Getting fired up: #MeatopiaWarmUp, Part I

Last week we were whisked away to the Wiltshire countryside for the #MeatopiaWarmUp event. If you haven’t heard of Meatopia, it’s a three-day long bacchanalian celebration of fire, food and all of the fun stuff that goes along with those things. They’re just about to announce their line-up of chefs for this year’s festival, which takes place from 1st – 3rd September.

We had so much we wanted to share with you from the warm-up that we simply couldn’t cram it all into one blog post – here’s part one, all about the art of fire-cooking. Look out for part two, coming in the next week or so, for a masterclass on pickles and fermentations – the ultimate accompaniment to a flame-roasted feast.

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In the UK, barbecuing is pretty much a competitive sport. This year, the trend for fire-cooking geekery is bigger than ever, so when the team at Meatopia invited us to Pythouse Kitchen Garden for a flame- and food-filled bonanza, we knew we’d pick up a few skills.

The day kicked off with a fire-cooked feast, and continued in much the same vein. Manning the grill was Andrew Clarke, who heads up the kitchen at Brunswick House. Despite its meaty name, Meatopia is by no means a ‘meat feast’, and with this year’s event placing a bigger emphasis on fish and veg, Andrew – whose menu at Brunswick House has a big vegetable focus – is a great person to showcase that.

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To start, we dipped crudités grown in the sprawling vegetable patch at Pythouse into some of the most delicious sauces we’ve ever gotten our hands on – wild garlic aioli, romesco and a dreamy satay. First off the grill came charred asparagus, followed by stacks of lamb chops. Caramelised on the outside, perfectly pink on the inside and dripping their juices all over one-another (no giggling). To follow, scallops sitting in a pool of salty, herby butter in their shells, as well as lobsters cracked in half and grilled to perfection. To go with it all we had a salad of wild leaves and garlic, foraged just that morning by Nick Weston (of Hunter Gather Cook) and flatbreads to mop up all those smoky juices.

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After lunch, we got stuck into some activities led by the Meatopia chefs, butchers and fire experts. As half the group went off with Nick and his truffle-hunting dog in search of herbs and vegetables, the other half gathered around the fire pit for a masterclass in Argentine fire-cooking. Within five minutes of hearing Richard Turner (the butcher and chef who brought Meatopia to the UK), Tom Bray (of Country Fire Kitchen), Niall Davidson and Mark Parr (AKA Lord Logs) talk about “low and slow” methods and the art of cooking over open flame, we realised we’d never look at a barbecue in quite the same way ever again. Over and around the firepit we hung a whole leg of pork, perched a skewer of whole chickens, stacked sides of salmon nailed to planks of cedar wood, and nestled sweet potato and beetroot directly into the embers.

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The result: another feast, again cooked over fire but with an entirely different, equally delicious result. Smoked chicken salad, tossed with courgette and broad beans grilled on the hotplate of an Ofyr barbecue, was dressed in a goats milk labneh, more wild garlic and confit lemon salmoriglio.The lively ‘zing’ of this flavour combo made for an eye-rollingly delicious dish – possibly a highlight from the whole day, which is saying something. The hot-smoked salmon from the fire pit was used in a taco with charred leeks, nettle mojo verde and a horseradish kick.

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For the main course, our patience finally paid off. Having hung above the firepit all day, the leg of pork was served Carolina ‘Q style, with a smoky crunch of crackling that the oven in your kitchen couldn’t even dream of achieving. Competing for the title of most-delicious-chunk-of-meat-at-the-table was a whole fore rib of beef, which had spent the afternoon cooking away inside a Big Green Egg barbecue. On the side – the sweet potato and beetroot, retrieved from the embers.

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If you’re feeling full just reading this, think how we felt when two puddings emerged. An impossibly pretty rhubarb and white chocolate cheesecake made for a sweet and delicate contrast to all the stacks of meat and bone, but what really blew our minds was the grilled pineapple, served with a thick, treacly syrup of dark rum and agave, given a hot and savoury kick with a dash of Habenero Tabasco. We’ll be on to Andrew Clarke for the recipe for that one.

Top-quality British meat, cooked over a fire made with sustainably-sourced wood, and served up with produce so local you barely need to leave your seat to get hold of it. That’s how to cook on fire.

If you haven’t yet got your tickets for Meatopia 2017, we strongly recommend you do so immediately. You can get them here.

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Enjoy!
We The Food Snobs x

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