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Light my fire: Skye Gyngell reveals the secret of a perfect barbecue

Is there anything better than a relaxed barbecue on a hot summer's day? Skye Gyngell celebrates the smoky flavour that only an open fire can impart

Without wanting to sound too obvious, the summer months are the best of all for eating and cooking outside. Food cooked over an open fire has a different flavour altogether than food cooked on the stove or in the oven.

All manner of things can be cooked – not just sausages and burgers but all the lovely robust summer vegetables such as aubergines and red peppers. Little birds such as pigeon or quail work beautifully, as does butterflied leg of lamb and oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and red mullet. Cook them all simply, then make lovely sauces such as salsa verde or aioli to spoon over the top.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com

Quail with red cabbage salad

I'm very fond of quail. This dish is rich and deep in flavour yet still manages to remain clean and summery. You will need to start preparing a day ahead, as the quail needs to marinate overnight.

Serves 4

4 quail
1 litre/1¾ pints water
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
125g/4oz Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine)

For the marinade

3 tbsp light soya sauce
3 tbsp dark soya sauce
1 tbsp hot bean sauce
1 tsp five-spice powder (try making your own: an equal mix of cinnamon, cloves, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel seeds and star anise roasted in the oven and pounded to a fine powder with a pestle and mortar)
4 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp fermented bean curd

For the salad

red cabbage, shredded
2 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
A small bunch of coriander, leaves only
2 limes, cut into wedges

Place the quail on a board. Cut each bird down the backbone and press flat with your hand to butterfly them. Bring the water to the boil and add the ginger and Chinese wine. Return to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the quail and simmer for a further 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and leave the quail to cool in the broth.

Meanwhile, make the marinade. Blend all of the ingredients together with 125ml/4fl oz of the quail broth. Remove the quail from the broth and rub with the marinade. Cover and place in the fridge overnight.

The next day, half an hour before you are ready to start the barbecue, remove the quail from the fridge. When the barbecue is ready, drain the quail, reserving the excess marinade, and place it on the grill, skin-side down, for 2 minutes. Turn and grill for 30 seconds on the underside.

Toss the cabbage, shallots and coriander together and place on a plate. Lay the quail on top and spoon the reserved marinade over the top. Serve immediately.

Grilled sardines with tamarind, coriander, chilli and ginger

I adore sardines but they have to be spankingly fresh; their rich flesh lends itself to the clean Asian flavours.

Serves 4

8 very fresh sardines – ask your fishmonger to gut and scale them for you
A little vegetable oil for brushing

For the salad

A mixed handful of equal amounts of coriander leaves, sweet Thai basil leaves and mint leaves

1 long red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
1 banana shallot, peeled, finely sliced and fried in vegetable oil until really crisp
1 vine-ripened tomato, cut into wedges
1 tbsp shredded ginger

For the dressing

4 tbsp tamarind water
4 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp palm sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce

Start by making the dressing. Mix all the ingredients together and stir well to combine. Next, brush the fish generously with vegetable oil, but do not bother to season. Lay the fish on your barbecue and grill for 2 minutes on one side. Turn, and grill for another minute on the other side. Remove from the barbecue and set aside.

Place all the salad ingredients in a bowl and dress with two tablespoons of the dressing. Toss together lightly with your fingers. Lay half of the dressed salad on a plate and pile the sardines on top. Scatter over the remaining salad leaves and spoon over the rest of the dressing.

Mozzarella grilled between lemon leaves

I love to use lemon leaves in everything from slow-cooked dishes to marinades. Their clean, citrus flavour gives a fragrant note to dishes that is complex yet at the same time completely simple.

Serves 4

8 lemon leaves
25ml/1fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
2 very fresh buffalo mozzarella, torn in half
8 toothpicks or little twigs to secure the lemon leaves
A pinch of sea salt
A few grindings of black pepper

Lay four citrus leaves on your work surface, place the mozzarella in the centre of each leaf and season. Drizzle with just a little olive oil. Lay a leaf on top of each and secure both ends with a twig (or toothpick). Lay on the barbecue and grill for around 30 seconds. Turn gently and grill for another 30 seconds on the other side. Season to taste and serve.