Mark Hix: Take a break from bangers and burgers

...and chuck some fresh seafood on the barbie
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Indy Lifestyle Online

There's nothing like cooking in the open air, and there are so many sexy-looking barbecues on the market these days that you're bound to be tempted to have a bit of culinary fun in the great outdoors this summer. I'm so keen that I always keep a disposable barbecue in the car, plus a pair of tongs, seasoning, etc, in case that rare moment arises when I have the chance to cook my catch (if I get lucky on one of my fishing expeditions).

Cooking fish over charcoal or wood puts a whole new perspective on its taste. If you're planning to barbecue, it's advisable to create some interesting accompaniments, such as chunky salsas and salads, as well as vegetables such as aubergines, courgettes, young leeks and asparagus that you can grill alongside the fish. There is something about the flavour of barbecued fish, especially when it's straight out of the water. I remember cooking a super-fresh grey mullet on my compact pyramid barbecue just hours after it was caught, stuffed with freshly gathered wild fennel – it was outdoor dining as it really should be.

Squid with roasted peppers

Serves 4-6

Squid is perfect for slapping on the grill; it lends itself to all kinds of Mediterranean and Asian flavours. A friend of mine, Marco d'Agostino, has this on his restaurant menu at Hamilton's in Weymouth; squid is plentiful there and I nearly always order it when I visit.

  • 1-1.5 kg fresh medium to large squid, cleaned and tentacles reserved
  • A few sprigs of thyme, chopped
  • 4 thick-fleshed red peppers
  • 5-6tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2tbsp capers

Pre-heat your barbecue. Cut the squid in half, season and marinate with a little of the olive oil and thyme. Quarter the peppers lengthways and remove the seeds. In advance, grill the peppers on the cooler part of the barbecue for 5-6 minutes on each side until they soften. Marco puts his in the freezer overnight as this breaks down the flesh and they soften quicker on the grill, but it's up to you. Remove the peppers and cut each piece in half, then put them into a saucepan, add the capers and the rest of the oil and season. Cover the pan and sit it on the edge of the barbie to keep warm.

When you're ready to eat, grill the squid for a couple of minutes on each side then remove and cut into 2-3cm pieces and mix with the peppers. You can serve this hot or at room temperature with some simple salad leaves.

Mackerel with grilled asparagus, fennel and lemon

Serves 4

The mackerel seem to have arrived early this year – when I was in Dorset a few weeks ago, a couple of local boats came in with a few hundred apiece, along with some herring. That was the weekend I first spotted the St Enedoc asparagus, although I never got round to cooking the two together.

This dish would work with most fish, such as trout, bass or mullet, cooked whole on the barbecue – and even better if you've caught them yourself (though then you'll need to gut them too, of course). Also, if you know where to find wild fennel, which normally grows near the coast, you can grab a handful for the dressing.

  • 4 small mackerel or 4 large fillets, heads removed and gutted
  • 16-20 medium asparagus spears
  • For the dressing
  • 1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • The juice and grated zest from 1 lemon
  • 1tbsp chopped fennel or dill
  • 3-4tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the woody stalks from the asparagus and cook the spears in boiling salted water for 2 minutes, then drain and refresh under cold water. Mix all of the ingredients for the dressing and season.

Score the mackerel through the skin 4 or 5 times, season and brush with oil. If you have excess wild fennel, you can stuff it into the cavity. Cook the mackerel for 5-6 minutes on each side on a medium heat on the barbecue. While the mackerel is cooking, grill the asparagus for a couple of minutes on each side.

Arrange the mackerel and asparagus on plates and spoon the dressing on top.

Prawn, chicken and avocado salad

Serves 4 as a main course

Here's a little springtime surf'*'turf; there's nothing wrong with mixing meat and fish, especially when you get into barbecue mode.

  • 8 chicken thighs, boned, skinned and cut in half
  • 12 raw sea-water prawns, peeled
  • 1 crisp cos lettuce, washed, dried and large leaves torn in half
  • 8 pickled chillies (guiladillas), rinsed in cold water
  • 1 avocado, peeled, stoned and thinly sliced
  • A few sprigs of coriander, washed
  • For the marinade
  • Stalks from the coriander
  • 1 small red chilli
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2tsp tomato purée
  • 1tsp pimentó* (smoked Spanish paprika)
  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

For the dressing

  • 150ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 15ml balsamic vinegar
  • 25ml sweet chilli sauce
  • 1/2tsp paprika

Process all the ingredients for the marinade in a blender, then separate into two bowls, mix well with the chicken in one bowl and prawns in the other, and leave for at least 3-4 hours in the refrigerator. Make the dressing by whisking, or using a bottle and shaking, all the ingredients together.

Thread the prawns and chicken separately on to metal skewers (the long Turkish ones are ideal). Cook the chicken first for 5-6 minutes on each side and the prawns for 2-3 minutes on each side. Arrange the lettuce on plates or in a large bowl with the avocado slices and chillies. Scatter the chicken, prawns and coriander on top and spoon over the dressing.

Monkfish flatbreads

Serves 4

Monkfish is one of those chunky fish that barbecues nicely without all the flesh falling through the bars and into the coals. It marinates well and I've discovered that if you're off your meat you can make it into rather a good sarnie too.

  • 2 monkfish tails weighing about 300-350g each, skinned and removed from the bone, leaving you with 4 pieces
  • 4 flatbreads
  • 4 leaves of iceberg or cos lettuce

For the marinade

  • 2tsp ground cumin
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • Grated zest of half a lemon (reserve the juice for the relish)
  • For the relish
  • 3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2tbsp chopped coriander
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon

A few hours before cooking, score each fillet of monkfish several times, then put them into a container with the marinade. To make the relish, mix all of the ingredients together and season. To serve, cook the monkfish on the barbecue for 3-4 minutes on each side until just cooked. Meanwhile, heat the flatbreads on the barbecue for about 10 seconds on each side, then lay a leaf of lettuce on each, followed by the monkfish, and spoon on the relish; roll up the flatbreads.

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