For most of his career, Merivale’s executive chef Jordan Toft has been known as a meat aficionado. The show-stoppers on his menus have been charcuterie, beasts butchered in his own restaurants and charcoal-fired barbeque. But in 2020, Toft’s focus shifted – to veggies.
“After the first month [of the lockdown], I was bringing a lot of food home and indulging in a bit too much wine,” he says. “I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, ‘I'm turning 40 next year. My body does not look the way I want it to’. So I embarked on five months of body transformation, for want of a better word. And my cooking at home has changed for many reasons.” This hinged on his approach to barbeque. “Sure, we all like a Bunnings sausage, don’t get me wrong,” he says. “But the Aussie version of entertaining is very underwhelming.”
The art of barbequing
Toft sees opportunities to change away from the Aussie barbeque stereotypes. Number one is moving from cooking over gas to charcoal. “I preach about investing in charcoal,” he says. “It adds to the broader experience and flavour of what you’re trying to do.” He says live charcoals add flavour and depth where gas can’t, whether it’s brisket smoked for 48 hours, a well-charred sanga, a long pepper slightly blistered for a quick grill, or veggies. But like beginning with great produce, it helps to have an above board barbeque.
Toft uses an Everdure Hub II. Created by Australian designers D+I, it’s won numerous international design awards (including Good Design Awards Australia, International Design Excellence Awards, Red Dot Awards and IF World Design Guide Awards) and is championed by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal. As well as a one touch rotisserie pole, grill and warming area, it boasts a quick start charcoal ignition system. And it turns out the kind of charcoal you use, is just as important.
Use high-quality fuel
Toft recommends using real wood as fuel (without any accelerants), which allows more depth of flavour. It helps to have a serious barbeque. “Something like the Everdure Hub II is built to take on good-quality, lumpwood charcoal,” he says. His other tip is to light your barbeque, then prep your ingredients. “You don't want to be cooking over charcoal straight off the bat,” he says. “You need it to catch, settle and start to smoulder.”
Toft wants to see people taking time with the barbeque process, rather than rushing to get food on a plate. “Over time the connection to why you do something has been lost,” he says. “Using charcoal brings us back to the original campfire.”
Treat your veggie like a protein
Of course a great barbeque also needs great produce. “Sugarloaf cabbage is a fantastic ingredient,” says Toft. “I wanted to use the grill [to cook it] the same way [and be able to] eat it whole, cutting and attacking it like a protein dish. But also let the quality of the sugarloaf cabbage – the sweetness and tenderness – come through when you cut it open.”
To do this he brines it the same way you would a chicken. The cabbage absorbs the brine, which keeps it moist and tender. “I thought about this like a bunch of flowers,” he says. “The plants have interior vessels, so when you put a plant in water it draws it up. So brining a cabbage, it would suck up all the salt through its capillaries, seasoning it inside and outside and developing the flavour.”
Toft says the barbeque experience in Australia is too often about setting and forgetting, making the food secondary. “It’s the water cooler in the office, where all the chat goes on but not much attention is paid,” he says. “That’s why we so often use gas, just chuck it on and leave it there. I want to change the perception.”
Watch how to cook his charred sugarloaf cabbage here.
Here’s how to make the recipe at home.
Charred sugarloaf cabbage with spring herb yoghurt, young garlic and finger-lime salsa Preparation time: 25 minutes Cooking time: 1 hour 20 minutes Serves: 4
2% salt water
4 young garlic heads, greens attached
1 large finger lime, pearls removed from skin
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp mint, roughly chopped
1 tbsp tarragon, roughly chopped
1 tbsp garlic chives, sliced
1 lemon, juiced
200 ml Greek yoghurt
½ lemon, juiced
1 tbsp mint, roughly chopped
1 tbsp garlic chives, sliced
Charred sugarloaf cabbage
2 brined cabbages
1 tbsp tarragon, roughly chopped
1 tbsp parsley, roughly chopped
Black pepper (a single twist from the grinder)
Pinch of sea salt
Fresh tarragon, leaves picked
Fresh mint, leaves picked
To make the brine, dissolve salt in water. Keeping the outer leaves of the cabbage attached, cut vertically in half and submerge each half of cabbage in brine. Leave for a minimum of 4 hours. Remove 30 mins prior to grilling by placing the cut side down on cloth to drain and dry.
Create two cooking zones on your barbeque: one medium-hot with an even surface large enough to grill the 4 cut halves of cabbage, and the other medium for the garlic.
Place cabbage cut side down. Cook until heavily charred on outside (approximately 30 mins). When finished, place over resting rack, turning regularly until tender (approximately 40 mins). The outer leaves will protect the core.
While the cabbage is cooking, place the garlic over the medium-heat section and cook for about 20 mins, turning regularly until soft. Don’t be concerned if outer skin blackens. Once soft, remove and place on resting rack for 10 mins. Cut garlic in half horizontally and squeeze out garlic paste. If the paste needs any chopping, give it a rough chop, then add it to a mixing bowl with all other salsa ingredients and season until balanced.
Mix all ingredients together and season till balanced.
Place the cabbage back on the grill to warm. When you’re ready to serve, peel the outer leaves to reveal the tender yet firm cabbage flesh. Spoon the herbed yogurt onto a warmed plate. Place the cabbage on the yoghurt, charred side up. Spoon the salsa over the cabbage, drizzling it into the layers. Garnish with the tarragon and mint leaves, and finish with a twist of pepper, a pinch of salt and a final squeeze of lemon.
Watch Toft making the recipe here
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Everdure. Check out the Hub II Barbeque here.