Monday, 27 June 2011

Grilled Mussels with Garlic Butter and Parmesan


Two years ago I prepared this dish in honour of a visit from our pesco-vegetarian daughter. The short article I posted quickly became the most visited page on this website. I promised myself I'd do it again with two key improvements: Firstly, much better photographs (the earlier ones were taken with my Nokia mobile phone) and secondly, cooked using charcoal.

Grilling (or broiling to use the American term) involves radiant heat from above, or a kind of upside down barbeque. I'd been pondering this for some time and one morning when I was out running in the countryside, the idea came to me. I thought that if I made two charcoal fires in the Weber held to the sides with the adjustable metal fences, and then arranged the coals so they went up the sides of the Weber, I could put the mussels right at the bottom and they would get heat from both sides and from above. I then thought that some foil reflectors might help get some more of that radiant heat to go downwards. As it happened this wasn't necessary as the mussels grilled perfectly well between two walls of charcoal. Afterwards, the same fire was used to bake a whole salmon in the conventional way.

It was another visit from our daughter and some friends from Australia that gave me the perfect excuse to get to the fishmonger and burn some charcoal. Not far off a looking like a perfect day. Rain was forecast, but I remained undeterred. You can of course grill them in the kitchen which takes 4-5 minutes at the most, but think of all that carbon you save by not turning on that power hungry electric grill. Besides, the charcoal then gets used to cook the rest of the meal.

INGREDIENTS (starter for 8)

- 1.5kg fresh live mussels (this got me about 50 good sized ones)
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely crushed
- 2-3 tbsp of finely chopped fresh oregano (or parsley)
- 75g butter


The mussels can be prepared in advance, so that the only thing that needs doing is grilling before serving.

First, rinse the mussels and remove any beards, then bring 50ml of water to the boil in a large pot with a lid. Add the mussels and steam them open on a high heat. This should take about five minutes. Allow them to cool enough to be handled and discard any that have not opened.

Find a narrow shallow tray that will fit between the two fires in the bottom of the Weber. Break off the shell that the mussel is not attached to, and using the sharp edge of the spare shell, separate the mussel from the serving shell. Lay the mussels in their shells in the tray.

Make the garlic butter by putting the butter and garlic in a bowl. Soften the butter by putting the bowl in a microwave for 20 seconds or so, just enough to melt the butter. Mix the butter and garlic, add the chopped oregano, and using a teaspoon, pour a bit of the melted garlic butter mix over each mussel.

Again, using a teaspoon, sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of the grated parmesan over the top and set them aside until you are ready to grill them.

To grill, prepare two charcoal fires as described above (leaving enough room between them for your tray) and grill the mussels in batches between the hot coals. I put the lid on the Weber because it was raining, but each batch only took a few minutes so check them constantly. Remove the hot tray with tongs, serve the mussels onto a platter and watch everyone dig in. Enjoy!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Ben's Peri-Peri Chicken in the Weber


We had the pleasure of Ben's cooking the week before when we were invited to help him celebrate his birthday on an extraordinarily wet Sunday afternoon. His menu was amazing so we decided to respectfully re-create a few of the dishes for an evening with friends visiting from Australia. It was all a bit last minute and in the middle of a hectic working week.

I'd had many phone conversations with Ben for his advice on methods and ingredients, and my wife and I settled on the following menu for our friends Jean and Ken:


- Prosciutto rolls with peach, mozzarella, basil and mint


- Ben's peri-peri chicken in the Weber
- Warm salad of french beans, artichoke hearts, asparagus and wild rice
- Ratatouille


- Rosewater panna cotta with pink champagne and strawberry jelly and crystalised rose petals

Our meal was a great success but the dessert stood out by a mile. It was astounding. Unique, creative and carefully considered in every way. My version of Ben's peri-peri however was affected by not having the right ingredients at hand. I only had hot chilli powder (instead of mild) and used too much paprika to compensate. It still tasted great but would not have met Ben's standards I'm sure. The recipe below is how Ben makes it and was taught to him by his Dad in South Aftica.

Makes 12 rolls


- 12 slices of prosciutto or parma ham
- 2-3 peaches, peeled and cut into 12 strips
- 1 ball of mozzarella, cut into strips
- 12 whole basil leaves
- 12 whole large mint leaves (or more smaller ones)


Carefully roll the fillings inside the prosciutto. Serve at room temperature, garnished with a few extra herbs and freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 4


- 1 whole chicken, spatchcocked
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp of smoked paprika
- 4 tbsp mild chilli powder
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 handful of fresh parsly, finely chopped
- 1 handful of fresh oregano, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh taragon finely chopped.
- juice of 1/2 lemon for the marinade
- Fresh lemon wedges to serve with


Marinate the chicken the night before and leave it in the fridge. To make the marinade, add the paprika and chilli powder to the olive oil, tasting all the time for 'chilli hotness'. Add the garlic, herbs and lemon juice to the marinade, prick the chicken all over with a skewer, and put the chicken and marinade in a sealed plastic bag (or bowl with clingfilm) in the fridge. The longer the better.

To cook the chicken, prepare two medium charcoal fires in the Weber, sit the chicken in a baking dish in the centre and cook the chicken slowly with the lid on and all vents open for about 40 minutes. This needs to be a gentle cook or the chicken will dry out to much. From time to time, spoon the marinade over the chicken as it is cooking.

To finish the chicken, remove it from the dish and grill it directly over the (by now fairly gentle) coals. Turn it freqently to prevent it from burning. Ten minutes or so in total should be plenty. Cut the chicken into portions, making sure everyone gets a share of the breast and finish it off with the lemon wedges.

I can't wait to do it again, but hopefully with more time to get the spices just right.

Serves 4

This is served just slightly warm and all of the ingredients can be pre-prepared before the final assembly.


- 1 pk of fresh asparagus spears
- 1 pk of fine green beans
- 1 small jar of artichoke hearts in oil
- 1/2 cup of wild black rice
- Juice of one lime
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lime cut into wedges


First cook the wild rice following the instructions on the pack (takes up to an hour) then rinse with cold water in a sieve to prevent it overcooking. Meanwhile, Blanch the beans and asparagus in slightly salted boiling water for a minute or two and then run them under cold water also. Put the cooled vegetables in a bowl with the lime juice, olive oil and garlic to marinate.

To serve, quickly chargrill the beans and asparagus on the barbeque (or toss quickly in a hot wok) until they are hot, but still firm. Toss the hot vegetables with the rice, marinade and artichokes and garnish with extra lime wedges.


Using the juices from the peri-peri baking dish, I simply added a finely chopped onion, courgette and red pepper to the same dish to soak up the spicy flavours. Then a tin of chopped tomatoes was added and the whole thing cooked was quickly over a fairly high heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. By this time my fire was too low, so I transferred it to a pan and finished it over the gas hob.

Makes 4 in ramekins

Not only does it sound amazing, it tastes amazing and is beautiful to look at. This is a result of Ben's current rosewater fettish and it is a truly imaginative and successful creation. You won't have tasted anything like it before and once you do you will be wanting it again. And again...


For the pink champagne jelly:

- 150ml of pink champagne (or medium rose)
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- Gelatin leaves or powder
- 4-6 fresh strawberries trimmed and cut into wedges

For the panna cotta:

- 300ml double cream
- 300ml milk
- 1 tbsp rosewater
- 80g caster sugar
- 1 large fresh vanilla pod

For the crystalized rose petals:

- 8 rose petals
- 1 egg white, gently beaten
- Caster sugar

- Fresh mint leaves and extra strawberries to garnish


You need to allow plenty of time for this, the finished dessert needs at least 6 hours in fridge to set before serving, and the rose petals need time to harden in a dry warm place.

First make the jelly, by warming up the wine and caster sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the gelatin (check the packet for the amount needed to set 150ml) and make sure it is completely dissolved. The jelly needs to cool down (but not set) before it is added to the ramekins.

Place the strawberry wedges into the bottom of the ramekins and pour over the jelly mixture. It should take up no more than the first 1.5 - 2cm of the dish, then put the ramekins in the fridge to set. The jelly needs to be completely set before the top layer of panna cotta is added.

To make the panna cotta, gently heat the cream, milk, seeds from the vanilla pod and the sugar in a saucepan, add the rosewater (and taste it!), then the gelatin (again, check the packet) until fully dissolved. Allow to cool (but not set) before pouring it over the set jelly. Put them back in the fridge to set.

The crystalized rose petals are made by first trimming out the thick stalk, brushing them with egg white and covering them with loads of caster sugar on both sides. The petals then need to be laid out and put somewhere dry and warm until they become crispy. It was a sunny day so I laid mine out on a plate on the table in the conservatory

To serve, turn the dessert out onto a plate or bowl (a bit of hot water on the outside of the dish will help to release it) and garnish with the rose petals, extra strawberries and some fresh mint leaves. It will impress.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Roast Pork Belly in the Weber

After this experience, I'm struggling to see why I would roast any other cut of pork in the Weber. The abundance of crackling and the layers of fat make this one of the best roast meats around. The Weber is perfect for pork belly. The high starting temperature gives the crackling a head start, and as the temperature slowly reduces, it allows the meat to gently baste in its own juices.

Being a Sunday, there was enough time to really make the most of it. I had bought a fairly big piece of pork belly from my local butcher a few weeks before and had been really looking forward to getting it in the Weber. The threat of rain didn't put me off a bit, as the lid was going to be on the barbeque anyway. I took the belly out of the freezer on Saturday night and started mentally planning our Sunday meal. We always have a roast (or barbeque) on a Sunday so I thought fairly traditional accompaniments were in order.

The pork was simply rubbed with olive oil and salt, and then laid on a bunch or rosemary twigs from the garden in a Pyrex dish to retain the basting juices. The rosemary leaves (if that's what they are) were kept for the garlicy roast potatoes and swede. We had French beans and carrots for the rest of the veggies, and a simple gravy made from the pan juices and extra stock, and an oniony, herby stuffing made from fresh breadcrumbs.


INGREDIENTS: (serves 6):

- Large piece of pork belly (1.5-2kg)
- Olive oil
- Freshly ground rock salt
- Rosemary twigs


First, prepare two indirect fires in the Weber and while you are waiting for them to be ready, prepare the pork. Rub the pork with olive oil and sprinkle a generous amount of rock salt on the skin. The skin needs to be scored first (my butcher did it with a Stanley knife) to help release the fat and to make it easier to divide the crackling.

Lay the pork belly in a small roasting dish over the rosemary twigs and put the dish in the centre of the Weber, between the two fires. Put the lid on (all vents open). Check the pork from time to time, basting occasionally with a spoon.

This one was in the weber for 2hrs 20mins and then wrapped in foil out of the oven to rest for a further 20 minutes. This gave me time to make the gravy before I cut the pork into portions.

To serve, remove the ribs from the underside (great to nibble on as a chef's perk) and slice through the skin to divide the pork into large chunks, about 5cm square. Two of these chunks make a decent serving and everyone gets a good mixture of crackling and meltingly tender meat. Finish it off with a moderate helping of gravy. The meat is really moist so you don't need much.



- 2-3 tbsp fat from the roasting dish (pour off the rest of the fat and discard it)
- 2-3 tbsp plain flour
- knob of butter
- 1-2 cups of good quality chicken stock
- Salt and pepper


In a deep pan or sauce pan, make a roux by combining the fat and flour over a gentle heat. Use a bit of boiling water to get all of the lovely bits out of the roasting dish before adding to the roux. Slowly add the stock as the sauce thickens, add the butter, stirring constantly, season and taste. How thick you like your gravy is a matter of choice. My preference is somewhere in the middle, just thick enough to hold it together.



- Peeled potatoes and swede cut into 2-3cm chunks
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 3-4 tbsp olive oil
- Handful of fresh rosemary
- Freshly ground rock salt.


Pre-heat the oven with an empty baking dish in it to 180 deg C. Meanwhile, plunge the potatoes and swede into a large pot of salted boiling water. Once the water returns to the boil, turn off the heat and leave it for 5 mins or so with a lid on. Drain the vegetables, put them back in the same pot, add the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and salt. Put the lid back on and shake the pot vigorously to give the vegetables an oily, garlicky, starchy coating. 

Turn them out into the hot baking dish (no need to add any further oil), spread them out and roast them for around 50 minutes. I added a few extra unpeeled garlic cloves in the pan to have as crunchy little treats with the meal. Next time I'll add them a bit later as they were a bit too crunchy!

All in all this was one of our best roast dinners for some time. It smelled awesome cooking away in the Weber, and tasted even better. I'm definitely making sure I always have some pork belly in the freezer.
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