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American garden of England

She gave up the favourite restaurants on her Atlanta doorstep to head to Kent. Would the fire go out for LIZ EVANS or could she bring US style barbecue to the English countryside?

 BBQ Mag   Spring 2022

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Imagine that your home is, in estate agency parlance, ‘ideally situated’ a mere three blocks from your favourite steak restaurant, four blocks from your favourite Mexican restaurant and two from your favourite sushi place. At a minimum, it makes having your three favourite foods at least once a week without having to cook any of them yourself significantly more convenient.

Now, imagine that for reasons having nothing to do with restaurant proximity – spoiler alert: a man – you move across the world to live in the English countryside.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. The Kent countryside, the garden of England, is a beautiful place to live, with all the fresh and locally grown meat and vegetables you could possibly wish for.

It’s just that moving to a place where Domino’s pizza won’t even deliver, much less being able to get a massive hickory-smoked ribeye steak on demand, requires some getting used to.

Initial food cravings were intense and following several failed dinners out, I quickly learned that if I wanted something cooked the way I’d had it back in America, I probably needed to cook it myself.

Through a bit of research, a fair amount of experimentation – mostly carried out on my British in-laws (they loved it, I swear) – and the addition of a barbecue, I found I could quite easily satisfy my cravings while also producing food the whole family enjoyed.

That said, I’ve been living in rural Kent for 10 years now. Considering that recent milestone, I found myself thinking back to what it felt like when I first moved here. Which reminded me of how badly I had been craving one of those steaks – from Highland Tap in Atlanta, Georgia by the way – which made me want one of those steaks now, which meant I had to figure out how to make one myself.

My first step was, as usual, a bit of research. Based on Highland Tap’s online menu, I learned I needed what they call a House Cut Ribeye which they describe as ‘smaller lip-on ribeye cut and trimmed in house into thick 14-ounce cuts.’

​Then transatlantic vocabulary lessons having been learned the hard way years ago – think pants for trousers – I investigated whether ribeye in England means the same thing as it does in America. Apparently, it doesn’t. Or does it? It might. Research was inconclusive.

Anyway, next I rang one of my local butchers to clarify what I was looking for and to source said ‘American-style’ ribeye. He knew immediately what I was talking about, “Oh, yeah. We call them Tomahawks. We don’t really do them as they’re a bit of a waste of money – nothing but a regular ribeye with a massive bone sticking out the side. No sense paying for all that bone just to put it in the bin.” Well, that told the American.

After agreeing that the bone was unnecessary and being informed that he could cut them as thick as I liked while I waited, I rang off and considered the rest of my meal.

 

 

At this point, it’s important to remember that ‘side item’ choices are equally as important as ‘main item’ choices when it comes to American steak dinners. Examples from the Highland Tap menu include baked potato, sweet potato mash, grilled vegetable medley, braised mushrooms, baked mac n cheese, collard greens and garlic sautéed spinach.

Personally, I think steamed veg and some form of potato are always reliable choices, both in terms of complementing the meat and not frightening the in-laws with vegetables that haven’t been boiled.

So, it was off to the farm shop where I found they had, in fact, already sliced the ribeye meat available and wouldn’t be getting any more until next week. The thickness was what it was, unless I wanted to wait until then. I didn’t. I chose the four thickest-looking ones.

I also picked up a pork shoulder to cook low and slow throughout the day, before putting the steaks on. Pork shoulder means pulled pork, which means pulled pork nachos to start, plus a back-up meat option in case my steak experiment goes awry.

Veg was easy – local purple sprouting broccoli and some small potatoes to par boil before adding to the barbecue.

In terms of cooking the steak, the Highland Tap menu provides: ‘Our steaks are cooked over a fire of burning hickory that imparts a smoky wood fired flavour.’ Sounds easy enough.

The next morning, I took the meat out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature and put a dry rub onto the pork shoulder. Mid-morning, I got the barbecue started with some good quality charcoal along with the largest hunk of hickory I had in the hope that this combination would be equivalent to ‘a fire of burning hickory’.

Meanwhile, music and drinks being equally important to good food and good company as far as I’m concerned, I got my playlist playing and made sure the drinks were on ice and breathing – beer and red wine, respectively.

Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but once I get the barbecue started, I like to cook everything I possibly can on it. Which in this case included not only the pork shoulder and steaks, but also the broccoli and potatoes, a couple of slightly shrivelled peppers I thought could do with smoking, and the brownies we were having for dessert.

I set up the nachos – tortilla chips and melted cheese with freshly made guacamole and salsa, sour cream and tabasco – and once the pork shoulder was ready, I sprinkled some over the top to serve. Who doesn’t like nachos? They were demolished immediately.

Meanwhile, I got the steak onto the barbecue, alongside the prepared broccoli and potatoes. Once the ribeyes were cooked to medium rare temperature, I pulled everything off the fire to rest, then sliced and served the steaks with the veg.

The verdict: the grown-ups (me included) thought they were delicious, flavourful and tender with a lovely hint of smoke; the teenagers thought the steak was great as well (though being teenagers, they mostly inhaled them too quickly to really taste them), while one of the children thought the steak tasted ‘weird’ and was therefore branded ‘disgusting’. The other two ate everything on their plates, although that may have had something to do with getting brownies for pudding. An important side note here: if smoked brownies weren’t a thing before, they are now. Serve them warm with a scoop of ice cream.

In the end, everyone was left happily full, chatting and drinking, listening to music and nibbling on leftover pulled pork and brownies into the evening.

Food and fire – they never fail to make for a lovely time, no matter where I am in the world.

 


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