Barbecue anyone

Bart Beek | VOLUME 28, ISSUE 5

Whether on a boat, in the park, or at home in your backyard, these fresh dishes can be whipped up on even the smallest barbecue.

What do you get when you combine fine, fresh seafood, a simple grill, relaxed surroundings and some basic cooking techniques? Well, you get a group of very happy and passionate diners whose praise and accolades will definitely fly your way!

One of the keys to producing perfectly cooked seafood is having a good understanding of the product. Knowing how to recognise the finest and freshest produce, maintaining a rapport with your local fishmonger and recognising when seafood has that desired fresh smell of the sea will all contribute to success on the dinner plate.

Because fresh fish deteriorates very quickly, cook produce on the day you purchase it, or at latest on the next day. Signs that indicate freshness are bright, tight scales, firm bulging flesh and deep, dark eyes that seem to be looking at you. I suggest selecting perfect whole fish and asking your fishmonger to fillet them for you, or take the fish home and have a go at filleting yourself.

Humans have consumed mussels for thousands of years and have prepared and cooked them in many different ways. Knowing what to look for in terms of quality and freshness will help you choose the best samples. Mussels must be alive just before cooking. Prepare them by removing the small beards, then give the sides a quick scrub and rinse them in fresh cold water. Mussels protect themselves from predators by keeping their shells firmly closed. When placed in the light, they will slowly open their shells. A simple tap on the shell causes them to close quickly – a sure sign they’re alive and fresh.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, where I was born, massive amounts of mussels are consumed and are often served along with thinly cut French fries or sliced rye bread. Steamed mussels are combined with rich vegetable broths made up of wine, herbs and butter. Another common method found at Dutch takeaway outlets is to coat them with a thin batter or dried breadcrumbs. They are then quickly deep fried – simple but delicious.

For this issue, I have included my Dutch mussels and the key step in the recipe is to braise the herbs and aromatic vegetables for at least five minutes before adding the wine, tomatoes and mussels. Shaking and tossing the mussels during the cooking process will ensure they cook evenly. The final step is simply to toss through the butter and parsley, check the seasoning and serve up.

My prawns take on the classic northern Indian flavours of garam masala. Do attempt to roast and grind your own spice mix; it makes all the difference! Once made, garam masala will keep for weeks in an airtight container and can be used in countless other dishes. In this recipe, I combine the spiced prawns with fire-charred capsicums and red onions, which is a magical mix of sweet smokiness and fragrant spices.

Fresh salmon is readily available and here I combine it with a little of my Jamaican ‘jerk’ recipe and quickly sear it over hot, smouldering charcoal.

The jerk is made by placing 10 dry ingredients into a jar and giving them a quick shake. It gets its sweetness from brown sugar, savoury notes from nutmeg and cinnamon and a solid chilli kick from cayenne pepper. This salmon combines beautifully with the Middle Eastern flavours of hummus and fresh tomatoes. Adding a scattering of whole chickpeas to the dish adds a welcome crunch.

The Cambodian grilled snapper is one of my favourite fish dishes and I’m sure you’ll love it too. My technique is to crisp up the skin of the snapper first, then remove it from the pan when it’s half cooked. I then quickly cook the aromatics in the pan, add the snapper back in and finish it off in a simple chilli lime sauce. And I serve it with a tangy green papaya salad that’s been sprinkled with a little ground roasted rice. An amazing, yet easy dish.

And while the barbecue is still fired up and we’re thinking of desserts, why not lightly grill some new-season nectarines and fresh sweet pineapple. Combine them in a simple rum-flavoured caramel sauce and present with a little fresh cream and a scattering of pomegranate seeds. The simplest things can be so good!

Dutch-style steamed mussels

Mussels are one of the most sustainable seafoods available. They are inexpensive, healthy and will cook in just three minutes. Buy them at their freshest, store refrigerated and, if possible, cook on the day of purchase. They should have the fresh smell of the ocean and even freshly cooked unopened mussels will be fine to eat.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Serves: 4

60ml extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 medium brown onion, chopped small

1 red capsicum, sliced into 2cm strips

1 stick celery, sliced thinly

1 tblsp lemon thyme leaves

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Salt and pepper, to taste

1kg mussels, washed, scrubbed, beards removed

1 tblsp unsalted butter

1 cup continental parsley, roughly chopped

Place the olive oil into a heated, deep saucepan and add in the crushed garlic and cook for 20 seconds. Add in the chopped onion, capsicum, celery and lemon thyme leaves. Cook on high heat, stirring constantly for four minutes.

Add in the white wine, seasoning and tomato halves, stirring well. Combine in the cleaned mussels, toss well and cover with a lid.

Cook until the mussels have opened, tossing well to ensure that the mussels cook evenly. Stir in the butter and parsley, toss well and serve with fresh crusty bread.

Cambodian grilled snapper with jasmine rice and green papaya salad

This recipe is all done in the one grill pan (or wok) and is fast, delicious and very easy to make. I like to serve it with a little steamed jasmine rice and a green papaya and tomato salad.

Green papaya (or pawpaw) fruit can be found year-round at most Asian grocery stores and is not expensive. Christopher Columbus described it as ‘fruit of the angels’ and it’s known to be a very healthy fruit. Green papaya contains papain, an enzyme that helps digest proteins.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 18 minutes

Serves: 2

2 x 150g snapper portions, skin on

3 tblsps peanut oil

¾ cup fresh ginger, cut into matchstick shapes

2 medium shallots, cut into small dice

½ small red chilli, sliced thin

1 tblsp sugar

2 spring onions, trimmed and sliced into matchstick shapes

2 tblsps fish sauce

2 tblsps lime juice

Salt, to taste

1 spring onion, sliced thin and placed into ice water

2 portions jasmine rice

Heat a pan and add in the peanut oil. When hot, add in the snapper fillets (skin side down) and hold flat for 45 seconds, or until the skin turns golden and become crisp. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Now add the ginger to the pan and stir-fry until lightly brown, then add in the diced shallots and toss well for one minute. Push the ginger and shallots to the sides and add in the snapper (skin side up).

Add in the chilli, sugar, matchstick-shaped spring onions, fish sauce and lime juice. Move the pan to stir up the sauce and bring to a boil. As soon as the snapper is cooked, remove from the stove and season to taste.

Present with a portion of the jasmine rice and green papaya salad.

Jasmine rice (absorption method)

3 parts jasmine rice, unwashed

4 parts water

Place the jasmine rice and water into a suitably sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to the lowest possible setting, cover with a lid and allow to cook for 18 minutes. Remove from the heat keeping the lid firmly on and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Loosen the rice grains with the tongs of a fork before serving.

Green papaya and tomato salad

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Serves: 4

1 small green papaya

2 tomatoes, chopped

1 cup coriander leaves

1 tblsp fish sauce

1 tblsp caster sugar

3 tblsps lime juice

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small bird’s-eye chilli, thinly sliced

1 small shallot, diced small

3 tblsps peanuts, chopped

1 tblsp roasted rice powder (see below)

To make the roasted rice powder, place half a cup of jasmine rice into a pan and heat. Toss the rice so it colours evenly and becomes golden. Place into a mortar and grind with a pestle until fine, cool and store in an airtight jar.

Make a dressing by placing the fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, olive oil, crushed garlic, chilli, shallots and peanuts into a bowl.

Peel and halve the papaya, then remove all the seeds with a spoon. Grate the papaya into long threads and place onto the dressing. Add in the chopped tomatoes and torn coriander leaves, then toss well. Place into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the roasted rice powder.

Garam masala prawns with flame-roasted peppers

The word garam actually means spices and masala means mixture. There are many variations of this blend and this is my favourite combination. It is always fragrant but never hot and is best when made fresh in a pan and ground into a fine powder.

The fresh prawns are delicious when pan-sautéed in the spice blend with a little oil, or skewered and grilled over charcoal.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves: 4

Garam masala

2 tblsps black peppercorns

5 whole cloves

2 tblsps coriander seeds

2 tblsps cumin seeds

1 tsp cardamom seeds

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp grated nutmeg

Place the whole spices (peppercorns, cloves, coriander, cumin and cardamom) into a pan and place onto the heat. Stir while heating until the spices become fragrant. Add in the ground cinnamon and nutmeg, heat for 30 seconds, then place the complete mixture into a mortar. Grind into a fine powder, allow to cool and store in an airtight container.

16 green prawns

1 red capsicum

1 yellow capsicum

1 red onion, sliced 1cm thick

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

1 cup parsley, roughly chopped Salt flakes, to taste

Lightly brush the whole capsicums and onion slices with a little olive oil and grill above charcoal until blistered and soft. Place the capsicums into a plastic bag, allowing them to steam for several minutes. Use a knife to scrape away the charred skin and add to the onion slices in a bowl. Combine in the parsley, season well and set aside.

Remove the head and shells from the prawns, leaving the shell of the tail section on. Clean away the intestinal track. Combine two tablespoons of garam masala with a little olive oil and rub all over the prawns.

Heat a pan with a little olive oil and add in the prawns, cooking until just done. Present with the roasted capsicum and onion mix.

Grilled jerk salmon skewers with hummus and tomatoes

Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica and the principal method is to add a dry rub or wet marinade to various proteins. Pork or chicken is mostly preferred, but you can use goat, fish and lamb. Cooking above charcoal enhances the spicy smoky flavour and traditionally a steel drum called a jerk pan is used.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 6 minutes

Serves: 4

4 x 150g salmon portions, skinned and cubed

1 tblsp jerk dry rub

8 tblsps hummus

½ cup chick peas, cooked

2 cups baby heirloom tomatoes, cut into halves

2 tblsps extra virgin olive oil

½ lime, juice only

½ cup micro herbs

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Jerk dry rub

1 tblsp ground allspice

1 tblsp dried thyme leaves

1½ tblsps salt flakes

1 tblsp dark brown sugar

3 tsps cayenne pepper

2 tblsps onion powder

2 tsps ground black pepper

2 tsps garlic powder

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground cinnamon

To make the jerk dry rub place all the above ingredients into a dry clean jar, tightly close the lid and shake until well combined.

Combine together the salmon cubes with one tablespoon of the jerk dry rub, then place onto metal skewers. Place the skewers onto a pre-heated charcoal grill or barbecue and cook until lightly golden, but moist and glossy in the centre. This should take no more than one minute on each side.

Spread the hummus onto the plates and scatter the whole chick peas and tomato halves over the top. Finish with the jerk salmon cubes, a light drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lime juice and a scattering of the herbs.

Flame-grilled pineapple and nectarines with caramel and pomegranate

Simply grill the fruits on a barbecue while making the caramel sauce in a saucepan. The thickness of the sauce can be adjusted by adding a little water at the end. I also fill thin crêpes with the caramel fruits and served them with fresh cream – they’re amazing!

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Serves: 4

1 white nectarine

¼ small pineapple

⅓ cup caster sugar

½ cup cream

20ml dark rum

¼ cup water

½ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out

1 tblsp lime juice


1 cup thickened cream

1 tblsp caster sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

2 tblsps pomegranate seeds

Pre-heat a charcoal grill and place an open grate above the coals.

Wash the nectarine, remove the stone and cut into 12 equal wedges. Remove the outer skin from the pineapple and cut away the centre core. Cut into 12 slices.

Place a saucepan onto the heat and add in the caster sugar. Allow the sugar to slowly melt then tilt around until it has an even, light-brown colour.

Remove from the heat and carefully add in the half cup of cream and the rum. Place back onto the flame and ignite to burn the alcohol away, then add the ¼ cup of water, vanilla seeds and lime juice. Place back onto a moderate heat, reduce slightly and keep warm.

Place the nectarine and pineapple slices onto the heated metal grill and colour both sides until they have score marks. Add the fruit to the hot caramel, moving about until well coated.

Beat the cream, caster sugar and vanilla extract until firm, then place a portion onto a serving plate. Add the caramelised nectarine and pineapple slices and finish with a scattering of pomegranate seeds. ¿