Although summer across the pond tends to be a few degrees cooler than our scorching Houston climate, this is nonetheless the time of year when everyone dusts off the grill, looks for new salad recipes and wants to dine al fresco to make the most of the balmy evenings. The stodgy, stick-to-your-ribs-style comfort food most of us associate with England falls rather out of favor in summer, while seasonal produce is very much in demand, and light, bright, vibrant dishes make their tasty way to the dinner table.
The weather is never quite guaranteed in England, so planning an al fresco cookout for next Saturday might end up as a cozy meal in the dining room prepared indoors, while everyone stares out at the rain, wondering how the weatherman got it quite so wrong. That's all part of England's charm though—nobody ever quite knows what the day is going to bring weather-wise. Sounds a bit like Houston, right? All the more reason for local home cooks to expand their bags of tricks to the other end of the Atlantic.
Fire Up That Grill!
Grilling (or barbecuing, as it is more commonly known in England) is synonymous with the summer, and popular local favorites include chicken, steak and burgers, much the same as here. Who doesn't love biting into a juicy piece of grilled chicken, enjoying the succulent juices and charred bits on the outside, or pairing a perfectly char-grilled steak with potato salad or perhaps even something novel like marinated fruit kabobs?
The British colonists might have adopted Native American barbecue techniques back in the 1600s and taken them to their hearts, but barbecue (or just grilling in general) tends to be restricted to only the warmest days in the UK, the grill standing forlornly in the shed for the remainder of the year.
Go back a few years and a typical English meal cooked on the barbecue would've been chicken, perhaps a sausage or burger, and a simple salad. We're talking very simple, like lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes. Maybe a baked potato, too, if you were lucky. Soft buns, ketchup and paper plates completed the meal. These days it's all about seasonings and adding ethnic flair to keep the flavors lively. Try this British-inspired steak recipe for size, swapping the lemon juice for lime juice if you prefer.
English-Mustard-Marinated Sirloin Steaks
2 tablespoons Colman's prepared English mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 minced garlic cloves
2 sirloin steaks
Combine the mustard, lemon and garlic, then rub this mixture over the steaks and let them marinate for 20 minutes at room temperature. Meanwhile go ahead and prepare a charcoal grill for high heat. Grill the steaks for 4 minutes per side or until done to your liking. Let them rest for 5 minutes before serving with your preferred sides.
Beat the Heat with a Seasonal Salad
Whether you're looking for a light snack or a tasty side dish, few things can beat a salad bursting with seasonal vegetables. Try this English garden salad, perhaps pairing it with your grilled steaks. Feel free to tweak the combination to your taste. Preferred salad veggies include beets, broccoli, zucchini, arugula, red onion and celery. Throw in some fruit too, if you want to get adventurous here. Strawberries and raspberries are just some examples of the summertime bounty you can choose from.
English Garden Salad
1 pound sliced, scrubbed new potatoes
12 ounces trimmed runner beans (or green beans), sliced diagonally
4 ounces halved cherry tomatoes
1 bunch chopped green onions
8 ounces shredded English cheese (Lancashire or Cheshire if you can get it)
4 tablespoons honey mustard dressing
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water for seven minutes, then add the beans and cook for another eight minutes or until tender. Drain the potatoes and beans, then stir in the tomatoes, onions and cheese. Gently stir in the dressing and mint leaves, and serve the salad at room temperature or keep it refrigerated until you're ready. If you are thinking of adding some arugula or baby salad leaves, do that just before serving so they don't get soggy, or serve the salad on a bed of leaves instead if that appeals.
What's for Dessert?
As for summer sweets across the Pond, you're not going to be disappointed. You might like to consider a Knickerbocker Glory (which is technically for the kids, but there's no reason the grown-ups can't indulge as well!). Dating back 80 years or more, this easy dessert involves adding chopped fruit to a tall ice cream glass, then scoops of vanilla and strawberry ice cream on top, followed by a generous drizzle of chocolate, strawberry or peach Melba sauce.
This delicious concoction is usually finished off with whipped cream, wafers and a maraschino cherry. Although the origin of the name is unknown, this fruity dessert remains a beloved staple in English ice cream parlors. It's also quick and easy to prepare yourself.
Not in the mood for a sundae? Then how about flummery? (Not all English desserts have strange names in case you're wondering, but many do and this is a favorite of mine.) You can swap the strawberries for raspberries, peaches or another type of soft fruit if you want. This recipe makes eight servings.
Creamy Strawberry Flummery
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons white sugar
1 beaten egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 quart sliced fresh strawberries
Mix the cornstarch with a little of the milk to make a slurry, then stir into a pan containing the rest of the milk, the salt and sugar. Next bring the mixture to a boil, then cook it over medium heat, stirring all the time, until thick. Stir a cup of this mixture into the egg yolk, then return it to the pan and cook for a further two minutes. Pour it into a serving bowl and stir in the vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for three hours. Serve the flummery garnished with the strawberries or your favorite fresh fruit.
Finally, Something to Wet Your Whistle
So the sun is shining, you're hard at work preparing these scrumptious summer recipes and still you get the feeling that something's missing—that would be a typical English beverage of course. Sure you could go for a beer, a glass or wine or a soda, but why not indulge in a glass of Pimm's & Lemonade? This English summer favorite goes down very nicely, and it's worth making a pitcher of it. Lemonade in England is what you would call 7Up or Sprite, so choose one of those for the most authentic result.
Pimm's & Lemonade
1 1/2 ounces Pimm's No.1
5 ounces lemonade
1 hulled fresh strawberry
1 sprig of mint
1 slice of cucumber
1 slice of lemon
Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour in Pimm's and lemonade, then garnish with the strawberry, mint, cucumber and lemon. Cheers!