That was one really, really long winter. The snowstorms, the freezing cold, the layers upon layers of movement-hindering long underwear. Now, finally, summer is here. Break out the barbecues and the swimsuits, please. And why not try for the perfect barbecue? I’m not talking about what usually happens, when you’re rushing in and out of the kitchen, your hair half-done, the potatoes half-cooked for the salad, and the meat half-marinated. No. I’m talking about the fantasy kind where your guests arrive, you greet them, cold drink in hand, with hair so perfect a 1950s housewife would be impressed. A spread of salads and cold dishes are already laid out, and a platter of gourmet marinated meats is ready for grilling.
The key is in the planning. For 15 adults, one should prepare three to four grilled meats, three carbohydrate-heavy salads (think pasta, potato, couscous), two leafy salads, and a dip and salsa or two. Buy dessert – no need to drive yourself insane. Here’s a plan for how to prepare leisurely for the perfect Sunday afternoon barbecue, with or without domestic help.
Saturday afternoon: Grocery shopping
The best barbecue buys are chicken wings, large pieces of chicken and lamb for kebabs, and large chunks of beef, for grilling and slicing into fajitas.
Early Saturday evening: Marinate everything
I like to marinate each type of meat in a separate plastic bag. This way, you’ll have neat stackable bags, and you’ll be able to turn them easily to make sure all the meat is covered. Any marinade will do: a spicy one for the wings, a garlicky one for the chicken kebabs. Lamb is lovely and tender when marinated in yogurt. For the beef fajitas, try the following recipe:
2 tbsp each of cumin seed, fennel seed, coriander seed and whole black pepper
1 inch stick of cinnamon
1 bay leaf
10 small fresh Thai chillis (more or less, depending on your taste)
¼ cup olive oil
1.5 kgs of beef, any cut
In a pan, toast spices (minus the chillis) over low heat until fragrant (about five minutes). Peel and core the apple, then cut it into chunks. Cut the onion into chunks. Roast the tiny chillis directly over the burner, until blackened; let cool. Peel the chillis and chop off their stems. Place everything in a blender, and drizzle in the olive oil as the marinade blends. Cut the beef into two-inch slices. Place the meat in a plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Let marinate until you’re ready to grill (around 24 hours if possible). Because it’s tough to find the right cuts of meat in Beijing, the apple in this marinade will tenderize the meat, no matter what cut it is.
Now prepare the cheese, sour cream, tortillas, sliced peppers and onions to go with your fajitas.
Then, cut up your potatoes, onions, and celery for your carby salad. Also cut up the vegetables, peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, for the kebabs and place them in separate plastic bags. Make dips, if you’re up for it – or just buy dips from one of Beijing’s foreign supermarkets.
First, boil or steam the ingredients for your starchy salad. You can boil your eggs for the salads in the same pot that you use for the potatoes. Soak the bamboo skewers for your kebabs. Mix your desired salad dressings and set aside. Mix the marinated kebab meat with the vegetables to flavor the latter. Hand the whole lot, with soaked skewers, to your spouse/kids/ayi/lovely guest who just arrived.
Wash, dry and tear the lettuce for your leafy salads, and place in a bowl. Set them out with dressings on the side. Dress the starchy salads. For a grilled peach salsa, try the following:
5 large peaches
3 tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 small bunch cilantro, finely chopped
1 small green onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Juice of 2 small limes
½ kg of cherry tomatoes, quartered
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Wash and stone the peaches. Cut them into thick slices and drizzle with olive oil. Just before guests start to arrive, have someone else start the grill.
Change. Do your hair.
Grill the peaches until they’re juicy and slightly collapsed. Then roughly chop them into bite-sized chunks, and toss with the tomato-onion-herb mixture.
Grab a cold drink and get someone else to take over the grilling. Enjoy.