Inspired by the beautiful spring evening sun, I found this to be an opportunity to test a few theories using tools already at hand.
I'm embarrased to admit how much research I have done over the years on spit roasting. It is thought that Peking man may have roasted meats (c. 700,000 BC), but from whenever it began, spit roasting was virtually the sole culinary technique used by our ancestors during the Paleolithic period (Old Stone Age). This was until, the Aurignacian people of Southern France (c. 30,000 BC) began steaming food by wrapping it in wet leaves. Today spit roasting has evolved to become anything from the global doner kebab to rotisserie chickens and whole hog roasts.
There are a number of (fairly expensive) spit roasting gizmos on the market. Clockwork, battery or mains powered, none of which are particularly easy to get hold of in the UK. I prefer the DIY approach: Easily found, ready made objects, and lots of care and attention. Regardless, the principles of spit roasting remain the same;
- Self basting and slow cooking from constant rotation
- Indirect heat for cooking
Keeping the meat rotating means that the fats and juices remain on the surface longer and cook the meat evenly. The sugars caramelise without burning creating that wonderful sticky, rich tasting surface.
Indirect heat means not having any fuel directly below the food. Inevitable drips would otherwise ignite and create seriously unwanted flames from a fat fire below. Keeping the heat source to the side(s) means that drips can be caught in a tray if needed and used for extra manual basting.
This is so simple anyone can try it. I used 1 kg of chicken wings, cut into segments (discard the wing tips) and spiked them onto two pairs of metal skewers so they could be easily turned.
I prepared a charcoal fire in my trusty 'Go Anywhere Weber" and waited for the fire to mature before aranging the embers into three rows. I then placed the two chicken wing kebabs between the rows of embers and turned them every 30 seconds or so by hand. The chicken wings had been marinating for a few hours in crushed garlic, olive oil and rosemary. The smell was amazing.
30 minutes later, the chicken wings were ready.
The garden spit roast requires only one special commitment. Stay by the fire and don't stop rotating the food until it's cooked. This might seem extreme, but let's face it, why would you want to be anywhere else?
If this does it for you, the coming chapters will up the scale somewhat. This spring and summer look forward to whole chickens spit roasted in the garden, and then finally some big chunks of goat.
PS (March 2010): For some extreme DIY spit roasting, I found this recently. I was well impressed...: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/125444-my-first-spit-roast/