Cooked over the embers of a damson wood fire
Friday night dinner parties require a special kind of planning. Being a work day, I don't have the luxury of spending all day food shopping and cooking so things need to be prepared in advance as much as possible. This is a great first course in this respect. You can marinate the chicken the night before, and the skewers take no more than ten minutes to cook. The spectacle of the fire is also a nice warming welcome for when guests arrive.
These skewers were prepared as part of a menu for a dinner party for ten. The evening was a Moroccan themed variation of a dinner party we hosted earlier this year. I was determined to burn some wood but in complete denial of the twenty-four hour weather report; drizzle followed by heavy rain, just about exactly when I needed to be cooking, outside.
The firewood was a gift from my friend Ben when we visited recently at their new place in Herefordshire. Firewood as a gift? Yes, but this was no ordinary firewood. He had some dead branches from a damson tree and gave me some to take home as we were leaving. I was thrilled, and thank you Ben, it burned beautifully. (For tips on a wood cooking fire have a look at my earlier article, A Real Wood Barbecue.) The embers were hot. Really hot. Even with my long wooden handled tongs I managed to singe all the hair on the back of my hands.
I found the skewer recipe at waitrose.com and it is seriously good. I used chicken breast instead of thigh as it is perfectly suited to hot, fast cooking and the lighter meat absorbs marinade flavours wonderfully. The spice mix is amazing; coriander, cumin, cinnamon, garlic, cloves, lemon zest and olive oil. I made the mix the night before and got a full upper body workout with my beastly pestle and mortar while gazing mindlessly at an episode of Masterchef on the telly. The chicken marinated overnight and all that was left to do on the day was skewer the pieces and whack them on the barbecue. I put coriander leaves (cilantro) between each piece for extra aroma and colour.
They need to be cooked hot and fast, so they are just starting to char on the outside without drying out on the inside.
The Waitrose recipe includes a parsley, almond and feta salad, and I added a home made tsatsiki from a Tessa Kiros recipe in her wonderful book 'Falling Cloudberries'. Half a piece of pitta bread toasted over the embers plus a lemon wedge and the plate was finished off nicely.
By some twist of fate, the weather report wasn't quite right and it was just after we sat down for the first course that the heavens opened. It absolutely chucked it down.
The main course was a Moroccan Beef Tagine from a brilliant recipe by Jamie Oliver from his recent 'Jamie Does..' cookbook. Also great for a Friday, as you can marinate over night and cook slowly during the day or the day before with minimal attention. The beef was served with saffron and petit pois cous cous and slow roasted halved tomatoes.
A dessert of cinnamon oranges finished the meal from a great recipe from ehow.com with our own addition of a splash of cointreau to give it a bit of a kick.
The next morning we received some really lovely thank you notes and text messages. Makes it all worthwhile really. And by the way, that's me, second from the right.