Lifestyle

What to cook outdoors for a party of six at Easter?


I’m excited for a meal outdoors with friends at Easter, but don’t know what to make, given that we could be in our coats and hats.
Martha, Lancashire

“Alfresco eating is a state of mind,” says Ravinder Bhogal, chef-patron of Jikoni in London. “Whether you’re eating on a sun-dappled, Italian terrace or grazing in your back garden in bracing, early spring temperatures, it’s all about bringing the right spirit.” In short: grab your thermals and embrace those warming, sociable dishes.

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, channel après ski with a fondue. You can buy individual sets but a pan for the whole household is hygenic if you follow fondue etiquette. While hunks of bread are always welcome, it’s worth considering spuds, too. “Jersey royals will be in season, and boiled ones make excellent vehicles for transporting warm, melting cheese into your mouth,” says Bhogal, who serves hers alongside charcuterie and mugs of hot apple cider.

Chef Gill Meller is also partial to a simple, one-pot dish, such as hogget with orzo: “At Easter, everyone’s first thought is lamb, but I always suggest hogget; a sheep that has spent a year grazing is always going to have more flavour.” Meller browns diced meat until caramelised, then removes from the casserole, gently sweats garlic, onions, celery, rosemary, marjoram, thyme and bay leaves, before returning the meat to the pot along with red wine and stock. “After several hours of simmering, add orzo, give it another 20 minutes, then finish with more thyme, soft goat’s cheese and honey. If it’s a bit chilly out, that’s going to warm everyone up.”

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A simple fish pie also fits that bill, and you can make it in advance, too. “It’s got everything you need,” Meller says. “Potato, interesting fish – and it doesn’t need much by way of accompaniment, either.” Plus, if table space is an issue, it can easily be demolished on your lap.

Martha could even brave a barbecue. “Get a nice, big piece of meat to smoke, as opposed to grill,” advises Shauna Guinn, co-founder of Hang Fire Southern Kitchen in Barry, south Wales. Happily, any barbecue with a lid can become a smoker for, say, pork to stuff into rolls with coleslaw and barbecue sauce. “Put charcoal in half the barbecue, so one side is really hot and the other cooler, which is where you put your meat.” Bonus: the residual heat will warm cold hands, too.

A barbie is also a good strategy for the park or beach. Light up (where allowed) for Elizabeth Haigh’s ideal spread: satay (chicken, pork or mutton) and beer. “Prep them the day ahead and marinate [in lemongrass, turmeric, fennel seeds, cumin] in the fridge overnight,” says the chef/owner of Mei Mei in London, whose first cookbook Makan is out in May. Next day, pack the sticks in a ziplock bag and cook on arrival.

Meller, meanwhile, also recommends “anything with the word pastry in it”. This could be generously sized sausage rolls baked just before leaving home, so they’re still warm on arrival, or smoked haddock pasties: “Poach the fish, then use the milk to make a bechamel-type sauce with loads of cheddar, parsley and maybe leeks.” Wrap that in rough puff, bake, and you’re good to go.

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Finally, there are some distinct advantages to eating outdoors in cooler weather, Bhogal says. Namely, the lack of flies and wasps. And, perhaps more importantly, “wine that stays chilled without a cooler bag”. Cheers to that.





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