As barbecue season heats up, MARIAM DIGGES grills some of the country’s leading experts for tips, trends and advice on how to sizzle this summer when it comes to cooking with fire
Anthony Puharich and his obession with the primal pursuit of barbecuing.
Some people collect stamps and others hoard art. But for Vic’s Meat Market’s co-founder, Anthony Puharich, it’s all about barbecues. The fifth-generation butcher and man behind Sydney’s Victor Churchill, described as the best butcher shop in the world, currently owns 11 barbecue-style contraptions.They range from spits to smokers, a Japanese ceramic kamado to a Cypriot-style souvla machine, casually placed around his backyard in North Bondi.
“I think for all men, it’s primal,” Puharich says. Primal or not, most of us could use some guidance on the grill. So we asked the experts for sizzling tips you can use when firing one up this season.
“I only ever cook on cast iron,” Puharich says, as opposed to stainless steel. “It’s the best conductor of heat and gives you that beautiful caramelised crust.”
Barbecue stores sell cast iron plates. Let refrigerated meat come to room temperature before putting it on the barbecue,which needs to be smoking hot for the best results.
STEAK YOUR CLAIM
Puharich prefers a scotch fillet on the bone, rib eye or a T-bone, 4-5cm thick.
“It cooks better and you can get that medium-rare doneness easier. I prefer carving a big piece to share rather than individual portions.” And strictly no prodding or turning. “I subscribe to the two-thirds cooking time on one side, one-third on the other,” he says.
“We have a little rosemary ‘brush’ that sits in olive oil,” Sean Donovan, chef at Melbourne’s Fitzroy Hotel, says. “We brush every piece of meat that comes off the grill with it.” To make your own, cut rosemary into 8cm pieces and secure one end with a rubber band.
If you’re using woods, the general rule of thumb is to use fruit and nut woods for white meat (poultry, pork) and hard wood such as mesquite, oak and mallee for red meats. “And use bricks inside your kettle barbecue to separate coals and create different temperature zones for different produce,” Donovan says.
Sometimes the best flavours stem from ingredients already in your kitchen.
Jess Pryles, co-founder of Australasian Barbecue Alliance, recommends using coffee as a rub on beef.
“It pairs beautifully with smoked, earthy chilli powders like chipotle and enhances the flavour of the meat,” she says. Just be sure to use ground coffee, not instant, which dissolves on contact.
MOVE OVER, MEAT
At Sydney restaurant Firedoor, chef Lennox Hastie prepares everything on the menu by woodfire, including the humble lettuce. “The grilling process intensifies the natural sweetness in the vegetable,” Hastie says.
He recommends firmer varieties like cos or radicchio, which hold their shape, quartered and grilled quickly over a fairly intense heat. “The result is nicely charred leaves but the lettuce still has a nice crisp texture.”
BEYOND THE SHRIMP
Fish with a high fat quota are best for barbecuing, as the natural oils protect them while they cook, says Hastie. Cook skin-side down to protect the meat.
The chef recommends using a fish rack or a greased hotplate as well as venturing outside typical seafood options and trying pipis, strawberry clams or blue mackerel.
THERE’S THE RUB
While Donovan isn’t mad about marinades that can overshadow beef, less flavour-packed proteins like chicken or veal can benefit from them.
“A North African chermoula is a great one,” he says. “Combine garlic, chopped red onions, coriander, lemons, preserved lemon, saffron, cumin, coriander, paprika and chilli.” Rub some over the meat and use the rest as a sauce on the side.
The pungent herb sauce can also be used on vegetables. For the perfect bark (or crust) every time, Billy Gibney, from Meat at Billy’s in Brisbane,rubs a little brown sugar and salt into the meat’s surface before barbecuing.
“Fruit is great off the grill,” says Hastie. Grilled blueberries and stone fruits, such as peaches, can be paired with ice cream and hazelnuts for an instant treat.
The sugars in the fruit caramelise, heightening the inherent sweetness.
The general rule is you should rest steak for half as long as you cooked it, lightly covered in foil. “Rest your steaks on a plate to collect the juices, and then pour this over the sliced meat for extra flavour,” says delicious. on Sunday food editor Warren Mendes. Also bear in mind that meat continues to cook for about two degrees once off the grill.