After a five month period in which my wedding tackle has been stored somewhere near my pancreas to avoid the bitter cold, somebody finally got around to paying New York’s heating bill, and glorious warmth returned with a vengeance this weekend.
In the UK, the changes of the seasons are generally imperceptible, with spring sleepily emerging from the depths of winter, before lazily giving way to the occasional haziness of summer, Sure, there will be the odd hotspot or cold spell, but on the whole there’s a very steady linear approach to the way that climate moves on during the course of the year. In New York, it all seems a little different. While there will still be occasional rainy spells in summer, or unseasonably hot days in spring, there is much more of a sense of a switch being flicked when seasons begin and end.
One of the benefits of this is that there is a substantially longer period in which you can play the culinary equivalent of Russian roulette by throwing random pieces of meat onto hot metal. Whether you call it barbecuing, grilling, or (as in Britain) salmonella distribution, you can’t beat the smell of charring pieces of flesh and bone in your garden or back yard.
It’s the law here in New York that you have to start grilling alfresco within 24 hours of the sun emerging, unless you want to fall foul of the 1884 Charred Meats Act. Getting thrown out of the country by immigration officials for falling foul (fowl?) of the rules insisting that you throw a spatchcocked chicken on the grill would be a terrible way to go, and as a result, this weekend we indulged in two such events.
Frankly, if you ever needed reassurance that the experiences of life are universal, you could do worse than look at these two occasions.
Fiddling with hot coals on a roof
In the UK, the grilling of meat outdoors takes place pretty much exclusively over charcoal. Sure, some fancy dandys have gas powered grills, but for the majority of Brits, a barbecue (as we call it) means gathering around a pile of black briquettes that you bought at the local
petrolgas station, telling each other that you see a flame. Usually with rain pouring down above you, as you attempt to set up a temporary canopy to prevent your pork chops from getting soaked through.
What is absolutely compulsory though is that at least four men gather round to tell each other that their friend’s method of creating fire is never going to work. Men may well form eternal friendships over sport, but all bets are off when it comes to making fire. This weekend, our first barbecue began with me taking over the stacking of coals, and screwing up bits of paper, after rejecting our host’s method of getting the flame going. Don’t get me wrong, his method of spraying lighter fluid from a safe distance of fifteen yards made me pine for the UK, but in the end it’s not going to help me get a ribeye steak when I need it.
Lazy like Sunday evening
It’s much better, of course, when you’re master of your own domain. And on Sunday afternoon, I decided to clean last year’s debris off the grill, and readied some pastured pork chops for their cremation. Cleaning six months of grime off stainless steel isn’t as easy as it sounds though, and I battled with a heavy steel brush and enough chemicals to sink a small nation if applied to their water supply, in order to get the bars in a fit state to carry bits of Miss Piggy’s less-alive family.
After around an hour of cleaning, I’d just got the grill to the point where it might be used for cooking, and we got a call reminding us that we were supposed to be at dinner an hour away, And that we were already fifteen minutes late. It was like getting the sausages out for a British barbecue, only for the heavens to open and for everybody be forced inside for a lukewarm glass of Pimms.
So, two barbecues, and precious little meat to speak of. Still, at least it means I will have managed to get as far as May without a mosquito bite.
It’s butterflied leg of lamb next weekend though, so let the itching begin.