There is a tired and jaded notion that cooking over fire is the preserve of the male, and that women are neither interested in or inclined to BBQ, preferring instead to be at the stove indoors. This is nonsense, of course. There are people who love to cook, indoors and out, and it is in no way gender specific. Why are people so obsessed with gender when it comes to cooking, anyway? We all eat, it is the one thing that unites us, and so many of us love to cook too. Why be divisive?*
The days of charring sausages and chicken but serving them raw inside and calling that BBQ are dead and gone, for passionate cooks at least. We evolved to cook over fire and this is what distinguishes us from our fellow apes (I highly recommend that you watch Michael Pollan’s Cooked on netflix, specifically the first episode on fire). We now know how good BBQ can be, of the joys of BBQ from Asia, southern parts of the US and South America. From everywhere.
Cooking with Fire
There is terrific – I use the term BBQ but really, it is just techniques for cooking over fire – from all over the world. It is only in the last century that that has begun to change at all . Wood fired ovens were the preserve of the baker, the day would start with bread and then people of the village would use the oven to cook food as it cooled down. This is still the way in some places. In Japan there is the robata grill, now the preserve of upmarket restaurants, it originated as source of heat and a place to cook food for the fishermen in Hokkaido no northern Japan. In Puglia, Italy, arrosticcini are cooked over fire too, small mutton skewers rich with flavour and fat, and completely gorgeous. In Ireland, we suspended a pot over the fire and cooked as we sat at the heart. Before my time, sure, the furthest we went was to make toast over the fire with a toasting fork (and how good that was!). The term barbecue itself derives from barbacoa, a form of cooking meat over fire in the Caribbean (by the Taíno prople). That is just the start.
Home BBQ cooks aspire now to have better kit and we want to know how to use it. They are no small investment, we want ceramic BBQs and kettle BBQs with temperature control, and we want smokers. My hob recently broke down and I embraced my barbecue with gusto, cooking everything on it every day for a week. Brunch to lunch to dinner. And I loved it!
Cooking with Fire at Hartnett Holder & Co
Hartnett Holder and Co Backstage (the cooking school at the Lime Wood Hotel from Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder) have developed a day long Cooking with Fire class for aspiring pitmasters. Located in the New Forest National Park, Lime Wood Hotel is a gorgeous 5 star hotel in a Regency country house (which was originally setup as a 13th century hunting lodge). There are rooms in the hotel and further scattered throughout the grounds in additional buildings, which back on to the New Forest. It is a perfect bolt from London at just 1.5 hours drive, or if you don’t drive like me, a couple of hours by train and a 15 minute taxi. When you drive into Lime Wood Hotel through the New Forest you see many wild ponies and cows. I had never been before and it was a lovely surprise to me. I wasn’t in London anymore, I was in a forest.
The morning starts with coffee and biscuits and then we headed to the kitchen to start prep. There was 11 in the class which was led by chef Iain. The teaching was hands on and everyone prepared their own dishes, which they would cook over fire later. Iain is very warm, I found his teaching style to be very encouraging and inclusive, detailed too.
We made a porcini (cep) rub for a rib of beef, a tandoori marinade for monkfish (which we also prepared) and compound butters to have with the beef later. Then we headed upstairs to prep further. A fire pit was already lighting and two Big Green Eggs, a large and small, were set up for us to cook on. We were joined here by Luke Holder who spoke to us about barbecue best practices and charcoal.
We prepped a pork belly, scattering the flesh side with some herbs and other aromatics, which was rolled (in the style of porchetta) and tied with butchers string before being cooked in the small egg. We prepared a panzanella with heritage tomatoes and good bread, and put some anchovies in the egg to serve on top of this. We marinaded a whole cauliflower with rose harissa, then roasted it in the egg before serving with yogurt, herbs and pomegranate seeds. We made a fresh green slaw with savoy cabbage in a yogurt dressing to have with the monkfish. We charred some corn on the cob and then removed the corn to be tossed with some sliced chorizo (made in house) and some of the compound butter that we had made earlier.
We turned our attention to the beef and the monkfish cooking both over the firepit, the monkfish first. I cooked my beef until rare, the porcini rub forming a gorgeous bark fragrant with the mushrooms. Everyone cooked their beef as they wanted. There was a digital thermometer on hand to confirm doneness (approximately 50 deg C for rare). We ate our barbecue banquet with lovely wines (my favourite the white rioja) and then finished with some figs cooked on the egg with some butter, maple syrup and madeira which formed a gorgeous syrup.
Spending the night at Lime Wood Hotel
I spent the night at Lime Wood in a gorgeous spacious room overlooking the forest. There was a little table with two chairs outside, I sat there imagining the wild boar, ponies and cows that resided there. The room has everything you might want including a pre loaded ipod with Bosé sound dock, and a nespresso machine.
The Lime Wood grounds are large with seated terraces outside the bar and restaurant, a billiards room, a library and a lovely bright internal courtyard which serves a grazing menu during the day. They have a dedicated G&T list (next time: I am hitting that). I went the Hartnett Holder & Co restaurant, still full from the class but keen to try their pasta, which they are well known for. There is a lovely selection of wines by the glass (fine and otherwise). I chose a Pecorino from Abruzzo, a favourite and one I always indulge in when I can get my hands on it. It is a white wine but it has enough body to stand up to stronger dishes and ingredients, and I had my heart set on some ‘nduja.
Dinner at Hartnett Holder & Co
The menu is set out like a traditional Italian menu with antipasti, primi and secondi. I had one antipasti of scallop carpaccio, crab, citrus fruits and lemon oil. It was fresh and bright with the scallop sliced thickly. I ignored the secondi in favour of two primi pasta dishes, small portions, I was still digesting my lunch. I loved the agnolotti with pomodoro, and followed it with ‘nduja tortellini with crab. The ‘nduja was a little salty (and I love salt) but it was still flavoursome, the crab offering a lovely fresh counter to the meatiness. I finished the meal with a trio of house sorbets and some dessert wine.
Breakfast is served in the scullery, adjacent to the light filled lovely bar, and you can eat your breakfast there too. There is an excellent buffet with a choice of three eggs to boil (duck, hens and quail), smoked salmon ham, lots of fruit, yogurts, juice pastry and tarts. There is also an a la carte menu, from which I ordered steak (flatiron) and eggs (poached for me).
I loved both the course and the stay. Lime Wood Hotel is a perfect escape for Londoners, the standard of cooking in both the course and the restaurant is high. The Cooking with Fire course books up in advance, so book up early. They have many courses available, including pasta courses with Angela Hartnett which sounds pretty fabulous too.
*(Yes, I know the name Eat Like a Girl might sound that way, but it is really just a tongue in cheek way of saying, YES, women eat too, and reclaiming that wretched phrase that claims that women just eat salad and low fat things).
With thanks to Lime Wood Hotel and Hartnett, Holder & Co for hosting my stay.
- 1 rib of beef (wing rib or cote de bouef work well)
- 100g dried porcini mushrooms (ceps)
- 100g maldon salt (or kosher salt)
- 100g light brown sugar
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
Blitz the mushrooms to a fine powder in a food processor or blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and blitzfor about 30 seconds until unified. Pat onto the beef, it should stick easily. Add as much as you can, and then leave it covered in the fridge for 3-4 hours.
Bring the coals on your barbecue to a smoulder. You want it to be hot but not flaming. Cook, turning occasionally (but taking care not to knock off the gorgeous porcini bark) until it is to your likeness. Make sure each side gets an equal amount of heat or it will be more cooked on one side than the other.
You can check if it is done by touching it, as you would a steak, or if you want more precision (and I do), I use a digital thermometer. The temperatures you need to watch out for on the barbecue are: 52 to 55 deg C for rare, 55 to 60 deg C for medium rare and 60 to 65 deg C for medium well.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes. We placed some garlic compound butter on top to melt through as it rested. Serve sliced with the sides of your choice. Enjoy!