BBQ

The Meat Myth – Introducing the Vegetarian BBQ.

Eating Deliciously by Dropping the Meat

Summer is coming and in the UK it comes on a tide of sun-cream, unfounded optimism, and…barbecues. In terms of BBQ restaurants, the London-based connoisseur is spoilt for choice. From classy, inventive joints like Shotgun, to Mongolian/Brazilian/Korean BBQs, to even a London Barbecue School, for those who want to become the best griller they can be. However, if you are a vegetarian, the Great British Barbecue can often be a disappointment for more reasons than the weather. So you should probably start preparing yourself for soggy mushrooms, and lacklustre bean burgers until the end of August. Or should you?

Grilled Fish and Asparagus

A trend has been sweeping the western world and it’s right out of a sci-fi novel: fake meat. And we’re not talking about Quorn burgers or Linda McCartney sausages, we’re talking about cheating chicken, phoney pastrami and fake steak, as juicy and fibrous as the real deal. It may sound strange, but vegetarian butchers are becoming a recognised part of the food scene, from Dutch brand “The Vegetarian Butcher” to American company “Beyond Meat”.

What is fake meat?

These new meat illusions are made from a whole host of different plant proteins. At Beyond Meat ingredients include soy and pea protein isolates, yeast extract, carrot fibre and canola oil, while over at the Vegetarian Butcher their meat alternatives are engineered from chickpeas, lupins, rice, maize, and even certain bacteria. And, unlike their earlier counterparts, these meat analogues claim to mimic the texture of meat as well as the taste. Now, no one who has tried Quorn chicken pieces before can say that they were fooled, but supporters say these new options could trick even the most dedicated carnivore.

Why is the trend on the rise?

So why is this demand for convincing meat alternatives growing? Beyond Meat’s website sets out their four reasons for developing meat-free products: Improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources, and respecting animal welfare. For those passionate about animal rights, vegetarianism may be a no-brainer, and when it comes to global warming, a decrease in industrial farming can only be a good thing, but are these new substitutes actually going to improve our health?

Cinqo de Mayo tacos made with Beyond Meat "Beef-free Crumble"

Cinqo de Mayo tacos made with Beyond Meat "Beef-free Crumble"

Beyond Meat claims that their products contain “no trans fats, cholesterol, dairy, gluten, or GMOs” and it is true that for non-meat-eaters, meat alternatives can be a valuable source of protein, but many argue that increasing our consumption of processed food can only be detrimental to our health. This is an opinion shared by supper club chef Carine Ottou - foraging fan, local produce lover, and BBQ enthusiast. Planning a vegetarian BBQ? She advocates ditching the fake meat and getting creative with vegetables instead

Grilled Sweet Corn

Aubergine

Put the whole aubergine, still in its skin, directly onto the coals – as you would if you were making a charred red pepper, for example – and keep turning it. When cooked, remove the skin and purée with lemon, garlic, olive oil and tahini to make smoky baba ganoush. Adds a little Middle Eastern flair to your halloumi burger.

Broccoli

Steam it very lightly first to intensify the sugars and bring up the colour, then cut it into large florets and put it straight on the grill, as you might a steak. (Alternatively, you can cook them in a wire basket, made for BBQs.) Once cooked, mix with a simple vinaigrette of high quality olive oil, lemon, and pepper. The flavour will not be like your normal broccoli, we guarantee.

Plantain 

Cameroonian Carine also recommends bringing a little West African flavour to your British BBQ with some plantain. When you buy it, don’t go for perfectly yellow or totally green, but somewhere in between the two. Peel the skin off and cook directly on the grill. The flavour is delicious and you can eat it with whatever you want, using it as you might a potato.

Cabbage 

Put directly on the grill and cook until charred. Remove, chop up and add salad dressing. Serve cold as an unusual, smoky slaw.

Bean Stew

Get your hands on an earthenware pot and cook your bean stew in this, directly on the coals. To amp up the smoky flavour, use woodchips such as oak or hickory along the side of your coals, or wrap a burning charcoal in tinfoil and pop it inside your pot.

Make your own spice blend

Marinating isn’t just for meat, and flavour can be so much more than your shop-bought BBQ sauce. Pick some of your favouring dry spices, mix them, and coat your vegetables in them before grilling.

Nonetheless, our prediction is that Vegetarian Butchers are going to be the next big thing hitting the high street but if sci-fi meat isn’t for you, we suggest you take this summer as an opportunity to be more creative with your barbecuing, whether you’re a vegetarian or not.

Which way would YOU go – inventive use of vegetables or exciting new sci-fi meat replacements? Get in touch on Twitter or Facebook and let us know!

A Delicious American Myth

Epicure Founder Chris O'Leary Deconstructs Authentic American BBQ

A recent visit to the fabulous and delicious Shotgun – an American BBQ restaurant in London’s Carnaby area– taught me an important lesson about what it is to be American:

There is American and then there is mythically American.

BBQ Sauces at Shotgun London

I – Chris O’Leary – am American. To break this down linguistically, there is the concept, or identity of being American (the signified), then there is me (the signifier) who exists as a biological entity. When the American identity and I interact – which we do rather well given that I am American born, have an American accent, have lived in America for most of my life; etc. – the sign for Chris O’Leary as American is born.

What is crucial to the understanding of the sign Chris O’Leary as American is that it is full of meaning and that it is not a message to be communicated to and digested by a particular audience. When I say full of meaning, I am referring to the fact that my status as an American is not transient, thin or capricious, but the consequence of a wide and complicated history that has affected my own existence. As a result, my being is decorated with a range of codes and signs that implicitly signify my American-ness. And yet, these codes and signs do not seek out an audience to be recognised as an American since this national status, and all its rich meaning, persists with or without somebody naming it American.

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup at Shotgun

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup at Shotgun

This is what I expected upon arriving at Shotgun – two full, rich and complete signs of American-ness staring at each other, myself and Shotgun. This is not at all what happened. In the place of the effusive sign for American-ness I encountered a pleasantly dim mahogany interior, a menu that exuded super-quality meat dishes put together with an attentive, skillful and imaginative hand and a drinks list with plenty of nice wines – some American – and cocktails that jumped off the menu as a range of delectable elixirs.

Glass of beer at Shotgun London

At first glance Shotgun was the opposite of what I expected, and yet, myth is not the opposite of a meaningful sign – myth is a sign that has been emptied of its meaning and history and replaced with something else entirely, always a message intended for a specific audience. The relationship between a sign and a myth is far more complicated and interesting, as the latter is the shell of the former filled with an essence that forever changes its integrity and purpose.

As the ambiance, food and drink at Shotgun do not come together to present a meaningful sign of American-ness, for it to be considered American, it must rely on its customers naming it so. This is the way myth works – it is not a statement of fact; i.e. the indicative – it is a supplication; i.e. the imperative. It is not Shotgun serves American BBQ; it is Hey! Over Here! Label everything you see at Shotgun ‘authentic American BBQ’!

Shotgun London

As Shotgun’s status as American is so utterly reliant on its customers naming it so, it has created a sophisticated narrative that unequivocally proclaims the fact that it serves Authentic American BBQ. This story – that includes frequently naming its cuisine ‘Southern American BBQ’ or ‘Authentic American BBQ’, the fascinating and esoteric origin of its namesake, the Mississippi heritage of its executive chef and its ‘New Orleans-style’ bar – infiltrates and informs all aspects of its marketing and branding so that anyone who encounters Shotgun is requested to name it American despite it clearly not being a full, rich and complete sign of American-ness.

As the authentic American BBQ proposed by Shotgun is myth, its undoubted quality notwithstanding, it has been emptied of the rich history, determinations and contingencies that have organically produced the celebrated American BBQ culinary genre and its associated culture. At Shotgun, authentic BBQ has been reduced to a menu of exciting dishes and drinks that is, at best, inspired by American BBQ, whose definition morphs and evolves not according to the cannon of American BBQ but to the whims of Shotgun’s chefs.

 

Baby Back Ribs for 2 at Shotgun

Baby Back Ribs for 2 at Shotgun

The menu – which includes items like Point-End Brisket and Jacobs Ladder – exudes a niche expertise and superlative quality that massively transcends what the average American enjoys at a BBQ, which is generally burgers, hot dogs and ribs. Therefore at Shotgun we are not dealing with the everyday American BBQ.

So are we dealing with a precise manifestation of Memphis or Kansas City BBQ? If so, there is no mention anywhere to let us know – which would be essential given the particular way in which each style’s pork ribs, for instance, are prepared and served. And despite being happy to admit that there may just be a place in America where Americans enjoy the Shotgun menu as it is presented here in London, I cannot imagine that the more traditional BBQ options are enjoyed alongside duck or porcini rubbed ox cheek, that both make the occasional appearance, nor could I with a sweet potato fondant or baked potato purée.

Sweet Potato Fondant & BBQ Baked Beans

Sweet Potato Fondant & BBQ Baked Beans

The cocktails at Shotgun are worth a visit in their own right, and yet neither do they promote the ‘Authentic American BBQ’ experience. No Pabst Blue Ribbon… no bourbon offered by the glass (or bottle)… No Bud Lite; i.e. modern redneck. In their place we have truly excellent cocktails made from a range of spirits from cognac to mezcal, but there is little that evokes a dive bar in Texas. Incidentally, New Orleans does have a vibrant and sophisticated cocktail culture not dissimilar to Shotgun’s offering – but are New Orleans-style cocktails regarded as classic beverage to enjoy with ‘Authentic American BBQ? Not really.

Mezcal Extra Cocktail

Mezcal Extra Cocktail

The presence of myth is usually a hallmark of a woefully inadequate product – Shotgun is different because it uses myth to its advantage. Shotgun is operating against the cultural context of the British BBQ, which – despite its more-or-less rigid menu involving burgers and sausages – is a phenomenon that is less about a precise culinary genre and more about celebrating the fleeting moments of warm, beautiful summer in Britain. Ultimately the notion of the ‘British BBQ’ does not give the British a particular good opportunity to come to grips with authentic American (or Australian, for that matter) BBQ. This puts Shotgun in the ideal position to channel the full extent of its creativity and ingenuity to make the definition of ‘BBQ’ whatever it wants it to be, with its savvy London customers making only two requests – the food and drink be exceptional and that they be at least suggestive of the authentic American BBQ that has clearly served as one of the restaurant’s key inspirations.

Pecan Brownie

Pecan Brownie

Shotgun is not a sign of being American – it is an American myth, and a damn tasty one.

 

Here is what I enjoyed during my meal at Shotgun.

To drink – Mezcal Extra Cocktail x 3

Starter - Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

Main – Baby Back Ribs for 2

Sides – Sweet Potato Fondant & BBQ Baked Beans

Dessert – Pecan Brownie

Total Cost: £75.37 (including service)