If you’re of vegetarian, vegan or pescetarian tendencies, don’t eat red meat, are on a calorie-controlled diet or feel a heart attack coming at the very thought of piles of juicy, succulent cooked flesh, I suggest you look elsewhere. This blog is aimed squarely at tempting hungry carnivores with meat porn!
Recently I did something I haven’t done for many years: eat “mixed grill” at a restaurant, in this case a Wetherspoons pub. It consisted of a slightly sorry collection of meats sliced and piled vertically and surrounded by the stereotypical accompaniments you would associate with such a dish, namely chips (straight from the freezer to the frier), frozen peas, half a warmed tomato and a grilled mushroom. I could also have ordered a “large mixed grill”, thereby adding a further cheap sausage, fried egg and some onion rings, but standard size was plenty.
Oh the meats, I hear you asking, what were they? Wildly overcooked pieces of rump steak, point loin and lamb, plus some gammon and one of the aforementioned cheap sausages. The gammon survived better than most, but it did not feel like a quality selection, even allowing for the half-arsed accompaniments.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. Chosen and cooked well, a mixed grill can be sublime, which prompts the question why we accept such obviously substandard dishes. I’ll leave you to ponder that one and in the meantime consider what should be included in a mixed grill. Wikipedia suggests this combination: English mixed grill, consisting of lamb chops, lamb kidneys, beef steak, ham steak, tomato and mushrooms.
Personally I would be fairly pleased with that selection, other than the lack of a really excellent meaty banger – all the more so since lamb kidneys are sadly underused outside steak & kidney pie but are truly magnificent when split and grilled briefly under a fierce flame. Also on the offal them some mixed grills contain liver, which will not please every palate any more than kidneys. A slice of black budding would be a juicy bite in this company and welcome if the sausage is omitted.
But how about the biggest omission, chicken? Some seem to regard it as an essential component, though you suspect that they are not necessarily lovers of red meat. Maybe for wimpish carnivores then? This blogger seems to have firm views on the subject and maybe he’s right that a small portion of well-seasoned free range chicken might work, depending on how much other stuff you have to share and how ravenous your audience has become while waiting for you to cook!
Of course, the dish is not restricted to the little Englander view. Look around the world and you’ll find many equivalents of the British version of mixed grill, all of which tend to be far better than the one I sampled. In Italy I’ve eaten the most glorious collection of charcoal grilled meats, served on a cork tree bark platter, and Brazil is famed for its churrasco, often including cooking meat, poultry and offal which are then brought round for diners to help themselves.
Come to think of it, Indian restaurants commonly provide a selection of tandoori meats as starter or main course, equating to the principle of a mixed grill. See here for these and further examples, but there’s no reason why you can’t add a kebab or a few pieces of moist tikka to the plate to add some variety.
First things first – whatever you choose, choose the best quality you can afford, and preferably from your local butcher, the chap who is well placed to advise you on what cuts to choose. I guarantee you will end up with better results than if you merely took a selection from the nearest supermarket shelves.
One thing to note about a mixed grill is that it works well if some of the ingredients are on the bone, which might include some tasty lamb cutlets, maybe pork chop, chicken if you’ve chosen it. The bone and some fat add flavour and succulence, so don’t have the meats trimmed too closely. Next, remember to season well and oil lightly with a flavoured oil and leave to relax
So let’s assume you’ve chosen and prepared your ingredients and accompaniments (preferably without frozen peas but possibly with really good crisp and fluffy chips!) The tricky part comes in cooking them, and here you have several options: BBQ would work well, but since I write this in a damp November, the barbie would work best in Oz or SA! A Foreman Grill would work pretty well, cooking both sides fairly rapidly. Or in the absence of alternatives, you could of course choose the good old-fashioned gas or electric grill on your cooker – though in my case the Aga top oven gives much the same effect. However, you will need to watch like the proverbial hawk.
Keys to success: like being a stand-up comic, timing – and avoid at all costs cooking to a frazzle! In fact, regulate the temperature so you avoid blasting the meats too highly, since many prefer a medium heat, so turn the heat up when you come to those requiring the least cooking. Last of all will probably be the steak, and when you do cook it remember the rules posted in my blog on the perfect steak – see here!
As a general rule of thumb start with the thickest pieces of meat and those on the bone, and if the sequencing is out such that one is done before another, remove it to a warm plate and allow to rest. In fact, remember to add resting time for all your meat, since it will be much the better and tenderer for having been given a short while to relax.
Once you have assembled your cooked ingredients and sides along with your favourite condiments, the rest should be pure pleasure. Do try a few interesting variants each time you have a bash to retain the interest, but for meat eaters a mixed grill, cooked fresh and with a little care, will always be a joyous sight!