Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The British and Barbecues

Something seems to be happening. The weather is warming up (even when it’s raining); the pollen count is rising - along with anti-histamines sales; the gardens are looking at their best; and there’s the inevitable drift of week-end smoke across the garden, tinged with the faint smell of paraffin fire-lighters.

Yes, the British barbecue season is upon us.

Threats of a warm and dry week-end will now result in rushed purchases at DIY stores and garden centres all over the country, some buying their first barbecue on the spur of the moment, others buying up the last stocks of charcoal. In previous years there have been reports of ‘check-out rage’ as punters vie for the remaining bags of briquettes. Even students get in on the act, with the little portable barbecues – the ones that look like an over-large pie dish. It’s all big business.

I, however, will not be joining them. Call me a spoil-sport, or even a Whingeing Pom, but I loathe barbecues.

The idea is, of course, fine in principle. Al fresco dining has a long and proud tradition around the world. Think Greek: a heavy dining table on the patio laden with salads, olives, stuffed peppers, houmous, moussaka, fresh crusty bread and jugs of local red wine. Think Italian: more olives, salad, pasta, and yet more red wine. Think Spanish, with freshly fried fish on the beach. Think even of our cousins Down Under, with big juicy steaks and thick slabs of fresh tuna, beers cooling in a bucket of ice, all by the pool.

And now think of Britain. Dodgy weather; cheap tinny barbecue; chicken and sausages burning on the outside as the inside stays indefatigably raw; coals either burning like a blacksmith's furnace or stubbornly refusing to light after two hours of choice swearing; and white wine and beer slowly getting warm as the ice melts. Then there’s that peculiar British habit of eating off flimsy paper plates, which fold up as soon as you try to cut something. No other culture would dream of it – can you imagine the French resorting to a weedy cardboard disc from which to eat their cuisine?

And perhaps, worst of all, think of all those blokes who, having not cooked a bean for six months, suddenly propel themselves into the limelight like a celebrity chef, machismo and spatula at the ready. It’s like a horrible pastiche out of “Neighbours”.

Some people, of course, have learned a thing or two over the years. The first rule is to cook everything important in the kitchen rather than outside. Leave hubby to wave around his fork over a steak outside if you must, but have some baked potatoes in the oven, some lamb chops under the grill, and sausages in the pan. Inside.

No-one will ever know, but you’ll cut the chances of giving them food poisoning, and the food won’t have that lingering taste of paraffin. You can even cater for the veggies with some grilled vegetable burgers or similar (though I don’t really think barbecues and vegetarianism were ever meant to mix).

There is an alternative, of course, that works, invented by the French, and adopted by us Brits with gusto, but that seems to have gone out of fashion recently.

Why not go for a picnic?


Herry said...

Witty and no doubt mostly true, but we eat most of our meals in the summer in the garden and don't suffer from the ills you describe. A charcoal Weber allows perfect cooking with a taste that you simply can't emulate in the kithen. The trick is to cook things more slowly away from the direct heat and to baste meats with lots of Japanese soy sauce/mirin/garlic mixture. Come and try it one day!

On the other hand, I completely agree with you about pic-nics!

David J said...

Well, I have to say yours sounds lovely - there are always exceptions to prove the rule! Why don't I get invited to barbecues prepared with such panache?

Moonrising said...

I agree there's exceptions to the rule. But barbecues for the sake of 'fashion' are bad news. When my downstairs neighbour fires his up on the CONCRETE access balcony and firelighter-laden smoke fills my flat it is not my idea of fun. And the local park looks like a civil war army encampment. (Hmmm, I think I may turn this into a post for my blog!)

David J said...

Moonrising - I really feel for you.

Someone once had a barbecue on the roof of my building. The roof is the top of a mansard, and is flat, relatively delicate (not designed to be walked on) and more importantly waterproofed with pitch - which is inflammable!