Be the King of the Grill all year with beer expert Ross Dobson »
The bumper book of no nonsense barbecuing, Aussie style worldwide
By Robyn Lewis
Mention the word barbecue and many people around the world immediately think of Australia. What a great word association! Relaxing with a few friends, some drinks and casual food... Almost all year, you can usually find time for a barbecue, and hey, if it's too cold to eat outside, you can always bring the feast indoors, if sitting in the snow isn't your thing.
Unless it's blowing a gale or pouring with rain, most people enjoy a barbecue, and chef Ross Dobson, aka "master of the barbecue tongs", knows it. With a successful café and catering business under his belt, he launched into the world of food writing – previous titles include Chinatown (an early food inspiration were his neighbours from Hong Kong), Three Ways with Stale Bread (the neighbours on the other side were Italian!), before specialising in grilling, braising and broiling with Fired Up, More Fired Up, Fired Up Vegetarian, Grillhouse, and matching it all with beer in Food + Beer.
He's also well aware of the Australian love of fishing – what better way to cook your haul than to 'throw it on the barbie'? But we've come a long way since Paul Hogan and his prawns (shrimps to our American friends). Gone are the days when the alpha male of the household was content to blacken the sausages, turn the steak into leather and sizzle the chops in a cloud of smoke.
Now, he or she wants to impress and to make the most of the food, and that means learning a bit about barbecuing. It's time to sharpen our skills. And this is the book to do it with, despite the blokey title, whether you live in the great outdoors or only have access to a roof terrace or small verandah.
Dobson has barbecued around the world, from mackerel with bay leaves and Dublin Bay prawns in Camden, London, to American ribs on a warehouse roof in San Francisco, satay in Bangkok, to the mother of all barbecues, the night market in the mediaeval square of Marrakesh, serving up lamb kebabs with harissa in the hot, smoky evenings.
Australia is now culturally so diverse we can do it all here, maybe several themes and flavours at once. Barbecuing is about having fun, doing what you feel like and letting that sizzle and smoke relax you and your guests, while you gaze out from the verandah and just enjoy.
So, let's get started. Ross Dobson gives us a run through of types of barbecues – simple as it sounds, there are various ways to cook food on a metal hotplate, with heat underneath: direct on the flames, indirect (flames to the side), or lid on, creating an oven-like effect, and devices to match.
Perhaps the most primaeval, the wood fired, is the hardest to master as it's tricky to maintain the heat and control flare-ups. But the flavour is unsurpassed. That said, you can create much of the same with a few woodchips or gumleaves, and many of us prefer the convenience of gas, or Weber-type portability (beach bbq, anyone?). There's even the Japanese hibachi where you can barbecue on the centre of the table, which is also popular in the USA.
King of the Grill "draws on culinary influences from around the globe – South East Asia, India, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas" (and Australia, of course, although the South African braii is missing). However, rather than dividing the book up by country or region, it focusses on the main ingredients, like his earlier book Fired Up. The media release assures us that "there are recipes for breads, dips, salads, vegies, tofu, seafood – everything you could possibly think of cooking". And at nearly 400 pages, I'm ready to believe it.
Let's dive in for a few samples:
Poultry bbq recipes
A few that leapt out at me here were the Lemon Balsamic and Ginger (chicken) Wings, which includes a trick to ensure they are cooked right though (lately I've been sous-viding mine then finishing them off on the grill); Fragrant Chicken Parcels, wrapped then steamed on the hotplate; Honey Hoisin Chicken Wings; Quails with Peanuts and Thai Herbs; Chimichurri Chook (South American style); Cajun Blackened Bird…. and so on, and on.
There are over 30 poultry recipes, including turkey, spatchcock and duck, sauces to match, and almost all with a full page colour photo so you can see exactly what you're aiming for, whether it's Italian, Greek, Caribbean, Malay or Moroccan. Tick for this section.
Beef, Pork, Lamb and Veal
Next comes meat, which covers everything from steaks and burgers to ribs, slow-cooked shoulder, ham, sausages, hot dogs and kebabs, with sauces, marinades, rubs and glazes. With over 90 pages devoted to meats, needless to say this is not a book for vegetarians, unless you're one willing to overlook carnivorous photos.
I particularly liked the Lemongrass, Pepper and Coriander Pork Skewers, reminding me of time spent in Vietnam (there's a seafood equivalent in the next section); Merguez Sausages made with lamb or beef, which are like cigar-shaped burgers with North African flavours; Lamb Chops with Anchovy Butter; and Butterflied Lamb Masala, although these are just the tip of the sirloin, so to speak.
I get the feeling that Dobson's view is that anything that can be cooked in the oven or under a grill/broiled is better barbecued – and he's got a recipe to prove it! Unlike me, he doesn't believe in pre-cooking meat indoors, preferring to time his doneness with cans of beer (viz the "three can roast")! Verdict: looks good.
Fish and Seafood
Copious hours spent tending roasted meats are unnecessary with fish however, where most are cooked in 20 minutes, some a lot less. Dobson doesn't mind saving a bit of time with preparation though – his delicious Laksa Prawn Skewers use bought laska paste thinned with a little coconut milk (and can also be used on chicken); ditto his Tom Yum Lime Leaf and Coriander Prawns.
There are simple Grilled Whiting; Prawn and Chorizo Skewers; Fish Cutlets with Remoulade (flavoured mayo, here with celeriac); Whole Baby Trout with Lemon and Dill; the classic Chinese dish Whole Snapper with Ginger and Spring Onions; Japanese Shichimi ("seven flavours") Tuna with Wasabi Crème; Adobo Cod from the Philippines…
I defy any fish-lover to get through these 60+ pages and not find at least 5 things they might like, ending with the very simple but delicious Ocean Trout Fillet with Ginger and Shallots. I like this section a lot.
Tofu and Vegetables
Two-thirds of the way though King of the Grill we hit the veg section, which despite its smaller size contains some gems, like Lime and Turmeric Tofu Steaks with Fresh Sambal; Big Mushrooms with Marinated Feta; Naked Samosas (no pastry, so like a vegetarian burger; Chickpea and Squash Pakoras; and Blackened Paneer Skewers (barbecued cheese), served with a fresh tomato relish flavoured with nigella.
Do the kids hate silver beet? Try Dobson's Silverbeet and Feta Gözleme (a Turkish pizza with a lid, like a flat pie) and you might convert them from sausages. Got a hangover? Try Chakchouka, described as the vegetarian equivalent to bacon and eggs.
Somewhat surprisingly, the versatile eggplant doesn't get much of a look in, but I guess you can always resort to the internet for ways to spark that one up, although there are a couple of recipes in the section to follow.
Salads and Vegetable Sides
Described by some as "rabbit food", these have also come a long way since iceberg lettuce and tomato quarters. To me, the hallmark of a good salad is that the mix of flavours is so much better than the separate originals – some salads are memorable, and like a good wine, the range of flavours are very hard to pin down. Truly a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
To achieve this, use good dressings, and spice sparingly, so that one flavour does not dominate. This is achieved in Dobson's Tangy Sweet Potato Salad, dressed with rice bran oil, cider vinegar, caraway, mint and chilli.
There's the easy Classic Waldorf Salad, best when apples are fresh; a simple Red Wine Vinaigrette; 'The Must-have Grilled Vegie Salad'; another featuring aubergines, Israeli Eggplant Salad, inspired by Molly Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest of the 1980s; and more.
Here you'll find the classic barbecue accompaniment, the potato – variations include in Foil with Herbed Labneh; Crunchy Roasted with Rosemary; 'Bold' (the Spanish patatas bravas) and for the beginner, in their Jackets with Sour Cream and Chives.
Vegetables include Grilled Corn with Jalap¿no, Lime and Parmesan Butter; Sweet Potatoes with Jackets with Creamy Feta; Miso Brown Rice in Lotus Leaves (with you can buy dried in Asian grocers); Sweet and Sour Pumpkin; Balinese Grilled Eggplant with Tomato Sambal, Grilled Eggplant with Chipotle Labneh and Chargrilled Fennel with Chilli and Herbs.
Verdict on both: you won't be bored, and many of these dishes are good enough for a vegetarian main.
You can impress your friends and make your own, or go buy a sourdough baguette and make Real Garlic Bread. There are recipes for Damper; Barbari Bread from Iran; Grilled Green Olive Bread; Indian Pizza (made with bought roti, or make your own Naan with a recipe on p 353); Afghani Flatbreads; Piadini (Italian flatbreads) Stuffed with Manchego and Parsley, and more.
This is a great section for those wanting to make that extra effort, or who don't live near a bakery.
"Bag of Tricks"
Right at the end comes a range of sauces and accompaniments, some staple like Easy Béarnaise; No Frills Hollandaise; and Tzatziki; through to Home-made Sweet Chilli Sauce, relishes (Smoky Tomato), dips (the Pumpkin, Black Bean and Feta looks good, if you're happy to barbecue a pumpkin for an hour), and a couple of salsas. As Dobson says, there's nothing wrong with serving them with a packet of corn chips, and they're so much better than most shop versions.
You could have a barbecue twice a week for a year and not run out of options with King of the Grill. It's full of inspiration and if you want to extend your barbecuing range – or that of someone else – you can hardly go past it. However, if you already have Fired Up, there's a bit of recipe repetition. Think of this as a revised edition, perhaps.
The presentation is big and bold, like the flavours; the (softish) cover looks foil wrapped, and is splatter-proof if not totally waterproof. Despite its size, it's not too heavy, meaning King of the Grill can easily go outdoors, too. If you see your mates browsing through it, don't be too surprised, and you're sure to get some requests for recipes.
It's a great gift for Christmas or birthday for someone who likes casual entertaining and who wants to update or expand their barbecue repertoire. Despite being Australian in origin, its multicultural flavour gives it worldwide appeal. Cheers Ross, you're welcome to fire up our barbie anytime!
King of the Grill by Ross Dobson is published by Murdoch Press (Crow's Nest, NSW, 2014, and London 2015; hc, 392 pp) and retails in Australia for A$39.99.
It can be purchased online via Booko here »
- Sydney (NSW)
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