Cooking chicken with a brick? Yes, you read that correctly

This unusual barbecue method makes the tenderest chicken for a summer feast

Summer eating: brick chicken with avocado, spring onions, coriander, corn salsa and lime halves

Summer eating: brick chicken with avocado, spring onions, coriander, corn salsa and lime halves

 

Summer does interesting things to a curious home cook. Longer days give more time to experiment. That pizza oven you’ve always dreamt of in the back garden seems more achievable in the lighter weather, while the biscuit-tin smoker you saw on Pinterest looks far too easy not to try. What could go wrong?

If any of that speaks to you then I assume you won’t raise an eyebrow when I suggest you add chicken cooked under a brick to your summer barbecue repertoire. The recipe that follows results in chicken with crisp skin but a juicy interior. Just be prepared for some strange looks when you arrive at the hardware store looking to buy just two bricks – and even stranger ones when you mention what they’re for.

For the more traditional cook I offer you a feast of summer lamb. Far too often lamb in the home kitchen is saved solely for special occasions, but more and more I find myself using it for everyday dinners like these spiced lamb chops – beyond the classic roast leg there are many culinary possibilities to explore.

This summer my cut of choice has been leg steaks. Fried with rosemary, garlic and balsamic vinegar they are a sweet sticky treat. Or slap them on a hot barbecue until charred and sizzling, then slice thinly and smother in an orange harissa sauce.

You can wrap the leftovers of either in flatbread, with hummus and a peppery rocket salad, for a leftover lunch to be proud of.

The barbecued-lamb recipe here is all about summer eating: serve a large platter of the spiced chops at the table with fresh tzatziki and a Greek-style salad.

Baking is often described as a science, which I always worry puts people off, but there are plenty of uncomplicated recipes to make even the most inexperienced bakers shine. The fig, honey and almond cake I share is one such example. I spent the summer of 2012 travelling around Italy to film a TV series cooking with Italian grandmothers. One of the nonnas we filmed with lived in the old city of Matera, in the southern Basilicata region, which has some of the most dramatic views I’ve seen. But it was the ease with which this sweet woman baked a beautiful cake that really blew me away: no weighing scales involved, just handfuls of flour, cups of sugar and an apronful of figs.

The result is an effortless cake that requires only the most basic baking prowess.

Light summer feasts are the order of the day. Should you bravely organise an outdoor event this season, I hope the following recipes will help feed you, indoors or out.

BRICK CHICKEN WITH CORN SALSA

Summer eating: brick chicken with avocado, spring onions, coriander, corn salsa and lime halves
Summer eating: brick chicken with avocado, spring onions, coriander, corn salsa and lime halves

It’s not often I get to write about house bricks in a recipe, so I will enjoy it while I can. Crispy chicken skin, tender and juicy meat: it’s all there, but it does involve two bricks. The spicy salsa is also an ideal accompaniment for any grilled meats this summer.

Serves 4
A 1.2kg chicken, backbone removed
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
Sea salt and ground black pepper
8 spring onions, trimmed
2 avocados, halved, stone removed
Good handful of coriander, torn to serve
2 limes, sliced in half

For the corn salsa
1 chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cobs of corn
Small handful of coriander, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Sea salt

Method
While your barbecue is heating up wrap two bricks completely in tin foil – yes, really.

Slice the chicken down the breastbone and coat the two halves of the chicken with oil, Cajun seasoning, sea salt and ground black pepper.

Place the chicken skin side down on your hot barbecue grill. Put the bricks on top and cook for 20 minutes. Press the bricks down heavily on the meat every now and then. Remove the bricks, turn the chicken and cook for a further 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked all the way through and a meat thermometer reads 75 Celsius.

While the chicken is cooking add the spring onions, limes and avocados, grilling until charred on all sides.

For the corn salsa, put the cobs in a pot of boiling salted water and cook for 5 minutes. Drain, cool and, using a sharp knife, slice the kernels from the cobs. Mix the kernels with the remaining ingredients and season to taste. Set aside.

Serve the chicken on a platter with the avocado, spring onions, coriander, corn salsa and lime halves.

SPICED LAMB CHOPS WITH TZATZIKI AND GREEK SALAD

Summer eating: spiced lamb chops with fresh tzatziki and Greek salad
Summer eating: spiced lamb chops with fresh tzatziki and Greek salad

Should you be unable to track down ras-el-hanout spice blend – it’s in most ethnic food shops, specialist food stores and good supermarkets – a raid of your store-cupboard spices should suffice here: you can blend 2 tsp ground ginger, 2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp cayenne pepper and 2 tsp paprika. There are essentially three elements to this recipe, the chops, the tzatziki and the salad, all of which can be enjoyed separately, or together as below.

Serves 4
8 lamb chops
1 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp ras-el-hanout
Sea salt and black pepper
 

For the tzatziki
½ cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds scooped out and sliced
1 large garlic clove, finely grated
250g Greek yogurt
Small handful of dill, finely chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the salad
½ cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds scooped out and sliced
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
½ red onion, thinly sliced
200g green and black olives, pitted
1 tbsp red-wine vinegar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method
For the tzatziki, mix all the ingredients in a bowl, season to taste, cover and set aside.

Combine the lamb chops, oil and ras-el-hanout until the meat is completely coated. Put the chops on your hot barbecue grill, season and cook for 3-4 minutes either side, until medium rare.

Put all the ingredients for the salad in a bowl and toss together until well combined. Season the salad with a little salt and pepper.

Arrange the salad on a serving platter, place the lamb chops on top, drizzle with tzatziki and serve.

ITALIAN FIG, HONEY AND ALMOND CAKE

Summer eating: Italian fig, honey and almond cake
Summer eating: Italian fig, honey and almond cake

As much as I would love to give you this recipe in handfuls, cups and aprons, in the style of an Italian nonna, I have provided exact measurements just in case. This cake is a great way to showcase any summer fruits. Gently spiced, with a slight crunch from flaked almonds, the cake comes together with a drizzle of sweet and floral honey.

For the cake
110g butter plus extra for greasing
150g soft light brown sugar
2 large free-range eggs
210g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardamom
12 figs, sliced in half
50g flaked almonds
Honey to drizzle

For the vanilla mascarpone
250g mascarpone
2 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped

Method
Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius/350 Fahrenheit/gas mark 4.

Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with a removable base with parchment paper.

Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until they are incorporated. Fold through the flour, baking powder, salt, cardamom and cinnamon until you have a thick cake batter.

Finely chop 6 figs, leaving the rest cut in halves. Stir through the chopped figs and pour the batter into the cake tin. The batter is thick, so use a spatula to spread across the base of the tin.

Gently press the fig halves into the batter and sprinkle with the almonds. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes. Cover with foil if you find the almonds brown too much.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool. While the cake is still warm prick it all over with a cocktail stick and drizzle with honey, letting it seep into the holes.

For the vanilla mascarpone mix together the mascarpone cream, the icing sugar and the seeds scraped from the vanilla pod.

Serve generous slices of the cake with a dollop of the vanilla mascarpone.

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