MIDWAY : Smoky delight

I was never what you’d call a natural barbecue-er. I don’t mind the outdoors, but I don’t like getting too hot. I’m not a perfectionist in any other walk of life (go on, put it in my human resources file, see if I care), but I used to hate the many pitfalls a barbecue would entail. A bit of marinade dripping on to a coal I can handle, but the sight of a parmesan crust disappearing between the bars of the grill, well come on. It’s more than a gentle soul can take.

But then I met a New Zealander, we can call her Catherine, which is her actual name, on account of the fact that everything I’m going to say about her is 100% good. She brought about my barbecue epiphany – turns out I’d been getting it horribly wrong all those years.

New Zealanders, indeed all antipodeans, take al fresco prowess far more seriously than we do. First, they pre-cook everything, by boiling, not baking, which looks frankly alarming when you do it, and raises all kinds of hygiene demons from the time someone was trying to explain the rules to you and you weren’t listening.

“Can this be safe?” you wonder, surveying this hideous wreckage of boiled sausages, resembling a dead giant’s fingers. Yes it is! Don’t be so neurotic! It is not only safe, it has locked in the moisture! Now you can marinade them, and when they eventually hit the charcoal, it will be for nothing but a warming through and a smoky flavour, and

I tell you, it is revolutionary. I am feeling sheepish now, since it sounds as if I’m saying that everything I make in the course of a barbecue will be delicious, and that’s a bold claim.

There is a reason, remember, why we go through the hell of weather uncertainty in the first place, and that is the ancient righteousness of eating items straight from the flame. They taste better, both literally and morally. My sister sometimes replicates this by holding aubergines straight over the gas hob, with a pair of tongs. And that is amusing to watch, but still not the same. One would imagine that, had you actually slain the beast you are about to eat, that would give dimension to the taste when it came to eating it. For those of us not fast enough to slay, this is as like an experience as we’ll get. It is nothing short of noble.