ten secrets to a perfect picnic

Sydney winters are a glorious thing. Sure there can be days and days of dark skies, umbrellas and soggy shoes, but those minor inconveniences are quickly forgotten when the sun does its thing. Just take this June long weekend. Blue blue skies with lovely warm light. Temperatures that beg for the wonderfully comforting feeling of the suns caress on your skin. Picnic heaven.

So this week I thought I’d share with you my latest favourite picnic food and while I was at it divulge what I see as the ten secrets to a perfect picnic:

i. a sunny day
I have to be honest and say I am definitely a fair weather picnic-er. It’s no fun eating out doors if the wind is howling or you’re huddled under a tree trying not to get wet.

ii. a charming partner in crime
To be fair I have had some incredibly good picnics on my own, but they’re never as fun as when you have someone to share the moment with, especially if the person in question has a silky Irish accent.

iii. a killer picnic spot
Sydney is blessed with brilliant picnic spots. Centennial Park used to be a favourite, any of the beaches can be lovely especially Tamarama and my mates that live on the North side swear by Cremorne Point but these days we wouldn’t even dream of picnicing anywhere other than McKell Park. With prime harbour frontage it’s the perfect place to pass a lazy afternoon watching the yachts and party boats go by.

iv. the weekend papers
Often the papers end up being brought home unread, neglected for good conversation or a good snuggle and a snooze or more often all of the above. But sometimes it is fun to flick through and catch up on a bit of gossip or the latest world happenings.

v. a cosy picnic blanket
We have this super cosy picnic blanket with attitude. No cliche cheques for us, we’re talking seriously tough black which is not only good looking, but practical if you happen to have the misfortune to spill your red wine.

vi. a solid picnic basket
My Mum knew how to pull together a good picnic and was kind enough to give me a serious classic cane picnic basket for Christmas one year. One of the best presents ever that has been put to very good use.

vii. a good bottle of booze
As a reformed winemaker, there’s no need to tell you how much I love my vino. But I particularly love an afternoon tipple in the sun. So decadent. While reds have the upper hand as picnic companions on account of them not needing chilling, there’s something about a crisp cold glass of riesling or even a chardonnay that makes it worthwhile pulling out the chiller bag.

viii. real wine glasses & picnic glass holders
If you’re going to bother with some decent wine, it seems such a waste to serve it in plastic tumblers. Real glasses may be a little more risky but I figure that a few breakages are worth it. A couple of wine glass holders that stick into the grass are also a winner – saving many a glass from spillage.

ix. food to share
There’s something about a picnic that just screams for food that can be shared and preferably eaten with your fingers. The dish below fits both those criteria. Just season and BBQ (or roast) a couple of spatchcock or small chickens, whip up a really easy sauce (see point x.) and wash some cos lettuce and you’re good to go. It’s great fun picking the still warm meat from the bones, rolling in a crispy lettuce leaf and drizzling or dipping in the sauce. Just remember to pack plenty of serviettes for greasy chicken fingers.

x. a really easy sauce
While I love to make my own mayonnaise from scratch, sometimes it just makes more sense to outsource with the bottled variety. The sauce below is one of my all time favourites. All it takes is mixing together natural yoghurt with some commercial mayo and a touch of crushed garlic. Super simple but really delicious. It’s amazing how the yoghurt just freshens everything up while still leaving the lovely creamy mayo vibe. It’s a really versatile sauce and works well pretty much anywhere you would normally use mayo.

Another of my favourite picnic meals is to make this sauce and get a heap of super fresh prawns, some soft white bread and some leaves for greenery – prawn sandwiches. Yum.

picnic chicken sung choi jules
serves 2

This is one of those great examples where borrowing from different cuisines can really work well. Just as the iceberg lettuce makes all the difference to the classic Chinese dish sung choi bau, baby cos is the star of this picnic show. Crisp and fresh it is the perfect thing to balance out the juicy little chickens and creamy sauce.

2 x 500g (1lb) spatchcock or 1 small chicken
pinch chilli flakes
1T olive oil
1 lemon, halved crosswise
2T extra virgin olive oil
2/3C whole egg mayonnaise
1/3C natural yoghurt
1/2 small clove garlic, crushed, optional
2 baby cos lettuce

Preheat your BBQ or a char grill pan on high.

To ‘spatchcock’ the spatchcock place the bird breast side down. Using a very sharp knife cut down the backbone a little to the left. You want to cut through the back but not the breast. You can cut down the other side of the backbone to remove it completely if you like. Flatten spatchcock out like a book and repeat for the other bird.

Season your bird well with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Rub with olive oil. Turn BBQ down to medium and pop your spatchcock on breast side up. Cover and cook for 10mins then turn and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until cooked to your liking. If you’re not sure if they’re done just chop in half lengthwise through the breast so you can see if there are any pink bits let.

While the spatchcock is cooking, put lemon on the BBQ cut side down for about 5 minutes. When the birds are cooked, transfer to a serving platter or a picnic bowl and drizzle with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes or however long it takes to get to your picnic destination.

Meanwhile for the sauce, combine the yoghurt, mayo and garlic and whisk until smooth. Season and pack into a container with a sealable lid. Wash lettuce leaves and spin dry. Wrap in layers of paper towel and place in a plastic bag.

To serve, tear chicken from the bones and place in a lettuce leaf and drizzle with some sauce.


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  • Looks fantastic Jules, I think I’m going to have to give the sang choi jules a crack sometime soon.

  • What a great spin of good old sung choi bau! And I have to agree – this June long weekend was one of the best weekends we’ve had in Sydney in a long time. For one weekend, everything was just right. :)

  • it’s the goods matt.
    and even better if you can be bothered to marinate the chicken in some spices first

    hey trisha
    yeah wasn’t it amazing – certainly made it tough to rock up to work this morning

  • wow looks like you enjoyed the long weekend *somewhat envious* I didn’t get to enjoy the sunshine at all, but looking at the cheery sunlight coming through your pictures, it feels like I get a second hand experience – sounds like a perfect picnic!

  • chris
    it was a perfect picnic..sorry to hear your longweekend wasn’t so sunny…. hope you get to soak up some rays soon

    we pack a pillow if we’re off to the moonlight cinema but for lunchtime picnics I like to use someone’s tummy as a pillow

  • Lovely, simple recipe–and love the touch about the papers. Sounds sort of dreamy–and it makes me miss reading the paper in the print version!

    We often bring a book of poetry: Paul Muldoon, Billy Collins, Galway Kinnell. I know it sounds weird, but we once read all of Kinnell’s Book of Nightmares aloud on a picnic. (It counts for in-the-car picnics, too, when we’re driving somewhere and having lunch.)

  • hi mark
    thanks for dropping by.
    love the idea of reading poetry on picnics. thanks and I really love the idea of expanding to in car picnics. I haven’t done that in ages… also making me think about talking books

  • Will need to spread the picnic rug in front of the fire here Jules. Freezing cold grey days, icy winds & lots of rain (which makes us v. happy!). Still, this chicken looks so delic., I’m going to do it sans good weather.
    Millie ^_^

  • I love your picnic list! So often I have been to failure picnics that I don’t have the heart for them any longer. I’m sure you know the kind, dingy park, loads of average cheese but no crackers (or piles of chips with no cheese), spilled drinks, warm beer. Cold and uncomfortable. But I see how picnics could be lovely, with a little planning, but not enough to ruin the spontaneity of catching that beautiful day. Oh, now I yearn for a laze around in the park :) (and isn’t McKell park sublime!)

  • I’m thinking the chicken would be just the thing for a fireside picnic millie. enjoy!

    that’s terrible that you’ve lost heart for picnics. really hope that you don’t give up on them completely. totally agree – mckell park is the best

  • We’re clearly on the same wavelength! Here’s to picnics. Sounds like you’ve got the perfect recipe.

  • Picnics are cool and exciting. In this economy, people are always looking to save money on family activities. Picnics are great way to have a staycation.. The best part about picnics is that it really does help bond a family together through spending time together outside! Get your picnic baskets and enjoy.

  • Far out, this looks like the best picnic ever! Can I recommend, as a recently converted Northern Beaches resident, the Collaroy headland as a nice picnic spot? Jubilee Park and even Victoria Park are fun, as I recall from my days in the Inner West. If you can avoid the lice-infested birds and the (probably also lice-infested) teenagers, then Hyde Park in the CBD is always nice as well.

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