Southern Angola, early nineties...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

His Lordship’s Barbecue

I am expecting a fairly high profile visit the day after tomorrow. The host will be Winston Churchill’s grandson (no less a formidable man in his own right) and he has invited a few other dignitaries, among them senior Angolan officials and the British Ambassador. I have had the honour to cook for the Honourable Rupert Soames on just one other occasion and I quickly learnt that his palate demands the same perfect standards he expects of the employees of his very successful company. Best be on my toes then.

To avoid disaster, therefore, I had a dummy run of the menu last night. Before his aristocratic seat settled itself into one of my chairs, I wanted to be sure that everything would be perfect. It was an unmitigated catastrophe. Oh the food was OK; it was just served at odd intervals and in a distressingly random order. Mr Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen is a kindergarten cookery lesson in comparison to my kitchen when I finally lose my rag. I can tell you that it is possible to stick a chef’s knife through the steel side of a 20-foot container if you are wound up enough. Still, the exercise proved a point, not least the quality of a good drop forged knife, and I am reasonably assured that all will go well on the night.

The proposed menu, for what is supposed to be an informal barbecue is:

Salad of varieties of crisp lettuce, water cress, cherry tomatoes, fresh coriander leaves, mint and parsley tossed in olive oil, light vinegar and seasoning and mixed with diced avocado and pieces of toasted sheep’s cheese.

King prawns, lobster tails and fresh vegetables braised in Coconut milk curry sauce.

Filet steak basted with home made barbecue pepper sauce and grilled over hot charcoal.

Dauphin Potatoes (potato slices braised in creamy milk and butter and well seasoned with salt and pepper before being gently baked under a light coating of grated cheeeeese Gromit).

Potato salad made with potatoes, boiled ham, sliced pickled gherkins, home made mayonnaise and fresh cream and seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh parsley.

Coleslaw made with finely grated cabbage, carrots, onions, sliced celery, home-made mayonnaise, fresh cream and pineapple.

Cucumber dill salad.

Dessert

Fruit salad of pineapple, banana, passion fruit, grapes, mango and papaya steeped in a light vanilla Cointreau sugar syrup over ice cream.

A light, Al Fresco snack then.

For those of you who are wondering at the relative lack of meat and the preponderance of salads and vegetable dishes I would ask you to consider this: if you went to a restaurant and were served three varieties of carbonised flesh, say beef, chicken and sausage and sod all else, you would quickly tire of chewing your way through the dry, tasteless protein and would, in all probability avoid repeating the experience. Why then, when the word ‘Barbecue’ is mentioned, do the majority of us assume that this simply means firing up half an endangered forest and roasting as much meat as could fit in that small remaining space in the back of our car not occupied by the seemingly mandatory vast quantiites of beer?

This barbecue menu is really quite simple, the guests will be delighted and your workload will be sufficiently well managed to allow you plenty of time to socialise (or drain the bar of whisky as is my wont).

So, each part explained below:

Salad of varieties of crisp lettuce, water cress, cherry tomatoes, fresh coriander leaves, mint and parsley tossed in olive oil, light vinegar and seasoning and mixed with diced avocado and pieces of toasted sheep’s cheese.

Pretty much self explanatory. Water cress is fantastic when mixed up with a variety of crisp lettuce. Its pepperiness adds a refreshing tang so there is no need to be shy. A handful of chopped parsley, coriander leaves and a bit of mint add to the bouquet of flavours and the avocado and diced cheese really makes it something special. Cheddar is a bit strong but it will work in extremis if you only use a bit and grate it so that it mixes in well. Best is a slab of Greek sheep’s cheese very lightly toasted under the grill before dicing and mixing in with the salad. Seasoning with salt pepper, oil and a light vinegar should be according to your taste. A dash of lemon juice invariably enhances the overall flavour.

King prawns, lobster tails and fresh vegetables braised in Coconut milk curry sauce.

Filet steaks take but a few moments on the barbecue so you need to prepare the sea food dish, or as the Angolan’s romantically refer to such dishes 'fruits of the sea' in advance but only finish it off by braising the prawns and lobster once the steak is on the barbecue (the usual last minute rush).

Finely chop an onion and a couple of garlic cloves. Thinly slice a carrot lengthways, a couple of green peppers, a couple of courgettes and chop up a couple of ripe red tomatoes. Chop off the stalks of a bunch of fresh coriander leaves and slice them up finely.

Add a splash of olive oil to a heavy based frying pan and when hot, add the vegetables and sweat them off. Add a teaspoon of chopped fresh chillies (we use a pepper here called Gindungo, which is pure dynamite but if used sparingly, tastes great), a teaspoon of dried coriander powder, a teaspoon or so of Turmeric, and a teaspoon of Cumin and stir the lot up.

At his point you could, if the meat was not ready, take the pan off the heat and wait until the steaks are just about done on the barbeque. When you are ready, warm the pan up again and add a can of coconut cream or milk and allow the mixture to warm through. Season with enough salt to taste. Add the prawns and lobster tails, stir into the mixture, add a handful of chopped fresh coriander leaves, put the lid on the pan and allow the meat to cook through. You will need to turn the lobster tails and prawns once to ensure even cooking. It is a nice touch, if your barbeque grill is big enough, to do the final cooking of the seafood on the barbeque, that way the guests can get a really mouth-watering introduction to the dish they are about to enjoy. The final cooking should only take about five minutes. It is important not to overcook the prawns and lobster as the meat will lose its texture and flavour. If it is pink on the outside and evenly white throughout, it is done. The easiest way to check is to keep pinching a bit out of the pan and testing it. It is ready when the meat is white all the way through but still has a bite to it. Pour the contents of the pan into a warmed serving dish and garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

A surprisingly delicate variation is to add a handful of chopped pineapples to the vegetables and sweat them off together. They soften up nicely during the cooking and provide a pleasant contrast to the spiciness of the dish and pineapple, in my opinion, goes well with seafood.

If you want to serve rice with it, see basics 1 below. I will have rice on hand on the night as I know, and am hoping, that a few of our Angolan colleagues, those that help us run the site, will gate crash the party and I will need extra to feed the temporarily enhanced security team.

Filet steak basted with home made barbecue pepper sauce and grilled over hot charcoal.

Grilling beef filet on a barbeque is not rocket science so I shan’t bother with the details. Obviously, every guest you are about to serve will have different ideas about the definition of ‘rare’, ‘medium’ or ‘well done’ and the odd one, with a stunning disregard for your status as host and the obligations you therefore have to each and every one of them, will expect you to personally supervise the cooking of ‘their’ steak to its perfect conclusion. I usually rack the steaks up when nicely browned on the outside and still pink in the middle and announce in a loud voice that the meat is ready and then let the guests pick and choose. There will be at least one who, beer in hand, decides to reduce their selection to little more than furnace fuel but that is all part of the fun. For the more irritatingly macho of them, those that feel it is their God given, altruistic duty to educate us mere mortals on the intricacies of searing meat, I have a specially prepared jar of Gindungo which I introduce to them as, ‘a mild tomato based sauce that you should try, here is a soup-spoon with which to serve it’. If you pick the right sort of individual (and they are usually pretty easy to recognise because they will have pissed you off at an early stage), rather than admit instant defeat with the first searing mouthful of volcanic magma, they will push on to everyone else’s amusement and, more or less instantly, their own very obvious excruciating discomfort. Rest contentedly at night once the remainder of your guests have gone home (sniggering), knowing as they do that the following morning will bring renewed anguish for the crass git. Round here, Gindungo is not referred to as requiring ‘toilet paper in the fridge’ without good reason.

While a decent filet has a delicate flavour and texture on its own, basting it with a home-made barbeque sauce is very much in keeping with the garden grill culture and seems to go down well. The sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated, keeps very well for at least a week. I have not been able to test it for longer as no batch has ever lasted beyond that evidently being consumed long before its 'sell by date'.

Take three or four good sized onions and a few garlic cloves, don’t bother to peel them, and place them on a baking tray and into a hot oven. Twenty or so minutes later, add four whole sweet peppers. After another 15 minutes or so, throw in half a dozen tomatoes. By 40-45 minutes total time, the onions should be soft and their inner parts squeezing out of their skins. The peppers should be brown and blistering in places and the tomatoes very soft, the skins also browning. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool sufficiently so that you can handle them. Strip the skins off, doesn't have to be perfect, and drop the peeled flesh into a blender. Add a dash of soy sauce, a tiny bit of chillie, salt, pepper, a couple of squirts of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoonful of sugar, the juice of a lemon, a dash of olive oil and a few tablespoons of vinegar. Blend the lot into a puree. Cut the filet into 1 ½ - 2” thick slices, baste with the sauce and leave to one side until time to barbecue. Use the remainder of the sauce to baste during the grilling process.

Dauphin Potatoes (potato slices braised in creamy milk and butter and well seasoned with salt and pepper).

Peel the potatoes and slice them up into ¼ “ thick slices and arrange them into an oven proof dish. Season each layer well with a bit of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add a few small knobs of butter and then arrange the next layer. About halfway through, sprinkle in a handful of chopped fresh parsley. Build up the layers until about ¾” below the top of the dish. Pour in a carton of cream and top up with full cream milk until the top layer is just awash. Cover with tinfoil and bung the dish into a hot oven. Leave it for ¾ of an hour and then remove the tin foil add a sprinkling of grated mild cheese and give it 10-15 minutes just to brown the surface off a bit. If, like me, you cannot resist checking it about halfway through and it seems a little dry, add a bit more milk as necessary.

Potato salad made with potatoes, boiled ham, sliced pickled gherkins, home made mayonnaise and fresh cream and seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh parsley.

Boil the potatoes in their skins in slightly salted water until you can pierce them with a skewer but they are still firm enough to allow you to lift them out of the water on the skewer. If they just slide easily off the vertically held skewer, you have overcooked them. If the skewer sticks in but does not penetrate, like a blunt arrow in a pub dartboard, then they need a little more time. Once ready, drain the water and let them cool. The skins should be easy to gently squeeze off without mashing the flesh. Dice the potatoes and place in a bowl, add finely chopped parsley and a knob of butter. Add salt and ground black pepper.

Take a chunk of boiled ham and dice it finely. You can use tinned ham but trust me, supporting your local butcher will pay epicurial dividends. Do the same with the pickled gherkins and gently stir into the potatoes (we do not want mashed potatoes).
Add sufficient mayonnaise to moisten all the ingredients and then half a carton of cream, mix gently and set aside ready to serve.

Coleslaw made with finely grated cabbage, carrots, onions, sliced celery, home-made mayonnaise, fresh cream and pineapple.

Slice up the cabbage finely. I usualy like eating the core but that is desperately selfish. Slice it up as fine as you can and add it to the mixture. Chop up an onion as small as possible. Finely slice a couple of celery stalks lengthways and then chop them into 2” lengths. Using a coarse grater, grate up enough carrots to roughly equal the amount of cabbage. Grate it in such a way as to produce slices as long as possible. Cut two slices off a fresh pineapple, core them and then chop them up into small pieces. Mix it all together and add enough mayonnaise to bind the mixture together. Season with salt and pepper. Add ½ a carton of cream, mix and set aside to serve later.

Cucumber dill salad.

Peel the cucumber and slice as thin as possible. Arrange the slices in a wide bottom bowl, seasoning each layer with salt and a bit of pepper. Place the bowl in the fridge and leave for a few hours. After this time, the salt will have sweated the cucumber and there will be a lot of juice. Stir the now glassy cucumber slices around and then drain the juice off. Finely chop a generous bunch of fresh dill and mix in a carton of cream. I like sour cream, some people don’t so try it both ways and see which you prefer but, if the majority of your guests do not introduce themselves with names suggesting their point of origin, like Von (from) Borken for example, play it safe and use fresh cream. Set aside and serve later.

Dessert

Fruit salad of pineapple, banana, passion fruit, grapes, mango and papaya steeped in a light vanilla Cointreau sugar syrup over ice cream.

Chop up all the juicy fruits into small chunks collecting the juice as you go. This juice should go into a small, heavy based pan. Add the juice of a lemon and an orange or two. Place the chopped fruit into a serving bowl and add sliced banana and the grapes.

Add a vanilla pod and a clove or two to the fruit juice in the pan and boil it up to reduce it to about a half of its original volume. Add a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar and dissolve the sugar. Do not turn the mixture into a sticky syrup, or worse still, a toffee, we need about half a pint of liquid so if there isn’t enough, add more freshly squeezed orange juice. Remove the vanilla pod and cloves and reserve the liquid in a cool place. Once it is cold, add a shot of Cointreau, chop up some fresh mint, add that to the fruit and then pour the liquid over giving the whole lot a stir. Save in the fridge until ready to serve.

This tastes great over vanilla ice-cream and if you really are ambivalent about cardiac problems, a knob of whipped cream as well.

This fruit salad recipe is a refinement of the Frontline version which consisted of opening a tin of mixed fruit salad, adding a shot of local brandy or cane spirit and leaving it while the roadkill was grilled up over the fire.

2 comments:

Cate in Africa said...

Okay, I live in Luanda also and want to know where you are sourcing all your fresh fruit and vegetables? from a fellow cook..

Hippo said...

Hi Cate,

sorry for the late reply, I have been so busy lately that I have really neglected my blogs. I have just returned from Mauritius and tomorrow will be off down to Lubango so I am hoping that in the forthcoming evenings, I can catch up.

To answer your question, the supply of fresh fruit and veg is very seasonal but improving. I use local markets a lot and also kick my long suffering girlfriend out of bed early in the morning to buy the best fish straight off the beach.

Sao Paulo market is good for herbs; I use a lot of fresh coriander (Coentro in Portuguese)and I seem to have more success there. Most local markets will have a variety of whatever is in season but take someone who knows the local haggling rules.

I live in the Southern Suburbs so go to the big Shoprite in the new Talatona shoppng centre. The Jumbo supermarket is also good. You did not mention meat but at Jumbo you can buy Buffalo Filet which is a fraction of the price of beef filet but, in my opinion, superiour.

Fish I buy at the Futungo beach, you need to get there early and it is much cheaper than anything you can buy on the Ilha. Alternatively, I buy at the Barro de Kwanza. On the way, there are plenty of roadside stalls selling stuff fresh from the fields.

The Mundo Verde, also in the Southern Suburbs often has a good variety but, in all cases, you have to be prepared to look around as none of the places I have mentioned maintain a constant stock.

If you do not know the city that well, then email me on tomgowans@snet.co.ao and I will arrange for you to spend a day shopping with Marcia, my fiancee.