May 30th marked the start of National Barbecue week. In anticipation of this most hallowed celebration, we popped along to Hobbs House bakery – home to the Fabulous Baker Brothers – to attend a barbecue cookery class. A charming family bakery might seem an unlikely choice for such a course, but their collaboration with barbecue kings Weber, and their own passion for all things food-related, meant that we were in for a real treat.
British barbecues so often have the tendency to fall a bit flat – we’ve all been there, huddled around a platter of singed sausages and pre-cooked chicken drumsticks as a smoke-filled gale threatens to suffocate you (and if you survive the wind, there’s always the risk of choking on the blackened burgers). Weber want us to do better, and have come up with a series of courses designed to revolutionise Britain’s barbecues, from the equipment we use and our outdated belief that barbecuing is only possible three times a year (when the forecast was glorious until approximately half an hour before your guests arrive), to the food we prepare on the barbie.
Wanting to broaden our barbecuing horizons as much as possible, we opted for the Seafood Essentials course led by the lovely Jane. Jane is a chef/ baker extraordinaire, as well as being a cracking teacher – under her tutelage, even the most inexperienced novice barbecuers (as we were about to learn that we were) come away feeling like pros.
The bakery itself is utterly charming, set in the historic market town of Chipping Sodbury and with country-house decor to give you serious kitchen envy. After donning aprons, we headed outside to the garden, where a formidable line-up of barbecues awaited us. It was as we went around the group introducing ourselves that we started to realise that we were by far the least knowledgeable participants – as a professional foodie, I have to say it was a tad unnerving to feel so in the dark about a food-related topic. My barbecues have mostly featured the disposable trays you buy from the supermarket on your way to the park with a pack of sausages and maybe, if we were really committed, some corn on the cob. Debate about gas versus charcoal barbecues, and the process of using direct and indirect heat for cooking, not to mention the chimney starter method, made me realise that there’s barbecuing in the park, and then there’s proper barbecuing. Needless to say, I came away not only with a full belly, but also with a new life goal to get a garden and a whole range of Weber barbecues – I doubt we’d ever use an oven again.
Over the four-hour course, we learnt how to skin and fillet a fish – we had an enormous 5kg salmon to work with – and also smoked mussels on the barbecue. We joined in with the prep of all the dishes and picked up lots of top tips about using barbecues for more advanced cooking. The result of our day’s work was a veritable feast, starting with fish tacos. The salmon was coated in a dry rub of paprika, garlic, oregano, brown sugar, cumin and salt before being lightly seared on a Weber barbecue. We prepared salsa and garnish and popped tortilla wraps onto the barbecue to heat them up, then packed everything into the wraps. The tacos were superb, and a real highlight of our day of exquisite food.
After the tacos, we enjoyed spiced prawn and potato kebabs, seared tuna steaks and whole roast mackerel with fennel and herb salad. We made small incisions in the whole fish and stuffed them with garlic before rubbing the fish with lemon zest, rosemary, fennel seeds, salt and oil – the result was beautifully cooked fish full of flavour.
Smoking mussels on the barbecue was very straightforward but looked impressive – the plumes of aromatic steam and a finished product that could be served up in the finest brasseries of Paris are sure to impress your guests, and the creamy, garlicky white wine sauce was just longing to be mopped up with some freshly baked Hobbs House bread.
As a keen baker, I was most looking forward to the pineapple upside-down cake. I had some reservations about how good a barbecue-baked cake could be, but I’m happy to report that I was a fool – the cake was stunning. Early on in the day, we put two pineapples onto one of the barbecues (topped, tailed and peeled, of course). As they slowly roasted, we basted them in honey and orange juice – the scent was sublime. The chaps in charge of the cake mixture had a fairly haphazard approach, so we very nearly ended up with tablespoons of salt and baking powder instead of teaspoons, and no flour at all. All was well in the end though, and the near misses provided a good few laughs. Once the mixture had been poured over the roasted pineapple slices and sauce of butter, dark brown sugar, double cream, cinnamon and cardamom pods, the cake was baked over indirect heat on the barbecue for 30 minutes, until the top was golden. The cake was baked in a Weber drip tray, and they recommend that you stand your tray on the top of an additional upturned drip tray to ensure an even bake (you don’t want your cake tray to be too close to the heat). Ours was perfect, so Weber clearly know what they’re talking about.
Many of the people in our class had been booked onto the course as a gift, and it went down really well. With Father’s Day coming up, I couldn’t recommend a Weber course at Hobbs House more highly – it’s the perfect gift for conventional foodies like me as well as for anyone who already loves cooking on fire. Weber runs courses all over the UK – check out their website for more details.
For normal cooking courses at the lovely Hobbs House Bakery. I like the sound of the classic British cakes course, as well as the butchery and BBQ session with Henry Herbert.