I love meat. There, I said it. At the risk of being whacked across the face with a stick of tofu, I will stand up and take one for my meat-guzzling team and say it again: I. LOVE. MEAT. I have bungee jumped the highest jump in New Zealand, watched the sun rise over peaks dusted with snow in Doubtful Sound but nothing compares to the Thrill of the Grill. And if I’m the Meat Messiah, Australia is Beef Heaven.
Don’t get me wrong; I feel awful for the countless cows, sheep, pigs, ducks, chickens, and once even a horse, that I have devoured in my time, I honestly do. It’s not their fault they’re so delicious. But I can’t help myself. If I could grow bacon in my garden, I would.
It’s summer in Australia. As I turn the gas on and light the barbie, I look down at the street below and see surfers towing their boards behind their bikes on the way to the beach. Rich smoke fills the air taking me back to my childhood in Mauritius where dad is standing over the braai, beer in one hand, tongs in the other. This is the smell I inhaled on Saturday mornings at boarding school, as I wandered the school grounds and smelled the lingering odor of meat cooking on the open fire as it crept over the walls of the surrounding houses. I would imagine families gathered around the grill, children splashing in swimming pools, listening to calls of “Marco! Polo!” and feel particularly homesick.
Oddly, a lot of women don’t know how to barbeque. Many believe their place to be in the kitchen, making potato salads and gossiping over glasses of wine. Not me. With an English boyfriend for whom al fresco cooking is still a novelty, I am the one who holds the tongs and drinks the beer. I sizzle the sausages. I bring home the bacon. And I give you my Girl’s Guide to the Grill. Readers, get ready for the meatpocolypse.
Sirloin (aka Porterhouse or New York Steak) Rich in flavour, a good steak to default to.
Scotch fillet (aka boneless rib eye or rib fillet): Juicy, tender and tasty. Costs a little more because it’s so delicious.
Fillet steak (eye fillet or tenderloin): mild, subtle flavour. Very tender.
T-Bone: The number 1 Aussie Barbie steak. Tender, rich and full of flavour. A little fillet on the smaller side of the bone and sirloin on the other, so you can have the best of both worlds. The only issue I have with these is the bone, which gives the deception of more meat than there actually is. Bummer.
Rump: On the cheaper steak spectrum, these steaks are leaner but a little tougher.
Books could be written on the numerous tips to barbequing, encyclopedias even. I could go on for days dispatching advice, from the controversial debate of coal vs gas to the different flavours of wood chips to infuse your meat with a special smokyness. Unfortunately I have sausages on, so my time is limited. Here are my golden rules of the grill:
My flatmate, a quintessential vest wearing moustachioed Aussie bloke called JP, wasted no time in directing us to the best sausage shop in Wollongong. JP considers himself a sausage connoisseur (actually, the word he used was “sausageasseur”) and directed us to the East Corrimal Butchery (aka sausage heaven) where we found a variety of blends, from mushroom and garlic, to bacon and tomato. We bought a kilo for about $8.00, which with their quality, was an absolute bargain.
No one likes a piggy, unless it comes in rashers. Start out with a clean barbecue, and scrape it clean at the end of each cooking session. Turning up the heat is a good way to burn off any stubborn bits of charred flesh.
Some of you might disagree with me on this one, and prefer to drench your meat in all kinds of concoctions but I am a barbecue purist. If you’ve obeyed rule #1 and bought a decent cut of meat, you shouldn’t need to rely on soy sauce or granny’s famous marinade to make it taste amazing. Frankly, marinading a good steak is like eating oysters with ketchup. Have a little respect for the animal sacrificed to fill your belly, a little sea salt and ground pepper should be more than enough to bring out that wonderful beefy flavour. The only thing that you can acceptably marinade is chicken, and even then, it’s not a necessity.
If your meat goes onto the fire fresh from the fridge, it won’t cook evenly and then you’ll wish you’d drowned it in marinade.
This one applies to steak, we’ll discuss sausages later on. Make sure the grill is super hot before you put the steak on it. By super hot, I mean that you shouldn’t be able to hold your hand over it for more than a couple of seconds. The steak should sizzle as it hits the barbie.
This is crucial. No matter how much your mouth is watering as you watch the steak sizzle, dripping bits of delicious fat into the fire below as your neighbours suddenly find reasons to pop over for a visit, DO NOT eat your meat straight off the grill. Exercise a little self-control and let it rest, it will give the meat time to relax and reabsorb it’s juices, giving you a tastier and more tender dinner.
Sausages may seem simple, but in my experience are the most frequently botched of barbie delights. Cook sausages on a medium heat or they will burst. Some people like to mutilate them by poking them all over, but I find that this lets all the lovely juices escape. If you have the heat low enough, you should have no need for poking. Turn them regularly to make sure they cook evenly and save the poking for facebook.
Forget fancy thermometers, the best way to judge how well a steak is cooked is to prod it with your finger. If it’s soft, it’s rare. The firmer it is, the more well done it is. Although as an aside, eating a steak well done also falls into the oysters with ketchup category.
I have found that most things can be cooked on the barbie (even noodles). Have some fun, don’t limit yourself to meat. Pineapple slices, asparagus and corn are all fabulous cooked over a flame. I have had pizzas cooked on the barbecue, bread baked in the coals. Barbecued bananas are especially delicious and so is anything wrapped in bacon.
So you think you can grill and want to test your skill. Here are some of my favourite recipes, the ones that I have grown up with. Enjoy!
Well that got your attention. This one is impressive, hilarious and delicious. And you have to drink half a can of beer to get it going:[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS6R2IzDI10&feature=related%5D
Nothing impresses guests more that a huge whole filet dumped on the barbie, and this one has been my dad’s crowd-pleaser for decades. It’s difficult to please everyone when cooking one piece of meat, so this is the solution: Caremelise the entire fillet (and you can break to no-marinade rule and add a bit of soy to this rather bland tasting cut) until it is rare. Rest it for five minutes so the meat draws the juices back in, then slice the meat about one centimeter or more in diameter. Recook on the sides to the guests desired wellness.
I grew up on small island full of buses and chickens. Often the two would meet. My sister and I called the following flattened chicken “bus chicken,” although, to my knowledge, none of the ones we ate were scraped off the road.
Remove the back bone by cutting down each side from the pope’s nose and spread the chook open flat, bone side down on a medium to low barbie. The bones are a barrier to the fire, resulting in a juicy well cooked chicken. For extra deliciousness, slide your finger between the skin and the flesh, starting on the thighs, and then insert some dry spices. Put in whatever you want, it’s your chicken. Again, experimentation is half the fun. The skin will gets crispy and the spice flavour penetrates the flesh, knocking the socks off your guests and sending them into a chicken induced coma.
So there you have it readers, my sausage secrets, the key to kebabery. I hope you’ve found this useful, and waste no time getting your grill on. Are you a meat connoisseur? Have you got any recipes or tips you’d like to share? Go ahead and leave them in the comments. On the other hand, if you’re an angry vegan feel free to grill me too. There’s nothing better than a fired up vegetarian… In the meantime, my sausages are ready.
We dash across the railway bridge, desperate not to miss the train to Sydney. My feet feel awkward and flat footed, as I try to grip my flip-flops between my toes while running as fast as I can. Later I discover that one of the Paua-shell earrings that Hicksy gave me last Christmas has fallen out, presumably during the run. Bugger.
Making it just in time, we take our seats on the upper deck next to a group of round, grey haired women who are comparing sun spots on their hands. To my left a deeply tanned man is explaining how the best way to kill something is to stretch its neck and snap it, while his companion argues that she prefers to use a shotgun. I have no idea what creature they are hypothetically killing, and I don’t ask.
I zone out as the train sways on for an hour and a half until we come in to Sydney Central Station. It is my second day in Australia and at $20 our return tickets from Wollongong include access to all buses and ferries for the day.
The first thing I notice in Sydney is the women. Supposedly Australia has the highest obesity rate in the world but you wouldn’t guess it looking at the Sydneysiders (as they cheerfully refer to themselves). They are immaculately dressed, and the majority of them are in great shape. I point this out to Hicksy, who politely pretends not to have noticed. We walk from the train station to Darling Harbor, where Governor Phillip and a boatload of petty criminals ambled ashore on January 26, 1778: Australia Day. The Aussies don’t like to talk about this bit, alluding to their convict origins as “The Stain.”
In In a Sunburned Country Bill Bryson writes, “So what if dear old Gramps was a bit of a sticky-fingered felon in his youth? Look what he left behind.”
And he’s right. I look up at the gleaming skyscrapers, the water features that make the walk through the city feel like a walk through a park, the Sacred Ibises (Ibi?) perched amongst the palm tree leaves, and it’s hard to imagine this magnificent city’s scraggly beginnings.
It’s Friday morning and the harbor is quieter than I expected. We walk along the water stopping to look at the jellyfish, picturing the sharks swimming below us. Hicksy, the walking encyclopedia, informs me that Sydney Harbor has one of the highest concentrations of sharks in the world, a fact which I’m not entirely sure is accurate but certainly makes me wary.
We catch a ferry to Circular Quay, and I finally feel like I’m in Australia. In front of me is the monumental structure of the Harbor Bridge, and through it I can see the architectural masterpiece that has become a symbol not only of Sydney, but of Australia: the Sydney Opera House. It’s smaller than I thought it would be, but then, I am quite far away. To the left of the bridge is Luna Park, a theme park with a large Ferris wheel, a big dipper and gigantic clown with a demented toothy grin that doubles as the entrance to the park. A local friend of Hicksy’s has suggested this place that looks like the setting for a film like Final Destination 15, as an ideal spot to spend New Years Eve. I suppose it’ll have a good view of the fireworks.
We get off the ferry into a much more crowded environment, the quay is positively buzzing. All around us are people, some dressed lightly and some not so lightly, some strolling, others moving more swiftly. It’s now about 11:30 and despite the sun beating down on us (I can fell my nose starting to blister) there are joggers everywhere, bouncing through the crowds. I hear the doof-inz-doof-inz-doof of techno music and look over to see an Aborigine man, his dark torso painted with white markings, playing a didgeridoo in time to the music. He raises two fingers in the ‘peace’ sign as I snap a photo, feeling particularly touristy. As we walk along the quay towards the Opera House I have to restrain myself from entering the restaurants that line the water. With leafy green archways and an air filled with the smells of seafood, coffee and pizza, they are particularly inviting on this hot day.
The Opera House looks bigger now and I am impressed. There is something satisfying about standing in front of such a famous landmark, the same feeling I get in front of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. These structures are as ingrained into my mind as a McDonald’s logo, and I always get a little feeling of surprise looking up at them, an “Oh, so it’s real!” sensation. This is swiftly followed by a case of the “now what’s.” Do I photograph/climb/explore it? Do I stand in front pose idiotically, as if I’m pushing it over? I resolve to come see a show at some point. And perhaps take a tour.
The sun burns hotter as we make our way back to the ferry terminal. I know I’m harping on about the sun and how hot it is, but after a year in New Zealand sunshine has become a bit of a novelty. Aboard the ferry I meet a man from rural Victoria who works as a gas appliance technician and complains about the heat. He isn’t mad about Sydney and says he came for the weekend because his wife wanted to; she likes the hotel room.
The ferry takes about half an hour to get to Manly, a place that I can only describe as a storybook seaside resort town. We are surrounded by people, mostly teenagers, in various states of undress. As I look down at numerous pairs of perfectly pedicured feet I am reminded of how beautiful the women in Sydney are. I look down at my own feet, my toenails a painfully luminous shade of yellow from when we painted them at the daycare I worked at in Auckland, and vow to put in more effort.
We have a cheap lunch at one of the many restaurants that line one of Manly’s eighteen beaches, watching people go past us on bikes, roller-blades and skateboards, some carrying surfboards, others walking dogs. A pair of women at the table next to us are discussing whether or not to leave their phone numbers for the waiter.
After lunch my blistered feet are finally free of their flip-flops as we search for a spot on the beach. Still thinking about sharks, I pick a spot smack in the middle of the flags marking the swimming area and we strip down to our swimwear, Hicksy standing proud in his pink shorts, myself a little shy, aware of my so-pale-it-glows bikini clad body. “Nicole Kidman, Nicole Kidman,” is my mantra, although I suspect that I look less like the fair Australian beauty and more like an anemic lump of dough. Again, I vow to make more effort.
The water is freezing and Hicksy squeals and whinges. I look at him with scorn, “pathetic Englishman.” Scorn soon abandons me as an icy wave wipes me off my feet. We stick it out wincing as we edge our way deeper into the sea. We make a few halfhearted attempts to catch waves, but each attempt involves diving into the water headfirst and eventually we resign ourselves to splashing around while we try to look nonchalant.
The sun disappears behind a cloud and without it, the water is too cold to handle. It’s getting late so we make our way back to the ferry station, along with half of Sydney’s teenage population, or so it seems. Our timing is perfect, we board the ferry as the wind and rain blow in. After disembarking it is a sprint down George St so that we don’t miss our train. I nearly pull a muscle in my neck as I twist to look at the magnificent assortment of shop windows along the route. As we ride the train back to Wollongong, I sit and bask in a feeling of sunburnt happiness. My skin feels salty and dry, and I have the worst flip flop blisters I’ve ever had. I’m reminded of my childhood, but at the same time am surrounded by a new place that is completely unfamiliar. A young, tanned man with strong surfer’s arms boards the train, and Hicksy remarks on how fit the Aussie men are. I politely tell him I haven’t noticed.
Hicksy and I have arrived in Australia! We now live in Wollongong, NSW, about an hour and a half’s train ride out of Sydney. We’ll be living in the Gong, as the locals call it, for the entire cricket season until around April. I still have tons to write about New Zealand and there should be quite a mish-mash of content coming up, so watch this space!
Moving to a new country is always a good excuse for reinvention, so Vamoose has undergone a makeover. What do you think of our new look?
All suggestions and comments are appreciated :)