For as long as I can remember I have preferred the idea of ‘al fresco’ meals; I associate the easy, relaxed atmosphere with summers in Georgia where I lived as a child.
There, the blossoming outside my bedroom window equalled the end of the school term. It meant summer camp, picnics, extremely hot weather with a high degree of humidity and millions of mosquitoes. I adored it all, even though it seemed that the mosquitoes showed a decided preference for my extremities, and left my brothers and sister quite free of bites.
Picnics varied a great deal but that’s what made them such fun. Family reunions at my grandparents’ farm – with a large piece of meat roasting for hours over a magnificient fire, and one-legged sack races and the obligatory swim in the pond for the children – were rather elaborate affairs compared to lemonade and sandwiches at home in the garden.
The high point of any outdoor eating for me was always the barbecue. Curiously, this was the domain of my father, brothers and uncles.
There was always much animated discussion about what constituted real barbecue sauce. Everyone agreed that the basic ingredients were tomato puree, vinegar, mustard, peppers, onions and Worcester sauce – but some people added honey or beer or anchovies. The talks were endless, rather like Texans trying to decide on an authentic recipe for chilli, I’d think.
My own recipe for barbecue chicken (I’ve found this works as well for lamb) puts the emphasis on the marinade rather than a sauce. Warning: after eating this you’re going to have to buy a bottle of diet pills to lose the weight you just put on.
Barbecued chicken Serves six to eight:
2 chickens, about 1.35kg (3lb) each 2 juicy lemons 450ml (3/4 pint) plain yoghurt 8 tablespoons mustard, preferably Meaux 8 tablespoons olive oil 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion 2 to 3 tablespoons tarragon vinegar Freshly ground black pepper.
Disjoint the chickens, removing the skin and fat, and cut them into serving pieces. Put the pieces in a dish large enough to hold them all. Squeeze the juice from the lemons and sprinkle it over the chicken pieces.
Combine the yoghurt, mustard, oil, basil, onion, vinegar and pepper and mix well. Pour the mixture over the chicken, turning the pieces so that all are coated with the marinade. Refrigerate them for approximately 24 hours. Note that the marinade contains no salt: it is better to add it after cooking so that the juices are drawn from the chicken.
Allow the chicken to come to room temperature before cooking it over charcoal. Depending on the size of the pieces, the chicken needs 10 to 15 minutes on each side. Aim to have it ready 20 minutes or so before it is to be served, then it will not be so hot that it cannot be eaten with the fingers, as it should be.