My daughter is cross with me. She asked how I make BBQ sauce and I said, well I just open all the cupboards and sling in everything that I see.
Apparently this is not a satisfactory answer. She kept asking unreasonable and increasingly exasperated questions like “But WHAT do you sling in?” and “HOW MUCH?” And the honest truth is that I didn’t know. It’ll vary depending on what I’m serving the main ingredient with, what kind of food vibe I’m feeling, and whether it tastes right when I stick my finger in.
There are some principles I follow though: I’m always looking to include sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours. What these are will be dictated by the general taste I’m after. So for Chinese flavours, I might use honey for sweet, rice vinegar for sour, soy and oyster sauces for salty and chopped chilli, garlic and ginger for spicy. For more Indian flavours, I’d have tomato puree for sweet, tamarind for sour, salt for the salty bit, and curry powder and chilli/garlic/ginger for spicy. For Thai, it’ll be palm or soft brown sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and Sriracha. For Middle Eastern, honey, pomegranate molasses, chopped preserved lemon and chilli flakes. For Mediterranean, I’d use tomato puree, lemon juice, chopped capers/olives/anchovies and dried red chilli. And maybe some crumbled feta to finish. And these are just the base – I might add five-spice powder, dried mango powder, herbs, various chilli sauces, smoked paprika, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, marmalade… Basically, if it’s in the cupboard, it’s going to be in the sauce one day.
The BBQ belly pork I made this weekend was more of a classic Brit devilled mixture though. It’s really a glaze rather than a sauce, though you could make extra and warm it through to serve as a sauce to boost the flavour. I use the same technique with ribs (simmer for a couple of hours beforehand) and spatchcocked chicken (just roast as usual, coated in sauce and basted occasionally). You could certainly use it for sticky sausages or big fat prawns, probably for a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb, and perhaps even for a meaty piece of fish like monkfish or huss. I imagine it would be very fine on a tofu, paneer or vegetable kebab too (though you’d have to leave out the Worcestershire sauce to make it properly veggie). Do taste and adjust according to your own preference.
BBQ pork belly
- 450g pork belly slices
- 1 carrot, cut into chunks
- 1 onion, sliced in wedges
- 2 bay leaves
For the sauce:
- 4 tbsps tomato ketchup
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 2 tbsps soft brown sugar
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp dry mustard powder (or use English mustard)
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
Put the chopped vegetables and bay leaves in a pan (wide-bottomed saute pan with a lid is ideal, but any pan will do) with a glassful of cold water. Place the pork slices on top and season well. Cover with a lid, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about an hour, till the meat is tender. At this point, you can leave the meat to cool until you’re ready to finish the cooking. Save the broth and vegetables for soup (I made minestrone with mine).
Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas Mark 4 and line a roasting tray with foil (unless you REALLY REALLY love hardcore washing-up). Put all the sauce ingredients in the roasting tray and mix with your hands – you’re likely to make a hole in the foil if you do this with a spoon and you’re going to get your hands messy turning the meat in it anyway. Taste and adjust according to preference, then when you’re happy put the meat in, turning to coat thoroughly. If you want a higher sauce to meat ratio, cut it into largish chunks first. Bake for 45-60 mins till it’s bubbling and sticky, turning and basting at least once.
Great with noodles, rice or mash. Or wrap it up in lettuce leaves and feel virtuous. (Ahem.)