavoursome sausages to make up for it. Spanish chorizo and spicy merguez really pack a punch, and when teamed with potatoes and peppers on a skewer provide an individually-sized complete main course.
Our food editor, Barney, recommends going for salads with a rice or grain base as they hold up better in the sun. We’re big fans of ready-cooked pouches of Puy lentils and interesting grains such as red quinoa and spelt. Pour them into a bowl and toss with deli vegetables and feta cheese.
If in doubt as to how to impress with your dessert, get stacking and provide impact with height. This layered cheesecake is the ultimate deconstructed pud. Use whole biscuits instead of a crumbled set base, then spoon on sweetened sherry cream cheese and garnish your mountainous stack with summer berries.
One final point...
No matter how rushed you are, always pay due attention to barbecue health and safety. Keep meat and perishable ingredients in the fridge until they need cooking or serving and regularly wash your hands when dealing with raw meat. Always wait until your barbecue is hot enough before starting to cook and make sure all meat and fish are piping hot and cooked through.
More barbecue tips:
Are you a last-minute griller? We'd like to hear your cheats, tips and stress-reducing hints...