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Spanish Secrets: Suntans To Sardines

"First course would be fresh sardines, basted with butter and lemon juice, accompanied by a fresh crusty loaf. Followed by char-grilled beef steaks...'' Craig Briggs plans the perfect meal, then has fun and games assembling a new gas-fired barbecue.

With the long hot sunny days of summer fast approaching, we popped into our local Lidl discount store, to purchase some cheap suntan lotion.

This German based, but now European-wide, chain of discount stores, has developed a cult-like following amongst the local Spanish. On Monday and Thursday mornings it’s quite a common sight to see crowds of shoppers waiting impatiently for the store to open. These two days are “Special Offer Days!” when a varied assortment of non-food items is offered to the public at incredibly low prices.

Within minutes of the doors opening people can be seen leaving, pushing barely-controllable shopping trolleys laden with TV sets, or perhaps picnic tables, or maybe even George Foreman-style grills - yes dad, that’s Foreman, not Formby.

It was late Thursday afternoon when we called, so we decided to have a browse. The first item to catch our eye was Albarino wine, a delicious if somewhat expensive Galician white wine, from the Rias Baxias area. We decided to buy a bottle.

The next item to catch our attention was a gas fuelled barbecue. The purists amongst you, with whom I’d be inclined to include myself, may think that cooking on a gas-fired barbecue with volcanic rocks instead of charcoal or wood, is simply not barbecuing at all.

Unfortunately this area of Spain is renowned for its summer forest fires. During the dry summer months, cooking on an open barbecue and risking a glowing ember blowing away in the wind, would be dangerous and foolish. The next best thing for those long hot alfresco meals, is a gas powered alternative.

Without realising it, our cheap bottle of suntan lotion was beginning to cost us a small fortune. We decided to test the barbecue that evening and continued our shopping accordingly.

First course would be fresh sardines, basted with butter and lemon juice, accompanied by a fresh crusty loaf. Followed by char-grilled beef steaks and a Mediterranean-style, crispy salad, all washed down with the bottle of Albarino white wine.

We arrived back home at 8.00pm. What I hadn’t realised was the barbecue would need assembling. As we rarely eat before 10.00pm at this time of year, there’d be ample time, or so I thought.

The assembly instructions were in Spanish, which didn’t pose too much of a problem as the bulk of them were poorly drawn diagrams, with very few written instructions.

Half way through the assembly I realised one piece was upside-down, so I disassembled it and started again. A little further on I realised I’d fitted one piece back-to-front; so once again I dismantled it all and started again. It was almost complete when I noticed the pan was facing the wrong way, fortunately only a minor adjustment.

By 10.45pm the beautifully assembled barbecue was ready to light. Turn the gas on, push the electronic ignition, and away we go. Perfect!

I closed the grill lid to heat the coals and the burner went out. Frustratingly a built-in safety mechanism wouldn’t allow re-ignition until 3 minutes had elapsed.

After patiently waiting, I lit it again. Perfect! I closed the lid, and out went the burner a second time. Annoyingly this carried on for some time, until I finally traced the problem and replaced a faulty part.

Excellent, the barbecue can commence.

“You do know that on its first use, you have to leave it burning 20 minutes before cooking?” Melanie retorted.

Unlike me, she’d read all the instructions, so I wasn’t about to argue.

Finally at 11.45pm I made a start on our dinner. The cooking went well and the food was delicious, if somewhat late.

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