Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Garden Spit Roast - Chapter 5


This pseudo summer with its balmy April evenings has done it for me. Temperatures in the high 20's, with enough humidity to make it feel even warmer has got the whole country doing things normally reserved for the middle of the year. These still evenings have been awash with aromas of back garden barbeques and outdoor chatter.

We'd had a fairly intense weekend entertaining family, so by Easter Monday, chilling out by the charcoal fuelled brazier seemed an ideal option. We took a leisurely walk into town in the morning, had a light brunch at Hacketts in Witney, and bumped into loads of friends on the way. We grabbed a few essentials on the way back and I settled into my seat by the fire for the better part of the late afternoon.

Rotisserie chicken, charcoal baked potatoes and swedes, ratatoullie and garlic bread, all cooked over one decent batch of lumpwood charcoal. My current theme is to do as much as possible with the fire so I'm not forever dashing back and forwards from the kitchen. In this case, everything (except the salads of course) was prepared over one fire.

I piled up about 2.5kg of lumpwood charcoal into my Weber chimney starter and let if take off for a bit whilst I sorted out all the ingredients. This gave me 20 minutes or so to season and skewer the chicken, skewer the spuds and swedes, wrap up the garlic bread and chop up the vegies for the ratatoullie.

Once the charcoal was ready, I spread it around the outside of the brazier so there were no coals directly beneath the chicken. Otherwise the bird would burn and a fat fire would be inevitable. I placed a few rocks in the centre beneath the chicken to absorb the dripping fat and retain some heat.

I was determined not to top up the charcoal but retrospectively I think another 1/2 kilo after the first hour would have sped things up a bit.

RECIPES: (for 4-5)


- 1.5 kg whole chicken
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Mixed dried herbes de Provence

Secure the chicken on to a rotisserie spit, rub with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper and the dried herbs. Cook over the coals for up to two hours always making sure there is enough heat to keep the skin gently sizzling. Once the chicken starts sizzling, the dried herbs will send amazing smells wafting through your garden. Sprinkle on a few extra bits of charcoal from time to time if need be.

After about two hours remove the chicken from the spit and let it rest wrapped in foil before carving into portions.


- 4-5 med/large potatoes

Put the potatoes onto a skewer and place around the edge of the fire, rotating every now and then to keep them cooking evenly. It can easily take up to two hours to get nicely roasted potatoes when cooked this way. You could cheat and put them in a microwave for a couple of minutes to get them started off. This would at least halve the cooking time.


Our summer holidays in France often involved buying the odd rotisserie chicken for supper. Most rotisserie sellers offer 'sauce' with their chickens or meats. This 'sauce' is basically onions and peppers cooking slowly at the bottom of the rotisserie in the fat that drips from the cooking meats. Incredibly tasty. My version was cooked in olive oil in a saucepan directly over the coals.

- 1 red or green pepper, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 cup of chicken stock
- Mixed dried herbes de Provence
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil

Cook the onions and peppers in the hot oil until soft. Add the garlic and tinned tomatoes. One the sauce is simmering again, add the chicken stock a bit at a time as the liquid evaporates. The 'sauce' should be thick, moist and glossy when served.


- Bread rolls or baguettes cut into portions
- Butter
- Finely chopped garlic
- Mixed dried herbes de provence

Spread a generous dob of butter on each portion of bread, sprinkle over the garlic and herbs, wrap them in foil and sit them around the edges of the fire to warm up gently. Turn them from time to time so they heat up evenly. They shouldn't take more than ten minutes or so depending on how hot the coals are.


- 1/2 swede (rutabaga) cut into 2.5cm cubes
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper

Thread the cubes onto a metal skewer, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the skewer around the edge of the fire and turn it frequently until soft all the way through. This will take at least an hour and be careful not to let them burn.

Swedes are brilliant for us low carbers, so I am constantly thinking up new ways to serve them.

This was the first time I had tried this, and next time I will par-boil the cubes for 2-3 minutes before barbequeing them. Cooking them wrapped in foil is another thing I will soon try.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

An Indian Meal Cooked Over an Open Fire

Inspired by unusually hot April weather and a family request for a curry meal, I decided that I needed to be outside in that glorious early evening sunshine and cook the whole meal on the barbeque. That's everything, rice, vegetables, bread and the main dish itself.

I'd spent a fair amount of time driving to and from meetings in the afternoon so I had plenty of time to mentally plan how I would do this. It would all be done over charcoal making the most of the gradually decreasing cooking temperature over 45 minutes or so.

I decided on a menu:

- Grilled tiger prawn tandoori kebabs
- Chicken tikka with red peppers and spring onions
- Broccoli with ginger, garlic and spring onion cooked in foil
- Steamed basmati rice
- Wholemeal chapatis
- Cucumber raita

(see below for all recipes)

This meal took a leisurely two hours from start to finish. First I prepared all of the raw ingredients and marinades before lighting the charcoal briquettes in the chimney starter. All of the ingredients and utensils came into the garden with me and the rest was done sitting by the brazier in the early evening sun.

There was a fair amount to prepare so I started by making the chapati dough and wrapping it in foil to be rolled out later. Then the chicken breast pieces were left to marinate in the tikka curry paste and the defrosted tiger prawns in the tandoori marinade. I then prepared all of the onions, red peppers, garlic, and grated ginger for each of the recipes.

The meal was to be served at 6pm, so I needed to ignite the charcoal in the chimney starter just before 5, allowing 20 minutes for the coals to come to temperature. Once the coals were ready I heaped them in the centre of the brazier to create a hot spot in the middle and less hot areas around the edges.

RECIPES (all recipes to serve 4, generously):


- 20 defrosted tiger prawns
- 1 tbsp tandoori masala spice mix (I used Natco brand)
- 1 tbsp natural yoghurt
- 2 spring onions cut into 3cm lengths and split down the centre
- Fresh coriander leaves for garnish
- 1 lime cut into 4 wedges

Put the prawns, spice mix and yoghurt in a bowl for 20 minutes or so. Thread the prawns onto metal skewers (or thoroughly soaked bamboo skewers) with a slice of spring onion between the prawns. Grill over the coals about 10 minutes before serving. The coals will be gentler by then. Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve with lime wedges. Makes a great starter.


- 3 large chicken breasts cut into cubes
- 1/2 jar of tikka masala paste (Pataks in this case)
- 2-3 spring onions
- 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
- 1 red pepper chopped
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1 large handful of fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- Olive oil

Start by mixing the chicken, tikka masala paste, spring onions and half of the coriander leaves in a bowl to marinate for 1/2 hour or so. Once the coals are ready and at their hottest, fry the chicken marinade mix in a large (metal handled!)  frying pan in the centre of the fire in a bit of oil. Stir constantly for 5 minutes or so until the chicken pieces are mostly cooked. Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and put it back in the bowl and cover with foil.

Add a bit more oil and fry the onions and red peppers until the onions are just soft. You may need to add a bit of liquid (water or beer) to loosen any spices stuck to the pan. Then add the tin of tomatoes, give it a good stir and let the sauce cook down for 10-15 minutes. About 10 minutes before serving, return the chicken pieces to the pan, stir will and bring back to a simmer. Move the pan to the edge to keep it warm.

Serve the chicken tikka masala with a generous garnish of fresh coriander.


- 1 medium sized head of broccoli cut into pieces
- 2cm cube of fresh ginger, grated (I keep ginger in the freezer, easier to grate and always fresh)
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 2-3 spring onions, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup of water or chicken stock

Find a flat bottomed cereal or pasta bowl and line it with two layers of foil, leaving plenty overhanging the edges. Place the spring onions on the bottom, add the broccoli pieces, and then the garlic and grated ginger on top and add the water or stock. Make a lid (a bit like a pie!) with another piece of foil and tightly seal the edges to make a flat bottomed parcel.

Place the parcel around the edge of the coals turning them every few minutes to make sure it cooks evenly and the bottom doesn't burn. Allow at least 20-30 minutes, slow and gentle is best and it takes a while to start off. If you listen carefully you should just hear a gentle simmer going on inside and a small amount of steam escaping.


-1 cup of washed basmati rice
- 2 cups of water
- 2 bay leaves

Put the washed rice, water and bay leaves in a small saucepan with a lid. Put the sauce pan around the edge of the fire without the lid, giving it a shake every now and then until it starts to simmer. Keep checking it and once the water gets to the level of the rice put the lid on and keep it to the edge, turning the pot every now and then. From this point the rice needs only 5 minutes of gentle heat, and then a further five just kept warm with the lid still on. You could remove it from the heat and wrap it in a tea towel.

I would start the rice about 30 minutes before serving. It takes a bit to get going, and will stay hot in the covered pan until needed.


One of my all time favourite unleavened breads. Great for camping and can be made with white flour for a softer Mediterranean version. See one of my very first posts: Unleavened Bread

- 200g wholemeal flour (strong or plain)
- 90ml warm water
- 1 tbsp olive oil

Mix the ingredients in a bowl with a knife and knead for a few minutes until fully blended. Wrap the ball of dough in cling film or foil at least an hour before it is required.

It will only take about 5-7 minutes to cook so when ready, divide the dough into 4 and roll each piece out on a floured board to about 20cm in diameter. The coals should be fairly gently by now, so grill the breads a minute or so on each side until puffy and just browned. As they become ready, wrap them in a tea towel to keep them warm and prevent them from drying out. If the fire is really hot when you are cooking them, cook them on a dry skillet instead.


- 1/2 peeled cucumber, chopped
- 2-3 tbsp natural yoghurt
- 1/4 tspn garam masala
- pinch of salt

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl and serve.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Paella Over an Open Fire - Chapter 2

The occasion of occasions, our Charlie's 18th birthday and this was a special request for his ultimate birthday meal. Not surprising really as he had been hassling me for months about cooking a paella. I warned him that I might push the boat out a bit and include some rabbit in the recipe but he was delighted by the idea and so that is how is was to be. It had been nearly two years since I had cooked paella over an open fire when we were camping in the New Forest, so I was as delighted as Charlie.

I pondered over the recipe the night before and resolved to use both chicken and rabbit, plus either mussels or clams, king prawns, chorizo, and the usual capsicum, garlic, onion and saffron. All of this depended on what would be available at the markets on the day.

A trip to the covered market in Oxford (including a visit to my favourite fish monger, Haymans Fisheries), was all it took to satisfy my full list of ingredients (serves 5-6):

3 large chicken thighs
1 whole rabbit (or an extra 3 chicken thighs)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green pepper
2 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
200g chorizo (2cm cubes)
1 large handful of live mussels
1 large handful of live clams
10-12 frozen shelled tiger prawns
Saffron (about 1/4 tsp)
2 cups of rice (I use basmati as a fluffier alternative to paella rice)
Olive oil
Lemon wedges

You can't rush a good paella. From beginning to end, this took about and hour and a half, and everything was cooked over charcoal briquettes.

First, I prepared all of the vegetables, washed the mussels and clams and cubed the chorizo before filling the Weber chimney starter with the charcoal briquettes. This gave me about 20 minutes to remove the bones from the chicken thighs and remove the flesh from the rabbit. A fairly fiddly task, as there is not a great deal of flesh on a wild rabbit. The loins are fairly easy to remove whole but to get the flesh off the legs requires a small sharp knife and a bit of determination.

Once the briquettes were ready, I put the chicken bones, rabbit carcass, half of the chopped onions and a bit of the garlic in a large pot for the stock. These ingredients were browned off a bit in olive oil before adding about a litre of boiling water. I put a lid on the pot and let it boil vigorously for about 15 minutes. The longer the better of course, but I added a heaped teaspoon of chicken stock powder so I could use it sooner. In the past I have also added chorizo and saffron to the stock pot, but this time I decided to reserve them for the paella pan. I had a couple of spare chicken drumsticks, so I just put them around the edge of the fire to let them slowly grill separately.

While the stock was still boiling away, I pushed it to the side a bit to make room on the hot part of the fire for the paella pan and still allow the stock to simmer.

To make the paella, saute the remaining onions and garlic with the chorizo and saffron in a bit of olive oil in the hot paella pan. then add the chicken and rabbit (cut into cubes) followed by the green pepper and chopped tomatoes.

Once the onions are soft, add the rice and mix thoroughly before adding 4 cups of the stock and covering the pan with a lid or foil. After about 5 or 10 minutes, depending on how hot your fire is, lay the defrosted prawns on the top and leave it a bit longer. The mussels and clams are added about 5 minutes before the rice is cooked, so you need to keep an eye on it and test a bit from time to time.

The steam from the cooking will cause the mussels and clams to open up (keep the pan covered), and once they are all open, the paella is ready to serve. Ours was served simply with a mixed salad and lots of lemon wedges.

This is a great way to cook paella outdoors for family and friends. It's fun to watch and the smell is amazing. Happy 18th birthday Charlie. Love Dad. x

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