Monday, October 15, 2007

Twisted Firestarter

Scrape last year’s gook off the grill, leaving it all over the yard for a furious partner to clear up later. Dig deep into the layer of old ashes, congealed fat and fag butts, hoiking it out into a Spinneys bag before binning the lot. You could only put this stuff on flowers if they were carnivorous.

And now you’re ready for it. Tear off the top of the bag and let it rush out into the pan, a glorious black stream of the finest lumpwood charcoal (none of yer cheap stuff from the souk, real quality stuff is worth every penny). If you must use briquettes, I can only assume the shop’s out of lumpwood.

And now your chosen firelighters. I like the white plasticky stuff that comes in little plastic packets like ice cube trays, but I’m quite fond of the stuff that’s like a cross between papier mache and KDF, either slabs of it or the fat matches made out of it. So the charcoal’s piled up in a nice cone, with firelighters strategically positioned throughout. Now you need the liquid firelighter as well.

Let us get one thing straight here. There’s no boy scout idiocy being countenanced when I’m barbecuing – anything and everything incendiary gets thrown at the job.

Spray it all with liquid firelighter. A lot of it. Give it a minute to soak in (and, if you’re lucky, pool under the charcoal for a nice, satisfying ‘whoompf’ when you spark it up). And then dip a twist of paper in firelighter and chuck it on the pyre, remembering to step back fairly lively.

You’re lit up with the fiendish flames, a hellish vision of evil delight: something out of The Wicker Man. It’s a wonder you’re not dancing naked and gibbering around the fire.

Aha! The deed is done! The first barbecue of the year is underway.

This, then, is the fun of it all. There’s no doubt that food cooked on charcoal tastes brilliant, whether it be on a home barbecue or a grill set over a pit in the sand or on a built-up stone fireplace in a wadi (watch those stones splitting!). Not only the evening’s steaks and burgers, but the morning breakfast is made great by that unique smoky, charcoal fire: there’s little nicer than campfire toast and a barbecued breakfast butty.

Quite apart from satisfying the perfectly natural pyromaniac urge of the average male and producing food that tastes better, I find that a charcoal barbecue makes relatively sound financial sense, too. You can get a perfectly reasonable barbecue for 250 or so Dirhams, compared to anything upwards of 1,200 or even 2,500 Dirhams for one of the gas ones. You could replace your dowdy little charcoal number ten years running and still be ahead of the game.

And these new fangled gas things are simply no fun at all, all grills for this, plates for that and even burners for your sauce pan. Nasty, bulky and over-engineered things that look more like the Starship Enterprise than a bloody barbecue. I can’t see the fun in them: they’re a controlled, sanitised and safe experience for a generation of people that think chickens come in polystyrene trays and can’t eat anything fluffy or that has big, brown, imploring eyes.

Nah, give me a good old dose of something dead being sizzled on a bed of burning embers: it’s real flame for me every time.

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