CHEF JP GOES COBBING WITH FRIENDS
We were Out & About and decided that this was a perfect opportunity to celebrate “local is lekker” with some very special friends.
It was still a case of masks on indoors and masks off outdoors, so we decided that we’d go freely and boldly into the fresh air and celebrate with a grill on the go in a rather exotic location in the Palmiet Nature Reserve in the heart of Westville.
It was hard to believe that barely a month before, the friendly stream bubbling past was an angry torrent that had done a lot of damage. But life has its fair share of curved balls…
So, enjoying the peace and quiet, we struck a match and raised our glasses to the neighbours and strangers who had become friends during this difficult time – and settled down in the sunshine with a camp fire in the heart of suburbia!
INTRODUCING MY FRIENDLY COBB …
This was a perfect time to introduce one particularly good friend that many of my friends – even the avid campers who venture far and wide – didn’t know about. That’s my infamous Cobb which just happens to go wherever my cold wine glass goes.
On a slightly serious note, for the uninitiated, the Cobb is a revolutionary, portable outdoor device that’s often referred to as a kitchen in a bag.
Believe it or not, it was originally created to help rural families cook food easily and safely over an open fire. Made of clay, it operated as a portable oven and used readily available dried corn cobbs as fuel hence its name.
Since the days of yore, it has had a few redesigns and, today, made from stainless steel, is the perfect cooking companion for any outdoor chef.
It uses just eight eco-friendly briquettes and, as I showed my hungry friends on the river bank, works much like the trusty Weber, only it is much smaller, more portable and user-friendly.
It’s perfect for grilling, baking, roasting, frying and smoking with a holed dome that ensures plenty of ventilation during the cooking process, a grill grid that whisks away fat, ensuring a healthy meal and a moat that either catches this excess fat or can even be used to cook vegetables.
I guess that next time I decide to head to the beach, go camping or picnicking, even more of my friends will be lining up to go cobbing with me. For those who weren’t lucky enough to join the feast, I’m going to take you, step by step, through some delightful dishes that are sure to satisfy the most ferocious carnivore.
Think venison cutlets with naartjie and cranberry jus, sweet potato pockets … not to mention a special treat that comes later.
SUNRISE CHEESE GRILLERS
To help ignite the taste buds, we lit a fire in the fire pit, and cracked open that first bottle of lovely New Zealand chardonnay. It was on hand but, if you’d prefer to go local, we have an infinite array of lovely home grown chardonnays just waiting to be put on ice.
The venue was a beautiful guest house – or perhaps a grand structure that is best described as a homestead – with a lush tropical garden that runs all the way down to the river. While the flames were catching hold, we even took some time out to forage in the herb, fruit and veggie filled garden for some additional ingredients.
Once we’d lit the briquettes inside our cob, I brought out an appetiser. I’d bought some cheesy sausages from by local butcher which I wrapped in streaky bacon, before threading delicately on to a small wooden skewer.
(Make sure that your skewer is damp, to avoid burning.)
I let them cook with the lid closed for about 10 minutes and then served them drizzled with
wild flower honey, a dollop of German mustard and some pickled onions. What a way to start grilling …
A LITTLE FLAVOUR ON THE SIDE
With the luxury of a little time outdoors, you can start prepping some sides, dry rubs and some dipping sauces that you are going to serve with your selected cuts of venison, pork and the ultimate rack of lamb.
I prefer to steam all my veggies and then just give them that ultimate drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some salt at the end to caramelize the edges. There is enough natural sugar in vegetables to be naturally caramelised when placed under some heat.
After your three veggies – baby sweet potato, corn on the cobb and Broccoli or cauliflower is par steamed – place them on the cobb to round off with a perfect crispy and juicy taste.
The broccoli and the corn can be placed on direct heat, but I prefer to wrap the jacketed sweet potatoes in foil to keep them warm and moist. Adding a little Irish butter and salt enhances the flavour of the corn and cauliflower, while a dollop of crème fraiche on the sweet potato is a hit and run.
CHEF JP’S FAVOURITE BELLY RUB
When it comes to grilling a pork belly, it doesn’t get better than on the Cobb. The slow and constant heat when you cover the lid cooks the pork so beautifully, leaving it tender and crispy after about 20 minutes.
After you rub your pork belly with some clove powder, a good rub of mustard, a teaspoon of mustard seeds and a serious few cracks of Himalayan coarse sea salt, you will definitely rub your own belly once you indulge in that crackling. Sweet jack potatoes perfectly complement this dish.
RACKING UP SOME LAMB ON THE COBB
Making a good dry rub for lamb is not complicated, but you need to know your aromatics and spices very well.
I use a mixture of 5 grams of each of my spices and them mix them together in a bowl with a dash of oil, just to lightly bind them.
FROM THE SPICE CUPBOARD
5 grams nutmeg
5 grams smoked paprika
5 gams garlic powder
5 grams mustard powder
Some finely chopped fresh mint
Rub you rack and gently place it in the middle of your cobb, add your corn, and let it grill for 12 minutes. They will come out juicy yet crispy, cooked medium in the middle.
One dipping sauce that I love with my lamb, is a home make tzatziki.
In a mixing bowl, add 50 ml of double cream yogurt, a tablespoon of crushed garlic, a handful of finely chopped cucumber, some salt and pepper, a dash of coriander seeds. I add 50 grams of cooked cous cous in the mix, to give it that extra crunch and then garnish with fresh mint.
MONTY PYTHON VENISON
To quote from my favourite Monty python movie – now for something completely different!
There is an art to cooking venison and I have almost perfected it. My Mom is actually the venison queen. Our family grew up on a humble farm in Loerie, just outside Hankey which is in orange country in the Eastern Cape. Perhaps that’s why I decided to combine some springbok loin fillet cutlets with some fresh naartjies in an orange and red wine reduction….
Making this dish is best divided into two stages.
Firstly, the fillet is slowly cooked in the Cobb. Then we make our reduction and sear it to perfection in a pan whilst adding the reduction to create a punch of flavour to balance the game-iness of the venison.
FROM THE BUSH PANTRY
1 cup Meerlust Rubicon (if you can get your hands on one)
1 cup distilled water
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
dash of lemon
2 naartjies, peeled and sectioned
20 grams fresh cranberries
20 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
Combine the wine, orange juice, sugar, water, cinnamon, cloves and dash of lemon in a pan over a hot fire. Simmer for three minutes, stir vigorously and reduce the heat.
Your whole loin is cooked in the Cobb for 20 minutes and then rested while you create your reduction. Slice it into fillet medallions and sear them for one minute on each side before adding to the warm reduction.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with some fresh cranberries, sections of naartjies and fennel.
BA-NA-NA-NA BREAD (IN B MINOR)
Okay, I admit, I’d gone a tad crazy bananas by the end of the afternoon and, with a little chardonnay inspired creativity, I whipped out my pre-mixed banana bread, moulded it onto a banana shape – which I dipped in an egg yolk. I then crumbled over some bread crumbs and cooked it in the Cobb for a few minutes. I then added some honey and we were on the money.
If we had known last week when we were enjoying the great outdoors, that we would soon be able to freely roam this beautiful country with a no mask mandate, I think we would probably have thrown our masks into the fire pit… burn baby burn.
For nearly three years, we’ve made huge sacrifices all because of a bug of which we’d never heard. We’ve lost loved ones, freedoms and even restaurants – not to mention the ability to gather and enjoy food together and share a good bottle of vino.
What we’ve all learnt during these trying times is that food brings people together, starts discussions, forges friendships and even creates blogs like this one.
So, today, I’m saluting this new feeling of hope with a cold glass of chardonnay. To all of you out there and to the very special friends for whom I cooked the other day, at least we can gather together more freely and even perhaps recognise each other again!
Here’s to celebrating in a warm, cozy room (indoors) next time…. perhaps even making up for what we’ve missed with Christmas in July?