Placing a huge hunk of beef, straight down on some glowing white coals, flickering with flame, does sound counter-intuitive, doesn't it? After all, if you've gone all that way to sourcing something that is proper and ethical, and full of flavour - and costing a pretty penny too - why on earth should you try to burn the bejaysus out of it?
The clever trick however, with cooking directly on charcoal or wood, is that there is very little space for oxygen to ignite between the meat and the heat. Your BBQ will not turn into a Towering Inferno. You will need to turn the steak or joint regularly, to develop a lovely crust. But 'clinching' - as it is known in the trade - is nowhere near as dangerous as you might expect. And we all know what a decent bit of maillarding can do, don't we? 'Maillarding' is not a real word but you get the point.
If the idea still gives you the hibby jibbies though, this method by Richard H. Turner is an excellent gateway to direct cooking. Soaking and wrapping your joint in cloth, in this case a barrel fillet, will give some protection but it will also help impart those wonderful smokey vibes into the fillet. And the simple seasoning with sea salt and grated horseradish only makes the beef sing some more.
This is also a great technique to employ when you've got one of those annoying friends around. You know the type. The one who only ever offers annoying and sarcastic repartee about your cooking.
'Looks like you've burnt it again, mate!' they'll sniff, before taking a glug of beer.
But just deliver one crack with the back of your knife, to break through that muslin and then carve up up for all the world to see, with juices flowing across your chopping board.
That'll soon shut them up. We can guarantee that.
Richard H. Turner's Dirty Roasted Steak - serves 4
- Light a charcoal barbecue or grill, leaving the griddle bars off.
- Grate the horseradish and mix with the salt. Arrange the muslin or cotton cloth on a work surface and spread the salt mixture out on top, so that it extends to 1cm (½ inch) away from the edge.
- Place the meat on top of the salt, at the far end of the cloth. Roll the cloth and salt around the meat - the idea is to make a compact roll. Secure the ends of the roll with butcher's string, then tie in the middle, followed by another 2 ties in the middle and the ends - you are aiming to form a tight cylindrical packet.
- Lay the packet right on the coals, knots sides up. Grill for 9 minutes. Using tongs, turn the package over and grill for another 9 minutes. The cloth should burn - it's meant to.
- Using a meat thermometer and inserting it through the cloth and the salt into the centre of the meat, check the temperature. When it's at 60°C (140°F), take it off the heat; it should be cooked medium-rare.
- Transfer the charred packet to a metal platter and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.
- Tap the packet hard with the back of a large, heavy chef's knife - the burnt shell should crack and come off.
- Brush any excess salt off and transfer the meat to a clean platter.
- Slice and serve.
Prime by Richard H. Turner, is published by Mitchell Beazley £25 www.octopusbooks.co.uk
Image credit: Paul Winch-Furness