Tutored tasting: Barbecue vegetables
Barbecue is no longer confined to US-style grill restaurants. Wood-burning grills have invaded high-end restaurants and chefs are abandoning fussy equipment and reverting back to basics: cooking over fire.
A wood-fired barbecue gives superb flavour to food and allows simple ingredients to shine. Charring adds an extra dimension to vegetables, and the bittersweet flavours and crisp textures make for interesting, vivid dishes.
Here, chef Mark Blatchford from John Doe restaurant in West London, takes us through some of best ways to barbecue vegetables supplied by First Choice Produce at London's New Covent Garden Market.
Technique Cook directly in the coals. A log of beech wood added to the charcoal gives a smoky flavour.
Note The sweet potato will come out black and burnt, but peel back the skin to get to the soft, sweet,
smoke-infused flesh inside. The heat caramelises the natural sugars in the potato and the intense sweetness really takes on the smoke flavours. Serve hot or cold.
Technique Blanch the asparagus and grill on the barbecue with a little oil to achieve bar marks and
a charred flavour.
Usage Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice, a deep-fried hen's egg, Béarnaise sauce and wild garlic.
Technique Quarter and cook it flat against a hot granite slab in a wood oven. Add plenty of good-quality wood to the coals for an extra smoky flavour. To make baba ghanoush, lay a whole aubergine on the coals. It will come out looking black and charred, but the inside will have a superb flavour.
Usage Try using it as part of a North African stew with a garlicky tomato sauce.
Technique You can wrap a whole cauliflower in foil and roast it on the coals, then finish it off on
the grill to add charred textures and flavours. Or roast it on a tray inside a charcoal oven.
Usage Serve with an olive oil dressing.
White sprouting broccoli
Technique Similar to asparagus, blanch the broccoli and grill it over the fire, turning often to get even, charred edges to the heads.
Usage Serve with a shallot and lemon dressing.
Technique You can barbecue chicory or other lettuce leaves such as Baby Gem straight on the bars. Just brush the leaves with oil.
Usage Infuse the chicory with blood-orange juice, honey, thyme, garlic and bay in a sous-vide at 85Â°C for 30 minutes. Cooking the chicory in the acid breaks it down a bit and softens it. Once it's cooked, chill it and then grill on the barbecue to crisp it and get bar marks across the leaves. Ideal served with rabbit, roast fig and lentils.
Technique Chop the green tops off good-quality leeks. Put them straight on top of the coals once
the flames have died down and give them a quarter turn every four minutes. Cook them to the
point where the outside is almost entirely black and you think you've ruined them. Peel back the outer layer - the leeks will have steamed inside and picked up a lovely smoky flavour.
What the chef said
Mark Blatchford, chef at John Doe, London
"Charcoal cooking is becoming more and more popular. You have to respond to what customers want and it's not all about meat any more. We made a conscious decision to make good vegetable dishes
on our menu, and I think lots of vegetables are well suited to barbecuing - either grilled on the bars or roasted directly in the coals.
"It's the simplicity of the barbecue that makes it so great - throw the veg on the coals and the flavour comes alive.
"Alliums and thick-skinned vegetables are particularly suitable - the outer layers act as a case and the inner layers are steamed, acquiring a delicious smoky flavour.
"Alternatively, charred bar marks can look very attractive on stems, but they also intensify flavours and make the texture more interesting.
"There are no rule books. Try out different techniques and see what works. Anyone can do it. All the suggestions here were tested out using a small Weber barbecue."
First Choice Produce at New Covent Garden Market, London
For more information on New Covent Garden Market or to request a guided tour, visit