This is the one food activity that evokes heartfelt nostalgia within me. What Hong Kong child would not have most looked forward to the grand finale of a barbecue; vigiliantly guarding the precious bag of marshmallows to use on the lingering flames when the honey smearing, meat spearing, and carnivorous rituals are over? While we are at it, I might as well describe the way Hong Kong people barbecue. Unlike the famous backyard ‘barbies’ of Australians, this activity usually occurs in countryside parks with concrete or brick stoves already at your disposal. Instead of a portable grill with metal racks to lay the meat on, the stoves in HK become the enclosure of a mini campfire, and instead of one or several cooks assigned the cooking flipping with tongs to serve to the idle guests, each person gets to be their own chef with a two-pronged fork used as the tool to hover individual pieces of meat over the open flames. Honey is liberally slathered over the pieces of meat when they are nearly done. Surrounded by nature, returning to the most primitive form of cookery; it is truly bliss.
I have a comical narrative to tell. On one of these BBQ trips in Aberdeen Country Park (next to the reservoir), the family was happily engaging in the usual Hong Kong barbecueing, blisfully unaware that our most anticipated part of the feast was about to be stolen away, literally. The vigilant marshmallow-guarding must have been put on a temporary hold, because the next thing we knew, a monkey furtively grabs the bag of marshmallows, briskly fleets away, and climbs up a tree, all the while biting onto the plastic packaging with its mouth. I think that must be the most memorable and amusing story anybody could have with the usually predictable barbecue!
I digress. There are two ways of eating roasted marshmallows: by themselves, or in s’mores. If you’re looking at the title and sniggering at the thought of being taught how to stick a marshmallow onto fire, there is actually a technique. The type of roasted marshmallows I adore is the one with a skin charred to crunchy perfection, with the golden brown casing craftfully peeled layer by layer, thus maximising the crusty satisfaction able to be derived from your marshmallows. Apparently that is also the technique my mother did as a child. If you are one of those who prefer their marshmallows a-la-sucking-out-gooey-liquid style, I suggest you stick to your own devices (suspending the marshmallow a long long distance over the fire results in a minimally browned skin with totally liquefied centres, but you would need a lot of patience!).
The type of marshmallow does not matter too much, although the larger it is, the easier it is to char the skin without softening the entire marshmallow. Mini marshmallows would also serve this purpose well, although it would defeat the enjoyability of the process.
- First, maintain a low, steady fire or mildly red-hot embers of coal. This will ensure the greatest chance of not burning the marshmallows yet enough heat to effectively singe the marshmallow exterior without rendering an overly soft core. If you don’t want to bother with a barbecue, you can roast marshmallows to the same effect on a gas stovetop: on the lowest setting, but place the marshmallow farther from the flame.
- Spear one or two marshmallows onto the barbecue fork, piercing through the entire marshmallow (this is important, or else the marshmallow will just fall out).
- Hold marshmallow over fire or coals, poised 0.5cm above the heat source, basically as close as possible without any risk of ashes tainting the soft little gem/catching fire.
- Rotate marshmallow when the underside has been tinted golden brown. Continuously do this until the whole marshmallow is speckled with this crunchy crust (much like hardening molten lava!), charring as fast as possible whilst minimising the melting on the interior.
- Remove the utensil from the fire. Very carefully, gently pinch the tip of the marshmallow with your fingers (beware, it is hot! If you dont have tough skin, be sure to cool the marshmallow first), and slowly pull this casing away from the still-solid core. Immediately devour.
- Repeat steps 6 and 7, until a tiny little spheroid not capable of any more shedding remains. Of course, char this little morsel until golden brown as well! You could probably do two to four lots of skin peeling if skilled.
Another delicious way to enjoy molten marshmallows is the smore. While this has remained much of a hidden secret from Australians, it is hugely popular in the U.S. I was introduced to s’mores when I was at a Brownies camp, Year 5 in Hong Kong, where we encircled the campfire while eating gooey marshmallow sandwiched between melting chocolate digestive biscuits. Hmm… all my favourite flavours conglomerated into one dessert!
Roast marshmallows, not using the peel-layer-after-layer method, but the one that yields totally liquefied centres without burnt skin. Place a slab of milk chocolate on a digestive biscuit (peanut butter also adds variety). Alternatively, use chocolate digestives. Pull the marshmallow out of the stick and place onto the digestive biscuit, then squish the other biscuit on top, thereby spreading the goo’s surface area. The residual heat would melt some of the chocolate. Enjoy this crunchy, gooey, chocolatey treat hot.