Barbecuing isn't just about sausages and burgers says Berber & Q chef Josh Katz
Bangers and burgers are traditional barbecue fare but have you ever considered cauliflower? Restaurateur Josh Katz tells Ella Walker veg tastes great grilled
CHEF Josh Katz may have seven or eight different barbecues at home, he may work with fire day in, day out at his London restaurants, but he's adamant he's no "pit master with 20 years' experience".
And his food? Sure, it's cooked on grills over glowing coals, but "we didn't want this to feel like 'dude food'", he adds.
Katz runs Berber & Q, a duo of restaurants in London – one a grill house, the other a shawarma bar – but now, thanks to his debut cookbook (also called Berber & Q), you can have a bash yourself at his lamb chops doused in anchovy butter, or blackened corn on the cob with harissa aioli. You can simply get the grill on at home and experiment.
While meat – huge, thickly spiced slabs of it – is certainly on the menu, true to Katz's non-dude food claims, the book isn't an ode to your typical, macho steak barbecue.
"This is barbecue food with a lighter touch," says Katz, who is more than keen to get people to step away from their standard sausages and burgers. In fact, the London-born restaurateur, who trained with London-based Israeli celebrity Yotam Ottolenghi, is all about 'pushing vegetables', hence mezze and salads are as important to him as the animal cuts that are sizzling on the barbecue.
"They're not a side dish," says Katz. "I naturally and instinctively cook vegetables. I'd like to do a vegetarian restaurant because vegetables can be f****** amazing – excuse my language – a barbecue just elevates them to a whole other level."
Take what is arguably one of his signature dishes, a whole cauliflower charred until crispy and golden on the barbecue, brushed with shawarma-spiced butter and drizzled with nutty tahini, hot chilli, jewel-like pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts and rose petals. Who even needs a side of chicken wings after that?!
"It's rustic, it's punchy, not too subtle, it's bright and colourful," says Katz of his style and flavours, adding: "We're not making overly complicated food."
And this is one of his most crucial points; that putting stuff on a barbie shouldn't be tricky or intimidating, and it shouldn't be an activity we only get round to once or twice a year when the sun decides to cooperate.
"I've always wanted to get people up, out and cooking outdoors and on fire," says Katz. "If you can get into the habit of barbecuing and cooking things over fire and practising, it's a really enjoyable way to cook, and makes food taste a lot better."
It's just a matter of practice and keeping a cool head in the face of flames. "I've seen people lose all rational common sense when you put them in a kitchen. They just panic. And controlling fire is just an added complexity," says Katz with understanding, explaining: "It's multitasking within a multitasking environment. Fire is intrinsically quite dangerous."
Even he has barbecue flare-ups from time to time. Just this Christmas, Katz was barbecuing goose, left it for seven minutes or so and returned to a whoosh of orange licking the sky. "I should never have left it, it was a mistake," he says, wryly shaking his head at himself.
And that's often the difference between a barbecue aficionado, and someone who lacks confidence when flipping and grilling. "Peoples' instinctive reaction when there is a fire is to just panic," says Katz, "when all you have to do is put the lid on and that kills it."
But if you're not put off by potentially setting your house on fire, or the diabolical unhelpfulness of the weather ("Here it's grey, raining and bleak – standing outside for any length of time controlling fire is very challenging and can be really demotivating," Katz acknowledges), cooking outdoors has a kind of charm your oven just can't emulate.
"A lot of what we do in adult life is about trying to get back to being a kid, when we were young and free and having fun," says Katz, who spent his summers in Canada as a child, visiting his godparents. "We would cook outdoors every night – that smell of cooking on wood and making marshmallows, grilling our own steak at 13 years old, that was a very special time for me," he recalls. "The moment I smell burning wood, that's what I remember."
There's nothing stopping you doing the same this summer. "Anyone can go out and start cooking on fire," he says – the trick is to "just get over being intimidated."
:: Berber & Q by Josh Katz, photography by James Murphy, is published by Ebury Press, priced £25. Below are three recipes from the book for you to try.
BUTTERMILK CHICKEN SHISH KEBAB WITH QUICK LEMON PICKLE AND OREGANO
1/2tsp ground cumin
1/4tsp cayenne pepper
1tsp sweet paprika
1/4tsp ground cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, minced
2tbsp garlic or olive oil
1tbsp hot red pepper paste (biber salcasi)
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4tsp coarse ground black pepper
1/2 onion, sliced
8 chicken thighs, deboned, skinned and quartered
2 green peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks
2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks
1 red onion, peeled and quartered
4 thin metal skewers, approximately 40-45cm long
To garnish and serve:
Pitas or flatbread
2tbsp garlic or olive oil, plus extra to brush
1tbsp thinly sliced spring onion
1tbsp picked oregano leaves
12 confit garlic cloves
1tbsp Quick-preserved Lemon Pickle (zest of 3 lemons sliced into thin strips, cooked in the juice of the 3 lemons for 12-15 minutes until tender, then cooled - makes 30g)
Middle Eastern slaw (or standard coleslaw)
Make the buttermilk chicken shish. Put the buttermilk, spices, garlic, garlic oil, hot red pepper paste, lemon zest and juice, salt, pepper and onion in a bowl and stir together to combine.
Add the chicken pieces to the marinade and massage the mixture into the chicken. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for four to six hours.
Skewer the chicken pieces intermittently with the red and green pepper and the red onion. Set a barbecue up for single-zone, direct grilling, ensuring that you are cooking on medium-hot embers. Grill the skewers directly over the burning coals, turning frequently to ensure both sides are well coloured and the chicken is cooked all the way through when checked with a knife.
Brush the pitas or flatbreads with a little olive oil mixed with a few drops of water, and warm through briefly on the grill. They can be placed directly on top of the skewers if there isn't sufficient room in the barbecue.
Remove the pitas and transfer to a serving platter. Place the skewered chicken thighs atop, brushed with olive oil. Scatter the spring onion and oregano leaves liberally over the skewers, along with the confit garlic cloves and lemon pickle. This kebab is great served with garlic sauce, coleslaw and pickles of choice.
CAULIFLOWER SHAWARMA WITH POMEGRANATE, PINE NUTS AND ROSE
1 whole cauliflower
For the shawarma spiced butter:
40g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
Juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
1.5tbsp finely chopped coriander
1tbsp ground cinnamon
1tbsp ground sumac
1.5tsp ground cumin
1/2tsp ground allspice
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cardamom
Salt and pepper
4tbsp Tahina Sauce (Pour 100g tahini paste into a bowl and add 1tbsp lemon juice and 1 minced garlic clove, gradually whisk in100ml iced water until the sauce is the consistency of honey - makes 220g)
1tbsp pomegranate molasses
1.5tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1 small green chilli, finely chopped
2tbsp pomegranate seeds
1tsp dried rose petals
1tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Make the butter. Combine all the ingredients in a stand mixer and mix using the paddle attachment. In the absence of a mixer, whisk in a large bowl until thoroughly incorporated. The butter should be aerated, slightly stiff and one colour (as opposed to streaked). Set aside until needed.
Trim some of the outer cauliflower leaves, but leave some stragglers behind – they taste delicious and look great when crisped. Set a large saucepan of salted water on high heat and cover with a lid so as to bring the water up to the boil. Once the water is boiling, gently lower the cauliflower into the pan, being careful not to let it drop from a height and thereby avoiding the potential of burning yourself with the splash-back of boiling water. Bring the water back to the boil, then turn the heat down to medium so the water has a gentle roll. Remove cauliflower from water when 'al dente'.
Set the cauliflower on a cooling rack and allow to drip-dry. Brush liberally all over with the spiced butter. Retain some of the butter for brushing at a later stage. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to its highest setting (240C/220C Fan) and blast the cauliflower for five to seven minutes, until blackened all over. Then transfer it to finish on the barbecue for a few minutes for a final hit of smokiness, basting it periodically with any leftover butter.
Transfer to a serving plate. Spoon over the tahina sauce and pomegranate molasses, and finish by sprinkling over the pine nuts, green chilli, pomegranate seeds, rose petals and parsley. Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.
MARINATED MONSTER PRAWNS WITH PIL-PIL SAUCE
8 giant black tiger prawns, or any large prawns you can find, the bigger the better
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced or grated
1tbsp chopped dill
1tsp dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
For the pil-pil sauce:
100ml olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1tsp cumin seeds, lightly toasted
1tsp ground coriander
Pinch of cayenne
8-10 cherry tomatoes, quartered and deseeded
3tbsp Confit Chilli Salsa (see below)
For the Confit Chilli Salsa:
12 red chillis, stems trimmed and discarded
4 sprigs of thyme
5 large garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
Olive oil, to cover
2tbsp lemon juice
2 basil leaves, finely sliced
2 slices of sourdough or ciabatta, lightly grilled on both sides (optional)
Make the Confit Chilli Salsa. Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas mark 2. Place the chillies in a deep baking dish, along with the herbs, garlic and bay leaves and add oil to cover. Tightly cover with foil and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until the chillies have softened but not dried out. Remove and allow to cool. Then remove the chillies and chop finely, store in a kilner jar in oil for up to a week in the fridge.
Deshell the prawns, leaving the heads and tails on for aesthetic appeal. Use a small knife to create a slit and cut out the vein that runs down the back of each prawn. Season the prawns with salt and pepper, toss them in olive oil, garlic, dill and chilli flakes, and put in the refrigerator to marinate for two to four hours.
Make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based (preferably cast-iron) frying pan and gently saute the garlic for two to three minutes, until softened and translucent but not coloured. Remove the garlic from the oil with a slotted spoon (be sure to take out all of it and don't leave any stragglers behind) and transfer to a mortar and pestle, leaving the cooking oil in the pan. Add the salt, cumin seeds, ground coriander and cayenne to the garlic and work the mix until it forms a paste.
Return the pan and oil to the stovetop and warm over medium heat. Add the confit chilli salsa, cherry tomatoes and garlic mix, and cook for few minutes to heat through. Turn the heat down as low as it can go and let the sauce gently bubble away and intensify in flavour while you finish the prawns.
Set a barbecue up for direct grilling ensuring that you are cooking on hot embers. Set the prawns on the grill rack directly over the burning coals, turning once or twice to colour both sides well, until the prawns are cooked all the way through, about two to three minutes on each side depending on the strength of your fire. Alternatively, heat a cast-iron pan over high heat until smoking hot and grill the prawns until done.
While the prawns are grilling, have the pan with the pil-pil sauce set on the outer edges of the barbecue or grill to warm through.
Once cooked, transfer the prawns to the pan of pil-pil sauce and finish with the lemon juice. Garnish with the basil leaves and serve immediately. Some lightly grilled bread of any sort will be needed to mop up the pan juices.