Bury St Edmunds MasterChef contestant Hannah Gregory on why it's time to break out the barbecue
Forget limp salads and shop bought potato salad, Bury St Edmunds MasterChef quarter-finalist Hannah Gregory has some sides to make over the coals this summer.
Summer is here, the sun has got his hat on, hip hip hooray and all that jazz. With the welcome return of that sweet, sweet vit D we can also usher in the familiar smell of the British barbecue. Long summer nights spent on the patio, wrapped in a blanket, refusing to miss one second of this extended daylight, the scent of charcoal and charring meat circling through the air.
For me, this is one of the best feelings in the world. Living on a terraced street, each neighbour sparking up reminds me of the Twilight Bark in 101 Dalmatians although slightly less ominous. Instead of each hound alerting the other that a puppy is missing, this is more a middle class chorus of 'it’s over 16ºC, you go to Waitrose and get the wine, I’ll dig the charcoal out of the shed', and as that aroma snakes its way over fences and through rose bushes, each person next in line thinks ‘that’s a jolly good idea’, until the whole road is engulfed.
Barbecuing has a very special place in my heart, but it has not always been this way. I was brought up in a house that didn’t really understand what barbecuing was (unfortunately, I think this can be said for a lot of Brits – throwing a sausage on a cheap barbecue with some charcoal bought at the petrol station does not a barbecuer make, although I do appreciate the nostalgia). I grew up thinking everything cooked this way tasted the same – a bit charry and not much else. It wasn’t until a trip to the States, a love affair with a chap named DJ BBQ (in my head not IRL) I learnt what cooking over fire was all about – the ritual of sitting in the sun, cracking a beer and settling in for the long haul whilst ‘chatting the breeze’ and waiting for something magical to happen in that grill.
I take great pride in the fact that I invited my neighbours round for a barbecue last year, being the first time we had properly met they were overly apologetic they were vegan and insisted on bringing their own food as they didn’t want to cause additional work – two hours and a rack of lamb later, we’re still great friends but their veganism is well and truly over.
Only a couple of days ago as I sat in the garden, lovingly tending to a couple of steaks, my phone pinged, same neighbour “we were on a 24-hour fast but you’ve cracked us, off to the supermarket”. Barbecue has power people.
I could wax lyrical about what to throw on your barbie for an age but as I have a limited amount of space and if we were going to get into the meat of that matter, I would need a book. I thought I would offer up three of my all-time favourite side dishes. Sides are often an afterthought which in my mind is absolute sacrilege – I would go as far as to say I am a professional side orderer – especially when it comes to barbecue. I am sure there is a world where limp salads and pots of store bought potato salad exist, but it isn’t the one I live in. These dishes are so simple to make and will elevate any meal – they go with everything and are even fantastic just on their own. So in your best Deniece Williams ‘Lets Hear it for the Boys’ voice. . . can we please hear it for the sides?
Chorizo & blue cheese smoked smashed potatoes
This one does take a little more love as it involves smoking and maintaining a good temp on the barbecue, so you do need a kettle drum-style affair. If you don’t have one, or that seems too much work, just roast the potatoes in the oven. You will also have blue cheese sauce leftover, so I always serve this with steak and then use the leftovers as a steak sauce. And then die from a heart attack.
Seasoned wood chunks
500g baby potatoes
160g cooking chorizo, finely diced
1tbsp plain flour
50g gorgonzola, plus extra for crumbling
Dash of double cream
Dash of Lea & Perrins
Get you barbecue (or oven) to around 220C.
Par boil your potatoes for around 10 minutes (you can do this by putting a pan of water on the grill or do it on the hob).
Drain the potatoes and let steam dry.
Dress the potatoes with a good glug of oil and salt
If using the barbecue method, throw your wood chunks on to the coals, pop the grill back on and put the potatoes directly on to the bars. Close the lid and leave for around 40 minutes till the potatoes are golden. Keep an eye on the temperature so they don’t burn.
If using the oven method, chuck in the oven for the same amount of time – you won’t get the smokiness, but they’re still delicious.
Whilst the potatoes are cooking, make your cheese sauce.
Melt the butter and then stir in the flour until cooked out.
In increments, whisk in the milk until you have a thick sauce.
Crumble in the blue cheese and stir until melted.
Season to taste, then add in a dash of double cream and Lea and Perrins.
When the potatoes are done, remove from the heat.
Place pan on the bars of the grill (or hob) and fry your chorizo until golden brown.
Using a slotted spoon remove the chorizo, leaving behind all of the flavoured oil it will have released.
Add the cooked potatoes to the chorizo pan and using a masher or fork, gently squash them till they split.
Toss so they absorb all that oily goodness.
Pour over the blue cheese sauce and sprinkle over the cooked chorizo and blue cheese crumbs.
Wilted Baby Gem, Parmesan & Truffle
Baby gem lettuce (I allow ¼ per person if there is lots of other stuff going on)
Good quality parmesan cheese
Quarter your baby gem being careful to keep the core intact so the quarters remain in a wedge and don’t fall apart.
About ten minutes before you are ready to eat and when the grill is still hot, place your baby gem cut side down directly on to the grill and allow it to char.
After a couple of minutes, turn it and repeat on the other cut side being careful not to tear the leaves.
Keep moving him around (gently) until the leaves are wilted and the outer sides have some blackened edges.
Lay the wedges charred side up on plate, drizzle over truffle oil and grate over a healthy amount of parmesan whilst the lettuce is still hot to get all those flavours singing.
Padrons, mozzarella and nduja (Serves 2)
1 punnet of padrons
1 ball of mozzarella
Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Depending on the gaps of your grill, you can either cook these direct on the bars or, if the gaps are too wide, place a cast iron skillet on the grill.
Get the bars/pan up to a high temperature and chuck the padrons in.
Toss them until they are black and blistered all over.
Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, they will deflate.
Arrange the peppers on a plate, rip the mozzarella and dot around in between the peppers, spoon the nduja in the gaps.
Drizzle the plate with the EVOO and sprinkle over the smoked salt.
Find out about Hannah’s upcoming Supper Clubs and what she is currently cooking via Instagram @WanderSups